The author of this book, Frank Koller, and I share something in common. He learned of a company named Lincoln Electric, headquartered in Cleveland, as he was listening to an interview of the CEO on National Public Radio (NPR). I learned of the book as I was listening to an interview on NPR of the author. As I live in Cleveland, I am familiar with Lincoln Electric, however I didn't know about some of the things that make them extremely unique, not only in Cleveland, but in the world. Frank Koller, in his book, Spark: How Old Fashioned Values Drive a Twenty-First Century Corporation: Lessons from Lincoln Electric's Unique Guaranteed Employment Program, exposes the world's number one manufacturer of welding machines key strength; its Guaranteed Employment Program. Yes, you read that correctly; if an employee passes the three year probation period, and meets performance standards, they are guaranteed a job for as long as they want to work. Most of the employees retire after 30 to 40 years and, much like manufacturer's of the past, it isn't uncommon for generations of families to work at the company. How is it possible that, under a guaranteed employment program, Lincoln Electric has survived since 1895?
Chapter 1: "Tossed Out on the Street Like Worthless Scrap"
Chapter 2: "If We Tried Harder, Could the Company Pay Us More?"
Chapter 3: "Understanding What the End Game is All About"
Chapter 4: "The Proper Step Forward"
Chapter 5: "Layoffs Aren't A Big Deal Anymore"
Chapter 6: "A Terribly Nonoptimal and Inefficient Policy"
Chapter 7: "This is Not About Altruism"
Lincoln Electric was started in Cleveland by John Lincoln, who had been laid off from a small electric motor company even though he invented a highly profitable product for the company. At the time of the founding, 1895, America was experiencing a severe recession; credit was nonexistent, banks were failing, millions out of work, and the government appeared helpless. In 1907, John made the decision to recruit his brother, James, to run the company while he worked to invent electric arc welding equipment. James was just what the fledgling company needed; a business leader, charismatic, motivational, and respectful of anyone that worked hard. It was here, in the early days of the company, that the values that would keep the firm growing were born. The Lincoln's believed that workers were important as people, jobs were important to the worker's families and well being, and that was important to the long-term success of the company. Those values continue to this day. While guaranteed employment wasn't an official policy until 1958, Lincoln hadn't laid any off for several decades prior to that.
Interviewing current and past Lincoln CEO's and employees, management and financial market experts, Harvard Business School professors, and more, Koller examines the effects of guaranteed employment on Lincoln, it's workers, and the general business environment. There are many striking insights in this book. Among them:
1. At its most basic, Lincoln employees trust management. They know that if they work hard for the company, the company will work hard for them. This isn't just an empty promise, it is backed up in the culture of the company.
2. The number one bestselling Harvard Business School case study is one on Lincoln Electric.
3. When asked if he would want to run Lincoln Electric, another CEO said "I don't want to work that hard."
4. While most people are upset with CEO compensation, only five people at Lincoln make more than $1 million a year.
5. Keeping institutional knowledge is key to the long-term productivity and viability of an organization.
6. Lincoln employees are extremely flexible. Most know several jobs, and are transferred to other areas of the factory as demand changes for a product.
The saddest aspect of this book is that I believe few people will read it, especially those in management positions. Most of those managers, as Koller's research proves, cannot or will not believe that an organization can survive by guaranteeing their workers employment or building trust with them. It isn't easy, and it goes against "conventional wisdom," but the long term benefits of guaranteed employment has a huge effect on Lincoln Electric, its employees and their families, the cities in which it operates, and Lincoln's customers. Spark: How Old Fashioned Values Drive a Twenty-First Century Corporation: Lessons from Lincoln Electric's Unique Guaranteed Employment Program is one of the best business books I have read, though most people will view Lincoln's program as "quaint" or not applicable in current market conditions. Highly recommended.
Obtained from: Library