How does he manage?: The maverick boss

Ricardo Semler, chief executive of Semco, is renowned for his alternative take on leadership. Here the Brazilian talks through his approach.

When did you become a manager?

When I took over my father's company, Semco, in 1982. I was only 21, and tried to fit the model of the classic businessman overnight. Of course, it didn't work. I was soon terribly stressed, the whole organisation was stressed and it became obvious it was a very difficult and silly way to run a business.

What does management mean to you?

Transferring responsibility to people. We've undone all the ‘boarding school' aspects of business so people can pursue what really gratifies them. People see work as something that starts at nine and goes on till six. They accept that idea, but it's very silly. If you take away the time going to headquarters and business lunches, staff can buy back 15 to 20 hours a week and use it for themselves. People know how to send e-mails on a Sunday, but they haven't learnt how to go to the cinema on a Monday afternoon. You're just taking blocks of time and shifting it. Check e-mails when it's raining; when it's sunny, go horse riding.

What do you love/hate about your job?

I spend only 10% of my time doing things I don't like. I don't like running meetings, so I don't do it. Every day after breakfast, I look at my to-do list and think: ‘What's the very worst that will happen if I cancel this?' I'm interested in the architecture of how things work, figuring out how to redesign something and doing away with the silliness of how we run our lives.


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