'The trouble with entrepreneurs,' reflects Michael Dettmers, 'is that, though they hated working for someone else, they create organisations that are exactly the same as the ones they hated working for.'
Dettmers has not followed the pattern. In 1988 he set up Dettmers Industries, a manufacturer of interior fittings for aircraft, in Stuart, Florida, to test out his own theories of management. Six years on, the company has margins of 25%, a roster of customers including British Aerospace, Gulfstream and Dassault and was last year voted one of America's best small companies. Indeed, on a recent visit to Europe, Dettmers was asked by Lufthansa to explain his ethos to some of its senior managers. His secret? Teamwork. All Dettmers employees work in groups of five or six, determine their wages and even decide whether to take on more staff. Machinists earn an average $50,000 a year. Staff spend Saturday mornings doing anything from team-based exercises to t'ai chi.
Unsurprisingly, he encounters great scepticism. Such was the aversion of one competitor to his methods that it called off a planned merger. Dettmers is steadfast, admitting that while most companies introduce teamworking as a quality initiative, they go so far and no further. 'The only thing that holds you back is fear.'