Bernice Samuels of FNB talks to Ricardo Semler the President of SEMCO, and executive ranked by the World Economic Forum in 1983, as Global Thought Leader of Tomorrow, about his advice to achieve success in innovation, develop a robust participatory management model and grow a company during difficult economic times whilst managing by omission.
About Bernice Samuels
FNB’s Chief Marketing Officer, Bernice Samuels, has made a great success of the position in the time she has held it. Her journey from telecommunications and media to banking has had interesting turns and fascinating challenges. Spearheading the repositioning of FNB, Bernice Samuels was named the 2012 Marketing Personality of the year at the Sunday Times Top Brand Awards.
With more than 20 years’ experience in business, marketing strategy development and implementation, Samuels has been a key driver behind developing well-known corporate brands in South Africa and Africa including MNET, MTN and now FNB. Since her appointment at FNB in January 2011, she has been responsible for the management of FNB’s brand and overall marketing across the business. Bernice holds a BSC Honours degree from UCT in genetic engineering and an MBA from Wits Business School.
She absolutely loves what she does and is curious about the role of emotion in influencing buying decisions. She believes that in our world of overloaded channels of communication and the general lack of trust with advertising messages, finding your brand’s true emotional core and expressing it through your brand’s story is essential.
About Ricardo Semler
Extraordinary CEO, Best Selling Author and Global Leader of Tomorrow. Ricardo is known around the globe for his extraordinary success spurring SEMCO South America to success achieving 41% return on capital for 25 years. His innovative employee centric workplace democracy arguably saved SEMCO from bankruptcy. He has authored 2 best sellers – Maverick and The Seven Day Weekend. Leaders the world over admire how he relentlessly invents and champions his causes.
Ricardo Semler will present his unconventional leadership model to South African leaders and managers at The 2nd Annual FNB Progress Conference on Happiness@Work on the 17th September 2013.
Q & A
? – BS – Your unconventional management model and democratic organisation has amassed SEMCO unprecedented success with growth at around 27% each year for the past 25 years. You have been a committed champion of your cause to change rigid, dehumanising workplaces into engaging, productive ones since the 80’s. It is only now, that a handful of businesses are starting to realise that “happiness” is not a “nice- to- have” but rather a “need- to –have”. In your opinion why has this become a strategic priority the world over?
RS – standard industry practices have run out of steam. This seemed evident 30 years ago, but these changes take anthropologic time, not business cycle periods. Letting people set their own modes of work, times and form has led to growth for us, but it also fits the bill of business requirements: our rate of return on capital has been 41% for 25 years, every year. Giving up control works, and well.
? – BS – Having recently won the award for the Most Innovative Bank, we place a high price on innovation. Similarly you place a high price on innovation within SEMCO. How have you achieved innovation within SEMCO?
RS – By stepping aside. Letting people set up their own solutions and even business units, and setting only the mutual goals, instead of working on structures and controls.
? – BS – How do you reward innovation?
RS – By letting people set up a mix of 11 different ways to remunerate themselves, from salaries, commissions and the usual solutions, all the way to percentages on sales, or royalties over product lines, and much profit distribution. Of course, this is in addition to the basic assumption of freedom to work anyhow, anywhere, any time.
? – BS – Your decision to apply a participatory management model took place at a time when SEMCO was facing bankruptcy. During your tenure Brazilian banks failed and countless companies collapsed. The future of the South African economy is dependent on small and medium business growth. Currently South African companies are facing some of the most difficult economic challenges. It is further estimated that South African productivity has hit a 46 year low. What would your advice be to business leaders in South Africa today?
RS – By giving up control, which is all they do not want to hear – but maybe should. It is the management of staff, assets and business plans that places the most constrictions on the ability to navigate troubled waters. Setting the course and controlling it to the hilt is what makes inevitability reign over opportunity.
? – BS – Most recently the South African mining industry has experienced broadly publicised industrial action. At SEMCO you were not immune to a volatile unionised business environment. Had you been advisor to the CEO of Lonmin in October last year, what would you have advised and how do you think that could have avoided the bloodshed and violence?
RS – After 25 years of regular industrial action from brazil’s fiercest union i took a step as soon as I began my cycle at Semco: visiting the unions headquarters. That was the first time they had ever been visited by a businessman in their history. We then opened all doors to sit-ins during strikes, gave out free lunch and set up platforms for union leaders to address workers. We then took whatever communication action we could to say that we understood, respected and would even agree with many union issues if we were workers. We then would explain why we disagree but respect the strike, and started teaching workers to read our financials. I would always advise any and every businessman to be 100% open with unions and never coerce or confront – we are no longer in the 1880’s…
? – BS – I believe you personally have a “long service award” for “not making a decision” and even though you have the controlling stock in SEMCO – you have never used your VETO power in the past 25 years? Have you ever regretted this?
RS – I’ve disagreed with many a decision, and had many pet projects sent to file, but the gain of independent thinkers and self-propulsion has always paid off in the balance.
? – BS – You will be a headline speaker at our 2nd Annual FNB Progress Conference on Happiness@Work on the 17th September 2013. Can you give us some insights as to what you will be sharing with the South African audience. In particular, how do you define happiness@work?
RS – I plan to speak about the reasons organizations are such shabby career decisions, and how businesses can change this quickly. Happiness in life, or at work, are similar, and they involve freedom to choose (like in a marriage, or buying a house, or having kids – I have 5!), getting management off your back (much as a spouse!) And feeling that your talents and emotions are aligned with your day to day. Easier said than done, but can be done, and is (mostly) at our companies.