Corporate Rebels Around The World, Next Stop: Brazil

Written by in Bucket list
- 4 min read

For two-and-half years we have travelled the world as Corporate Rebels—searching for, and visiting, the most progressive organizations we can find. We’ve just arrived in one of Brazil’s most vibrant cities, São Paulo, on a very special mission.

You know our mission is to make work more fun. So it’s important to show there are progressive organisations to be found anywhere in the world. And that means organizations in any industry, of any size, in any culture. That’s why we want a Bucket List that is as diverse as possible.

We have already explored Europe, North America, Asia, and even Down Under. But, until now, a whole continent has been missing from our List. It is South America. This changes now!

There are the three good reasons why we are in São Paulo…

1. To learn

Semco, Ricardo Semler, Clovis Bojikian

We finally get to visit three of the most important pioneers on our list; the manufacturing company Semco, its CEO Ricardo Semler, and former HR Director Clovis Bojikian.

Why are they so important? Because, for us (and many, many others) reading Ricardo’s bestseller, Maverick! made a huge impact on our thinking. This is especially true about our thoughts on progressive ways of working.

His book (full title Maverick! The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace) was a bestseller in 1993. In it Ricardo describes how they transformed a traditional, autocratic company into a workplace based on democratic, decentralized and participatory principles.

Even more impressive is that this all took place in the 1980s! His book shows that making work more fun is not a modern-day fad. It also shows that progressive workplaces can be built anywhere, any time—even in a Brazilian factory in the 80s! There are simply no valid excuses left. Many of the workplace practices we write about now were pioneered by Ricardo, and then Director of HR, Clovis Bojikian.

Here’s a glimpse of some we are aware of:

  • During Semco’s transformation, corporate staff was reduced by 75%. They closed any department that did not add real value. They introduced a Circular Organization, created by clustering teams around their ‘own’ products. Adding more autonomy and responsibility, the result was happier and more productive teams.
  • All perks and privileges were stripped away. No more executive dining rooms, fancy offices, dress codes, or reserved parking spots.
  • Factory workers were trusted to set their own production quotas and to develop product improvements. All employees were treated as adults, capable of making wise decisions on the job. Employees even set their own salaries.
  • The remaining managers were evaluated by their own staff. The results were posted for all to see, creating a culture of radical transparency. This applied to most information, from salaries to profit margins to strategies.
  • They introduced high levels of democracy, giving employees a direct vote on most important decisions.
  • Employees were encouraged (and supported) to set up their own companies, allowing some to become real entrepreneurs.

That is really impressive. We want to discover more.

VAGAS & Mario Kaphan

During our visit to Brazil we’ll visit another pioneering company, VAGAS; a Brazilian software company for the recruitment market. When we learned about a “radically horizontal organization with no functional hierarchy and no command structure” we knew it had to be on our list.

We’ll meet with VAGAS’ founder Mário Kaphan to learn all about their most unusual transformation; including its main successes and inevitable failures.

2. To share

article photo

We are in Brazil not only to learn more about Brazil’s progressive organizations, but also to fuel the South American movement to make work more fun. In an intensive and interactive knowledge exchange in São Paulo we will share our vision on new ways of working, and the future of work.

The main session hosts are our friends from KES. KES is a Brazilian-based innovation content platform whose mission is to help companies and executives develop a new business mentality. It’s a mission we support. It aligns well with ours.

Check out this link if you want to learn more about this session or KES.

3. To relax

Last, but definitely not least, we mean to relax! Besides learning and working, there must be time for relaxation in the trip as well. So, this weekend we will rent a 4×4 jeep and do a road trip to the beautiful island of Ilhabela.

On the island we hope for good winds so we can spend time kite-surfing. No wind? No problem! We can always spend time on the beach or at the pool. From there we will write our next story, with some Caipirinhas (Brazil’s national cocktail) for inspiration…


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