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I have long been puzzled by how few models there seem to be for the organisation.

We know from great contending nature that diversity is one of the great principles of survival. Why are there so few shapes and sizes for companies?

When you've thought of start-ups, family firms, private companies, shareholder-owned, multinational, and cooperatives, that's about it. Oh yes, add on Korean chaebols, huge outgrowths of the family firms that stop getting into new businesses when they run out of sons. All rather familiar.

The think tank Demos put out a booklet on this subject a few months ago: Reinventing the Firm, written by the thoughtful William Davies. He says that the credit crunch depression is too good an opportunity to miss to rethink the shape and purpose of the organisation.

In particular, he comes out in favour of worker ownership as interesting model to think about. (The research was sponsored by one of the best-known employee-owned companies in Britain, the John Lewis Partnership).

It is a subject that provokes some tough thoughts. What, for example, is ownership ? Easy to define when you work for a family firm, and the family founded it and calls the tune, and you know that you will never ever get a chance to rise through the ranks right to the top. (The way Barclays Bank was run until fairly recently, incidentally).

But think of the trouble we have got into by thinking that shareholders had the same sort of absolute ownership powers as the original founders of a private firm had. Ownership has larger and longer responsibilities than collecting dividends and taking capital gains when the business is taken over.


Day-trading shareholders who own their stake for milliseconds cannot be regarded as similar in any way to owners with a sustained and long-term interest in the future of the company.

There are all sort of implicit owners of a business of any size. They come under the heading of that fuzzy but fashionable phrase: "stake-holders".

The trouble is that it's too easy for a business to accept that is has responsibilities to what it calls "all its stakeholders" without going through the strenuous process of setting down who these stakeholders actually are and how to reconcile their tangential (or conflicting) interests.

It is good that companies realise there is more to what they do the profits they deliver their shareholders. But using the word "stakeholders" is no way of coping with this mixture of conflicting interests.

Some years ago I was fascinated to encounter something called Open Book Management, as practiced by the Springfield Remanufacturing Company in Springfield, Missouri.

In 1979 A new boss called Jack Stack was sent down from International Harvester HQ to close down their poorly performing subsidiary, SRC. He didn't have the heart to do it, so he and some associates bought the business, and opened the corporate books to all the workers. Every two weeks, everyone gets sight of the figures that most businesses keep locked up in the CFO's safe.


SRC's main business is re-boring used truck diesel engines to put back on the road. Walk round the company today, and everyone, yes everyone on the engineering floor will tell you how their particular job is fitting into the company's daily profitability. In detail.

They fizz with ideas about improvements. The company has spawned many new subsidiaries to give head to its employees' business drives.

Jack Stack has turned this Open Book philosophy into a management process he calls The Great Game of Business. As well as a book, he runs a two-day seminar for other bosses who would like to learn how to do it themselves.

Participants travel to Springfield, walk round the plant, and sit in on the sessions where the vital Open Book figures are discussed by the company council representing the workforce. By charging a healthy fee for the management wisdom taught on his courses, Jack Stack says with a grin: "We've turned headquarters into a profit centre".

Oh there is something else, of course. A worker share purchase scheme has turned Springfield Remanufacturing Corporation into an employee-owned business.

Just like the John Lewis Partnership in Britain, there is something special about it. We've got some other striking examples in this programme.

Previous Programmes

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German Pencils - Peter Day asks Faber-Castell and Staedtler how they both stay sharp ...

Building BRICS - Peter Day finds out about the BRICS - Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and China

Over A Barrel - Peter Day contemplates the turmoil in the Middle East and fears it will affect the price of oil

Reconstructing Capitalism - Peter Day hears all about the challenges to the way capitalism works.

All at Sea - Peter Day hears all about sea transport.

China Dispossessed - Peter Day hears about some of the problems caused by China's rush for prosperity.

Back on the Road - Alan Mulally tells Peter Day how he changed the way Ford works and how it is now back in the business of selling cars.

Asia Bling! - Peter Day ponders how the rise of the Asian comsumer will change business.

Euro on the Rocks - Peter Day asks what is the future for the Euro?

Bitter Pills - Peter Day looks at changing face of drug development.

Operation Robot - would you allow a robot to operate on you? Peter Day looks at robot-assisted surgery.

Growing Pains - Peter Day asks, what is the main component of growth?

After the Crunch - Government funding and regional development: the view from Newcastle.

Chips off the Old Block - Computing in the UK, past, present and future.

Hidden Depths - Graham Hawkes, DeepFlight and exploring the oceans.

Sociability - How social technology makes new business models possible.

Are CEOs Up to the Job? - Two thirds aren't according to Xinfu's Steve Tappin. Peter Day investigates.

In at the Start - Saeed Amidi and Silicon Valley

Power Play - Is the 'smart grid' the start of something big?

Now Wash Your Hands Please - How a simple idea can transform lives in the developing world

Coming Soon - What can the experience of previous financial crises tell us about the current one?

Ticking Over - Can the Isle of Man rejuvenate the business of watchmaking?

Not Just Silicon - what can Silicon Valley teach us about innovation?

Press under Pressure - what lies ahead for the world of newspaper publishing?

Remembering CK Prahalad - in a world of change and multiple opportunities, how does a company keep up?

Rwanda Rising - building a clean safe state where business can flourish.

Life Cycles - building businesses around the idea of new kinds of bikes.

Who Sets Our Standards - the business and social benefits of standardisation.

Ready to wear - the ethical issues of the international clothing industry.

Doing It Wrong - what's wrong with the way business works?

New Age - the business of aging.

Project Alcatraz - rehabilitating offenders in Venezuela.

Selling Salvation - Peter Drucker and the Salvation Army.

Let Me Entertain You - office parties and away days.

Brazil's Sugar Rush - Brazil.

Small Wonder - microfinance.

Unlimited Company - organizational models.

Credit Crunch - cash and credit.

Student Startups - student entrepreneurs.

Media Mayhem - changes in the newspaper industry.

Squeaky Clean - branding.

Battery Power - Bolivia.

Women's Work - women in the city.

Hell For Leather - John Timpson and Timpson's Shoes.

Learning Curve - organisational culture.

Let's Start a Bank - banking.

Goodbye to Intel - Craig Barrett and Intel.

Location Location - So?

Iceland feels the Heat - the credit crunch in Iceland.

The Cisco Kid - Mike Lynch and John Chambers.

Grand Design - business schools.

Power Drive - the car industry.

All New - innovation.

Europe on the edge - What is this thing called "Europe"?

For more programmes visit the In Business programme archive.

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