Monday, 16 November 2020


Ricardo is a name I’m often called by friends and the name I use in Venice (Venetians find Richard Hall – ‘Risher Hore’ – an unpalatable  mouthful). 

Ricardo is a good name. I like it. So does Ricardo Semler – founder of Semco the Brazilian conglomerate – who was on TED Talks recently  and was once again a source of great inspiration. He’s 61 now and has been “running” the company since he was 21. He took over from his father when Semco was mainly a failing shipbuilding business. Ricardo who constantly rowed with his autocratic father prior to taking over was given the reins and his father retired to avoid having Ricardo storm out. His father’s move, as it transpires, was very shrewd.

Unlike his father Ricardo wanted to diversify and break the company into self- governing satellites. He also wanted to liberalise the management style. But first the executioner. In his first week he fired 60 % of the top management. This is what others have called the “permafrost” in an atrophied business. 

He then worked like crazy nearly killing himself. His moment of epiphany, his “why do we exist?” moment came as he lay on a hospital bed. This led him to create an organization culture which exhibits a unique form of participative management. There are no set timings of work, employees decide their productivity targets, they decide on who their boss will be, they decide on what they should be paid, holidays can be taken at will and so on. By any MBA standards utterly crazy. 

Today the company spans environmental consultancy, facilities management, real estate brokerage and inventory support. It’s products include rocket fuel, cooling towers and a world famous teak sealer. It’s very diverse. By any MBA standards utterly crazy.

Ricardo’s come-to-Jesus-moment was as he lay on that hospital bed 36 years ago but his feelings about taking a new look at life and work is intensifying. A small example was him saying: 

“Working through a weekend to get a task completed is one thing but the real sign of growing up is going to the cinema on Monday afternoon.”

The people you should want to hire and work with need all the classic characteristics – energy, enthusiasm and expertise – but they also need to be cool, thoughtful and balanced. But most of all they need to be a little crazy sometimes. If we believe creativity matters and makes a difference we shan’t find that in people who are bored and boring, people who relish crisis above taking a break to replenish the mind. 

Our biggest problem today is the pace at which everything happens, is reported and which, apparently, requires action to be taken. This leads to bad decisions being taken without enough data or thought. 

The most striking thing about Ricardo is his sheer joy in life and his relaxed  view of life. His management style and view of leadership as he himself concedes in his 1988 book “Maverick”  is out of the ordinary and somewhat eccentric. His 2003 book “The Seven Day Weekend” goes further. But his philosophy is intensely human and as such intensely appealing.

As I listened to him I recognised in his words a burning sense of a strategist. Whilst most people in business are focused on the next quarters earnings or today's crisis (and if there isn’t one looming creating one) he’s taking a long view of what will be a short career – most of us only have jobs for only 40 or so years.

So why do we exist? We exist to enjoy life, to help others enjoy it, to make the world a better place (often in just in a small way) and to celebrate the magic and majesty of existence.

Crazy stuff existence. Make the most of it.

1 comment:

John Eustace said...

Good stuff Ricardo, the last paragraph resonates here, so much so I'm off to walk my 'hund despite knowing I have 'things' to do but he's deserving of TLC