How we went digital without a strategy.

  • R Semler
  • Published 2000 in Harvard business review


Once you say what business you're in, you put your employees into a mental straitjacket and hand them a ready-made excuse for ignoring new opportunities. So rather than dictate his company's identity, Ricardo Semler--the majority owner of Semco in São Paulo, Brazil--lets his employees shape it through their individual efforts and interests. "I don't know what Semco is," he writes in this first-person account of his company's expansion from manufacturing to Internet services. "Nor do I want to know." Ten years ago, Semco employees who were selling cooling towers to owners of large commercial buildings heard customers complain about the high cost of maintaining the towers. The salespeople proposed a new business in cooling-tower maintenance, and the venture is now a $30 million property-management business. That initiative led to the creation, with Semco's support, of an on-line exchange to facilitate the management of commercial construction projects. The exchange is revolutionizing the construction process in Brazil and has become a springboard for further Web initiatives such as virtual trade shows. The author shares some of the lessons he has learned along the way: Forget about the top line. Never stop being a start-up. Don't be a nanny (treat your employees like adults). Let talent find its place. Make decisions quickly and openly when it comes to reviewing proposals for new businesses. And partner promiscuously: "Our partners," Semler says, "are as much a part of our company as our employees."

Cite this paper

@article{Semler2000HowWW, title={How we went digital without a strategy.}, author={R Semler}, journal={Harvard business review}, year={2000}, volume={78 5}, pages={51-3, 56-8, 198} }