This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.
Skip to main contentAccess keys helpA-Z index
spacer gif
You are in: Learning English > General & Business English > Handy Guide
Learning English
spacer gif
The Handy Guide to the Gurus of Management
Charles Handy was, for many years, a professor at the London Business School. He is now an independent writer and broadcaster. He describes himself, these days, as a social philosopher.

São Paulo, Brazil
Episode 11: Ricardo Semler
  Listen to the radio programme in full
  Download the complete script (pdf)
    (Can't read pdf file? Get free Acrobat Reader)


Ricardo Semler, author and business manager, is celebrated as a role model of a Chief Executive who breaks all the traditional rules and succeeds, massively.

Semler eliminated what he called 'corporate oppression" from his company, Semco: time clocks, dress codes, security procedures, privileged office spaces and perks, they all went. There were to be no receptionists or secretaries.

He set up 'factory committees' to run the plants, in an attempt to get more worker involvement and Semler guaranteed that no-one could be fired while serving on the committees or for at least a year afterwards.

Ricardo then introduced profit-sharing schemes for all the workers. The thought that they could directly influence their own pay encouraged the committees to look for savings and to question any procedures or layers of management that didn't seem to add value.

Managers were hired and fired by their own employees. More than that, the units were now inventing new businesses for themselves. And so Semco grew, entirely due to the initiatives of its workers.

The workers have unrestricted access to all corporate records and are taught how to read financial reports; they set their own wages and their own production quotas.

When the number of people in a Semco unit hits the 100 to 200 mark it is split in two, like it or not.

Semler lists six principles that guide his always experimental company:

1. don't increase business size unnecessarily
2. never stop being a start-up
3. don't be a nanny to your workers
4. let talent find its place
5. make decisions quickly and openly
6. partner promiscuously, you can't do it all yourself.

In our next talk we meet someone very different. He has been called the world's most successful business academic. He is Michael Porter.

Read Ricardo Semler's biography

Some useful business words:

well-known, famous

role model
a person whose behaviour is copied or is likely to be copied by others

breaks all the rules
somebody or something which goes against an accepted principle which says how things are to be done

time clocks
machines which record when a worker arrives for work and punches his card

dress codes
rules which tell workers what to wear on the workplace

security procedures
a set of actions necessary to protect an organization or its employees against violence, lawbreaking etc.


extra items given by a company to workers in addition to their salaries (such as company cars, private health insurance etc.)

large factories

worker involvement
action or direct connection on the part of the workers with something

dimissed from a job

profit-sharing schemes
arrangements where workers get a share of the profits of the company they work for

employed, given a job

unrestricted access
to be able to obtain, reach, see something without limits

production quotas
fixed amount of products which should be produced

a start-up
a new company just beginning to do business

a woman employed to take care of children in a family

partner promiscuously
to share business with lots of different people or organizations

BBC World Business
Business Words in the News
Other gurus
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites

BBC copyright
Learning English | News English | Business English | Watch and Listen
Grammar and Vocabulary | Communicate | Quizzes | For teachers
Downloads | FAQ | Contact us