Warning: Liveblogging. Prone to error, inaccuracy and terrible, terrible crimes against grammar. This post will be improved over the next 24 hours

Bob Doak

Bob Doak works for WL Gore & Associates – a global business whose products you’ve probably worn.

He’s a case study of a big, old organisation, but one that lives values that many assume are liberal or cultish. And yet, Gore don’t owe anyone money – so they’re probably destroying it. And Bob Doak is terrified to think what he’ll be like when he’s over 35

WL Gore & Associates was founded in 1958 and is privately held – and has over $3 billion in sales. Their staff – in 30 countries – are associates. It’s one of only five companies to be on every “100 best places to work” list since 1984. They’re written up as innovators all over the place. Bob Gore is their chairman – and he’s firm that the products must do what they say they do.

Their products are everywhere – clothes, aircraft, full cells. But most people know them for their consumer fabrics. Their medical products division is “growing like topsy”. Their products are used for minimally invasive procedure.

Divisions, lattices and slaying bureaucracy

They have four divisions:

  • medical
  • electronic
  • industrial
  • fabrics.

They keep the core technologies centrally, not in the divisions. The divisions are run by business people, so think to deadlines and targets. Held centrally, they can do long-term research. Their core products need to be hard to copy, and viable over time.

They’re a lattice-base organisation, and strive for minimal bureaucracy. You do need some with 10,000 people – but can minimise it. They’re keen on innovation and creativity in their internal systems – and leadership is defined by followership. Without it you’re a manager – and if you’re a manager you’re gone.

Their objective? Make money – and have fun while you’re doing it.

A presumption of trust

They work with a presumption of trust in people from the moment they hire them. They encourage self-direction. It allows people to grow and be more creative, and that leads to passionate champions. Nothing happens at Gore unless there is a passionate champion to drive it. You can’t have a good idea for someone else to do – if it’s such a good idea, do it yourself.

They organise into small, connected teams. There’s no hiding place in a small team – but it makes people feel empowered. They’re not a democracy – a leader makes a decision – but all people are able to have input, and all are in the same boat. All associates are shareholders. Individual shareholding grows year on year.

They buy companies – but for their technologies, not their revenues. They’re patient about getting products to market.

The Gore Principles

  1. Freedom – the most misunderstood principle. The freedom to help the enterprise and to grow in knowledge, scope of responsibility and skill.
  2. Fairness – they strive to be fair. That’s not the same as being the same. Fair is about fairness, not equality.
  3. Commitment – everyone makes their own commitments – and is responsible for keeping them.
  4. Waterline – we’ll always use others’ expertise when making decisions that might be “below the waterline” – that might risk the company. It’s a challenge getting people to take risks, but they encourage it in situations that aren’t below the waterline.

Feedback is a gift – but “a funny one when your bum is sore from being kicked”. Teams rank each other. Compensation is a secret between you and the enterprise. It’s not equal – but they strive to be fair, to match contribution to compensation. Credibility is earned.

Getting the right people is painful – it’s hard to find them.

(And with that, Bob evicts himself from the stage, as he notices Tom Dixon lurking…)