Words of wisdom: Ricardo Semler


Have you ever heard of Ricardo Semler? He’s an entrepreneur/writer/inspirator from Brazil. He took over his fathers’ company with a lot of reluctance, feeling that the ‘traditional’ manufacturing company was not for him. But instead of turning away, he decided to face the challenge. He reformed the company to a democratic one. Resulting in there now being a lot of companies in the main holding, 2 books on the concept and companies from all over the world trying to adopt the same democratic vision. You can read more about it, for example here.

Semler visited the Netherlands for the seminar “Everybody the CEO”, where he spoke about his vision on organizing a company, work and personal life. I was lucky enough to be able to join!

In this first report of the day I will highlight 3 of Ricardo Semlers most remarkable quotes. After that, I bet you’ll be curious to read part two, with practical advise from Semler, and some of my own input and thoughts on this way of living/working!

Lack of Democracy

In all parts of our lives, we seem to value democracy very highly. However, when it comes down to the workplace, this value almost disappears. Why? Companies are still organized the same way they were in the 17th century. Doesn’t that sound a bit strange to you too? Regardless of all developments and the changing environment, the structure of companies has remained the same. Meaning, there are bosses, managers and ‘general’ employees. The organizations are mostly strictly top-down and focussed on endless growth with a short-term vision. Even writing these words down a weird feeling shivers down my spine. The question mr Semler asks himself to reform his company is the following:

“How to move from an age of smart (faster, more, unending growth, efficiency, working over-time, outsmarting competitors) to an age of wisdom (long-term thinking, realistic view on growth, literally make use of wisdom again, horizontal organizations)?”

We’re all humans here

What appeals to me most about Semlers view on the world, is the fact that he lives by the idea that we are all human, that we all want to be home with our family members when they are ill, to take care of them. That we all have off-days. That maybe we want to go to the movies on monday afternoon when we’ve worked on sunday morning. That we humans have different biorhythms, so not everyone can start working at 9am. That vision and honesty is a great, but apparently scarce, good. Let me illustrate this with the following quote:

In todays’ world, hiring people is like internet dating. I as a company representative will tell you that this company is wonderful, the best place to work, opportunities for growth, great colleagues etc. You on the other hand will tell me that you are the right person for this job and that I would be crazy not to hire you. We both ‘forget’ to tell the negative aspects. At Semco, we stopped looking for a ‘model’ fitting to a job description. We have some requirements, but we mostly hire people based on their personalities, their authenticity. If they are driven, if we have a position in one of our companies that suits to their passion. To be honest, you might as well go stand at a busy crossroad, pick the first ten people that pass you and start a company with them. Most probably you will have hired a cross-section of society.”

No mandate lasts forever

One of the most sympathetic aspects of how Semco is organized, is the fact that people at the top only have a mandate for 90 days. This mandate can be renewed, but they will never be in this position for years in a row without any review of how they perform or how they treat their colleagues. Nobody can be full of themselves in the Semco companies, there is no room for a big ego or big salaries for no reason. As Ricardo Semler puts it:

“Your company will be like the titanic, going down because of ego’s.”

Ok, thanks for the beautiful one-liners, what now?

A big part of people in the audience were in the process of applying the Semco vision to their companies. But it remained difficult, because it is so different from what we are used to. Changing habits takes a lot of effort, trial and error. What I love about Ricardo Semlers ideas, is that they are applicable to your whole life. He demonstrated that with some examples from his own personal life. Actually for me it sounded a bit like getting rid of the idea that you ‘Live for your work or work for a living’. You can bring both in perfect balance. So, be prepared for some more practical advise soon!

Oh by the way, looking for more on Ricardo Semler and Semco (I can def. recommend that), here’s an interesting interview. Or for all Dutch speaking people, watch the Tegenlicht episode.

What do you think about Ricardo Semlers vision?

This might be interesting



  1. “We’re all humans here”… O fijn. Als dat toch eens echt doorgevoerd kon worden… Flexibele werktijden, naar een bruiloft mogen gaan zonder zelf op je knieën te hoeven gaan voor de baas, ruimte voor een off-day ipv vijf dagen per week moeten pieken van 8.00-17.00. Apple is daar naar mijn idee ook wel mee bezig. Zo mag iedere werknemer daar een flink percentage van zijn werktijd besteden aan eigen projecten. Een blije werknemer is een productieve werknemer..? :)

    • ja dat zou zo fijn zijn he. Flexibele werktijden zou al zo’n verschil maken om te beginnen. En dat van die eigen projecten, dat lijkt me nou super als je werkgever daar ruimte voor geeft he!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *