RSPA Recommended Read: Maverick

Welcome to the first in a series of articles titled “RSPA Recommended Read.” Various RSPA staff members will share details from books we think would be helpful to leaders and aspiring leaders at VAR, MSP, ISV, and vendor member organizations.

By: Jim Roddy, VP of Marketing at the RSPA

Ricardo Semler’s book Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace was recommended to me by an RSPA VAR member I’ve had conversations with over the years about company culture. He said this was his favorite book on that subject, and it’s now one of mine as well. Semler is a growth and culture expert, honing those skills the hard way. Semler is the longtime CEO of Semco Partners in Brazil where he invented the phrase “industrial democracy,” giving every employee a role in decision-making. During two decades executing this atypical management style, Semco grew revenue from $4 million to $212 million.

I absolutely loved this Semler quote explaining why leaders should be avid readers; it’s the perfect way to kick off the RSPA Recommended Read series: “I read 50 books a year. Centuries of blunders and successes are there for guidance. For a handful of dollars you can buy an explanation that would have spared Napoleon thousands of lives.”

Here are some of my favorite passages from Maverick:

  1. All financial information at Semco is openly discussed. To show we are serious about this, Semco, with the labor unions that represent our workers, developed a course to teach everyone, even messengers and cleaning people, to read balance sheets and cash flow statements.
  2. I take it as a point of pride that twice on my return from long trips my office has been moved — and each time it got smaller.
  3. My role is that of a catalyst. I try to create an environment in which others make decisions. Success means not making them myself.
  4. Before people are hired or promoted to leadership positions, they are interviewed and approved by all who will be working for them.
  5. Every six months managers are evaluated by those who work under them. The results are posted for all to see.
  6. It took us almost a decade to learn that our stress was internally generated, the result of an immature organization and infantile goals.
  7. Work hard or get fired. That was the ethic of the new Semco. People were being pushed forward. But how much better to have a self-propelled workforce.
  8. I resolved to delegate furiously, and to summon up the courage to throw unneeded papers away so they wouldn’t clutter my desk or thoughts.
  9. Simplifying our budget process didn’t solve all our problems. But it did help us see them more clearly.
  10. Whoever showed the greatest capacity to lead got the job, calling meetings and moderating discussions. Groups were held together by a natural system of collegial respect. Now the workers couldn’t mindlessly complain about how the factory was run, since they were helping to run it.
  11. It’s wise to keep all the antennas connected. The ostrich that buries its head in the sand has a bigger problem than limited vision; it’s rear end it is an enormous target.
  12. The sad truth is employees of modern corporations have a little reason to feel satisfied, much less fulfilled. Companies do not have the time or the interest to listen to them, and they lack the resources or the inclination to train them for advancement.
  13. A company that doesn’t share information when times are good loses the right to request solidarity and concessions when they aren’t.
  14. The truth may not be pretty, or easily explained, but it is always better out in the open.
  15. We don’t like our people to be imprisoned by their degrees or resumes. Nor do we let the lack of formal education limit anyone’s potential. If a secretary wants to be a sales engineer, we’ll try to make it happen.
  16. Democracy has yet to penetrate the workplace. Dictators and despots are alive and well in offices and factories all over the world. At our company people can always say what’s on their minds, even to their bosses — even when it’s about their bosses.
  17. Establish and promote a common goal, but recognize divergence and let people determine their own ways of achieving it.
  18. Concentrate on building organizations that accomplish that most difficult of all challenges: to make people look forward to coming to work in the morning.

RSPA Recommended Read Rating: 9.0/10
The greatest strength of Maverick is that Semler implores readers to trust their employees. That doesn’t mean hand over your keys this afternoon and abdicate the business. If you invest time teaching your team about multiple aspects of the business and effectively delegate responsibilities to them, that frees you up to work on your business instead of being bogged down working in your business. That’s especially important in today’s changing channel where strategic steering of a VAR or ISV organization can’t be placed on autopilot. Another strength of Maverick (which was difficult for me to capture in the notes) was Semler laying bare his struggles to transform his culture and detailing his persistence across many years to get things right. Semco is a classic example of an overnight success story decades in the making. Purchase your copy of Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace here.

Jim Roddy is the Vice President of Marketing for the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA). He has been active in the POS channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as an RSPA board member, one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board, and several years as a business coach for VARs, ISVs, and MSPs. Jim is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences and he is author of Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer. For more information, contact