WSJ op-ed on FAVI

Workers of Europe, Innovate !

by Brian M. Carney

JULY 25, 2005

Hallencourt, France — In this hamlet in the north of France, Jean-Francois Zobrist leads the sort of company that isn’t supposed to exist any more in high-tax, high-cost socialist Europe. It’s a company — in France, remember — where workers volunteer to work Saturdays when an extra-large order needs to be filled by Monday, where front-line employees redesign products to improve efficiency, and where prices have fallen almost every year for decades. The business is as old-economy as they come. FAVI is an 800-employee copper foundry that began in the 1940s making plumbing fixtures. In the ’70s, with the market for copper plumbing in decline, it moved into water meters. In the ’80s FAVI started making copper forks for automotive gear boxes; it is now the European leader in this niche, with over 50% of the market. What’s more, FAVI makes money in markets in which his competitors lose money — or have long since outsourced production to Asia. How does FAVI do it? Mr. Zobrist is a man of many maxims, but one of them is that the company he runs (he owns no stake in the family-owned company himself) makes its employees happy. The key to happiness, in his view, is to free workers from the arbitrary restrictions of the chain of command, or rather, the chaine de comment — the chain of “how.”

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About Isaac Getz

Isaac Getz is an author, conference speaker, senior advisor and currently holds the post of Professor at ESCP Business School.

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