EYES ON BRAZIL. THINK WORK DIFFERENT.
Concerning democracy at the workplace, Clovis Bojikian is a man with richest experience: he joined the Brazilian company Semco – which is now known for its participative management – in the 1970s and became responsible for human resources. Back then, a young man called Ricardo Semler had just taken over the company Semco by his father Curt Semler who was born in Vienna in 1912 and had migrated, eventually, to Brazil where he build up the company. Ricardo Semler’s father was a traditionalist who treated his employees paternalistically and who considered strikes as personal affronts. His son wanted to go other ways.
At a time when Brazil was being ruled by generals, Ricardo Semler and Clovis Bojikian were heading for democratisation within their own sphere of influence: within the company. “You don’t know how to motivate people, but to know how to offer conditions of participation”, Clovis Bojikian says. How did all of this come about?
Clovis Bojikian: My background is in education. I first started working in education. I’ve worked at an experimental college in São Paulo. So my first 7, 8 years of work experience was in education. The college I worked at went through a crisis because of the dictatorship: the school was somewhat progressive, and this didn’t go well with the dictatorial regime. My work was considered subversive. And the college was practically shut down.
At that moment I changed careers, I left education and entered the corporate world, into a field close to education which was ‘training’.
My first job in the corporate world was in the car industry, at Ford Motor Company in São Paulo (N.B. and after 18 years working for Ford, Clovis hat become Ford’s human resources manager in Brazil). I’ve been through many other companies where it was always hard to implement more innovative projects. There was much resistance for any change in all the companies and I was already conforming myself with the fact that it was impossible to do anything new in the corporate world. I was practically ok with the idea so work was an obligation, and I was to do it in the best possible way. But it didn’t bring me the same satisfaction I felt as an educator.
Which innovation did you want to implement?
Break barriers, such as very autocratic types of management, such as the law of the “Do as I tell you; if you have any sense, do as I order you or you’ll be fired”; or the flock mentality that executes whatever the directory says, period. And always this vision of work as an obligation with no possibility whatsoever to bring any pleasure, happiness, satisfaction etc. Work was seen as an obligation.
Then, I applied for a company named Semco, a company I’d never heard of and I went to an interview. There I was told by some people to wait, that I would be interviewed by the president, Ricardo Semler. I’d also never heard of Ricardo Semler. I was waiting; suddenly, in came a young man, who I thought was coming in to give me a message, he sat at the desk and started to interview me. And it was Ricardo Semler.
Not only was he very young, he looked even younger, he was 22-23 years old, a Law student, and I was already 46 years old. So for the first time in my life, I was going to work for a president who was not only younger than me, but much younger: he was my son’s age.
At first I was shocked, but after 5 minutes, all my fears left me, because I felt I was sitting in front of a person whose questions had great depth, and I couldn’t understand where it all came from, because his experience couldn’t be so great: it was all a product of much reading, his own reflexions. And then, for the first time, I started to see the possibility of finding gratification working for a company, and that to me was extraordinary because the conversation and his questions kept getting more interesting, and I felt a great identification with his ideas. Suddenly it was ten p.m. This was 30 years ago. I asked: “Can you hold on a minute, I need to call my wife and tell her I’m still at an interview, I hope she believes me.” Ricardo was also startled because he hadn’t realised it was already 10pm; at that time, there were no cell phones, communication was difficult so I made the call and we called it a day. We met for four, five more hours on another day and then I was hired.
So, I started work and a week later, we realized that we had forgotten to talk about salary because the other topics we’d discussed were much more important, so we had to sit again and discuss the salary but that was very easy.
read more : about taking over
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