Open Books, Open Minds: The Great Game of Business

In 1983, Jack Stack led a group of employees to buy-out a division of International Harvester, the Springfield Remanufacturing Company (SRC). But Stack and his associates where not just interested in building another business, but a new kind of business. It would be an employee-owned business, to be sure, and that was rare enough. But Stack wanted more. He wanted employees who had enough business knowledge to run the company themselves. Ownership was not enough; the employees had to be their own bosses. But to do that, they had to have business skills and access to the books. The key, he realized, was open-book management and business education. So the books, all of the books, were open to all of the employee-owners. Going beyond that, he established "The Great Game of Business," a system of informal but continuous education, which raises all employees up and allows all of them to make informed judgments about the course of the business. Of the success of this system, Mr. Stack says, "We've had dozens of employees rise from the shop floor to top management positions, and they're far better qualified than a lot of MBAs I see."

Twenty years ago, the PBS Newshour ran a segment on SRC, and tonight they revisited the company to see how they were weathering the current economic storms. It is worth seeing this segment:

What Jack Stack and his colleagues are giving us is a practical lesson in The Principle of Gratuitousness, which Pope Benedict identified in his latest encyclical. Far from being a mere platitude, it is a practical principle of business, far more practical than most of what is taught at b-schools. Stack understands that the business is really about the people who are part of it, and to build the business, you must build the people, by ownership, by education, by trusting them to make good decisions.

In this day, when nothing seems to be working, we at the Distributist Review need to be on the lookout for things that do work. And this works. As Jack Stack says:

When you open your books--really open them--you also open your mind, and neither your books nor your mind will be closed again.


JimB Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 4:38:00 AM CDT  

"It's not only about jobs - it's about opportunity"

What an inspiring story ! Although not structured as a coop, they are probably the closest thing to Mondragon in the US. Thanks for posting this ! I attended one of their introductory webinars recently, and asked them if they knew of any coop's using their methodology. He wasn't sure and and they said they would get back to me with an answer (never did).

Chris Campbell Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 7:25:00 AM CDT  

well said an thanks for agreat quote, via Stack.....

will have to watch video when I get home from wage slave job

JimB Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 1:26:00 PM CDT  

There's another great clip from this segment - maybe John can embed it in the post

Making Use of Employees' Talents

Doug Chappell,  Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 3:13:00 PM CDT  

Thanks for something positive. Notice (like Mondragon) they didn't loose jobs in the downturn. People will sacrafice for something they understand and feel a part of.

Now, if only Fox or one of the major networks would feature this instead of PBS.

Mr. Piccolo,  Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 6:04:00 PM CDT  

Great post. I think an interesting topic for a future post on this blog would be the phenomenon of deskilling. As I have heard it described (I could very well be wrong here), deskilling is the process by which management centralizes all decision making power and knowledge of the work process in their own hands, leaving workers as mere cogs in an faceless industrial machine.

This topic intrigues me because distributism and similar ideas seem to counter the argument made by both capitalists and state socialists that working people are too dumb and/or lazy to run things themselves, and need constant supervision and stressful management to get them to do anything.

J.Q. Saturday, May 1, 2010 at 7:32:00 AM CDT  

Thanks for the link, I posted it to my facebook. In leadership studies, this seems to be catching on, however, the problem is that many leaders see the positives and try to implement them without giving ownership and profit-sharing. I do not know if it is possible for an employee to act like owners when in fact they are not.

Jeff Monday, May 3, 2010 at 8:54:00 AM CDT  


I am looking for an article that was posted either here or at Chester-Belloc.It discussed the nature of large capitalistic corporations and how they are actually socialistic, lacking personal ownership, and accountability.

Any help would be appreciated.

John Médaille Monday, May 3, 2010 at 9:17:00 AM CDT  

Jeff, This might be what you are talking about:

Jeff Monday, May 3, 2010 at 9:23:00 AM CDT  

That is it! Thank you, John.

Chris Campbell Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 9:28:00 AM CDT  

Interestingly, my mother still clings to the ANglo-Saxon wasp ideas at times, she stated recently that the unions have basically caused the loss of jobs, they did it to themselves.

Now true, many unions exist just to exist and provide money and pwoer to a few, but unions in themselves are not evil and a result of highly structured businessness where a man feels no connection to a business and feels powerless to do anything about it.

Unions in principle are not evil, but most corporations as they exist today are.

We see a real disconnect in thinking and that is why Fox News,etc would not have this on their programs, Straw is not lining their pockets and maintaining the status quo of corporate America, in bed with the Govt and major media....

hats off to PBS in this instance at least!

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