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Threefolding in the factory tires Barum-Continental
Interview to Jiri Jaburek

Aurelio Riccioli


Stabilimento di Okotrovice Although concrete experiences of threefold ideas in business are not lacking, I think what Jiri Jaburek has implemented in the production management at Barum-Continental tire factory in Otrokovice (Czech Republic) might come as a surprise even for an expert in management methods, given the dimensions of the undertaking in question, the strategy pursued and especially the entity concerned and the value of the results achieved. Someone will surely object that such a strategy at first does not reflect orthodox threefold principles, but you have to keep in mind that it has been undertaken in a context of profit maximization, set against the heavy collectivist historical legacy of that country with its consequently fierce syndicalism. Despite these constraints, original choices have been made characterized by courageous organizational innovation, with solutions that have been allowed to adapt themselves completely to the needs of a previously loss-making company, transforming it radically. Undoubtedly herein resides the great value of this experience, achieved moreover, without previous models to go by, at least not of this size. And the results were almost immediate, both in economic and human terms. In few other companies – and not just of the Czech Republic – would a worker have a better perception of his talents and capabilities, as well as of the consideration that the company gives to the dignity of those who work there. Is this a replicable experience? Jaburek's answer: "To copy strategies is easy, to create an environment permeated by truth in which there is a heart-to-heart dialogue is totally different matter". We can only hope that this experience will continue and taken up by others.

Jiri Jaburek
Eng. Jiri Jaburek
Otrokovice, about 80 kilometers north-east of Brno, Czech Republic. In this little Moravian town the German multi-national Continental (based in Hanover, Germany) has one of its biggest tire factories, a huge industrial complex whose skyline is clearly visible from several miles away. At the main entrance of the facility, the agile figure of engineer, Jiri Jaburek, wearing his 63 years well, meets us smiling while from afar, his hand already bidding us ‘hello’. It's Sunday, but the factory is working today. The parking in front of the entrance is half-empty, so it is not possible to mistake that we are the visitors he is expecting. As we enter the corporate offices along half-deserted corridors, Jiri tells us how the company began in 1924 with the name of Bata Tires, initially producing shoe soles High Tech Barum before shifting in 1932 to the production of tires. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1993 the company, renamed Barum, was taken over by the German company, Continental, hence its current name Barum Continental. A small share in the partnership is also held by Michelin, for obvious reasons of know-how synergies. In the 1990s Jaburek, an engineer, became a member of the management team. Although without specific prior experience, he had made extensive studies of Rudolf Steiner’s threefold social ideas, that would be his constant reference in the organization of Barum, albeit in the particular ways that he explains in the interview. Under his direction, the backward local company was gradually transformed into one of the biggest and best production units of the Continental Corporation. Since 1993, when the new Continental management began, the company in Otrokovice has increased production tenfold, with the same number of employees: 4,500 people. Currently the factory produces 22 million tires a year, including the best high-tech products, recording a turnover of more than 1,420 million euros and profit of 405 million euros (equal to 28.5% of revenues!). And the wages received by workers are among the highest for the sector in the Czech Republic, in accordance with the well established principle that the more prosperous companies are always those that have the most up-to-date, and therefore most competitive, facilities and whose skilled workers earn higher than the collective agreements.

Mr. Jaburek what is your role within Barum-Continental?

Currently I am working as a consultant to the general manager, but in September [2012, Ed.] I will retire. From 1990, I worked as director of quality, then as director of production, and in 2010 I began to work in the branches of the Continental Corporation providing technical and managerial support. I helped to improve processes in companies in Romania, Mexico, Malaysia, while in Russia, in Moscow, I served as director of the company.

How is production organized today in Barum-Continental?

Since 1995, all the workers work in the "half-independent work groups", that means, teams usually consisting of 5 to 10 people. Of their total monthly wage, about 60% represents the requirements of the Czech Republic’s mandatory national labour contract; the rest is the potential bonus for the team, the purpose of which is to promote the solidarity: "All for one, one for all." Each team chooses its own spokesperson, who allocates the available budget monthly and decides awards (up to 120 euro per month for person) based on the conduct and activities of the members in the fields of quality improvement, ecology, training of new employees, etc. In addition, there are half-yearly bonuses, for which loyalty and years service are taken into account.

Who evaluates the employee's performances and by what criteria?

The performances awards within the team are determined by the precise count of the ‘Industrial Engineering’ department, based on use of machinery. We also have a specific rule for determining individual awards, but the subjective evaluation of the team spokesman obviously plays an essential role here. However, all the discussions about the allocations of this money help to strengthen the solidarity in the team.

Could you give some examples of how these discussions improve social negotiation within the team? One would expect them to lead to worse conditions

I believe that the basis of social behaviour lies in understanding one’s own role within a team and the contribution of the team. This understanding can be achieved by these discussions.

Are there or have there been complaints from employees about their ratings? In general, how have they accepted being constantly under review"?

ReportWhen we started to set up this system, many explanations and discussions were necessary. We also had to develop the software that would allow performance to be measured in such a way that the workers had access to the data the next day: How much they earned the day before, how much since the beginning of the month, and so on. We have even hired external psychologists, who helped us to establish teamwork processes. At first some people were laid off because they could not live with this new system. Since then we have had 15 years and the system is constantly evolving, although the basis remains unchanged: the work of the team as a whole, that means working for others and individually reaping the benefits of what others do for me. The system has also spread to auxiliary professions.

Auxiliary professions means employees more generally? Or has this system only been implemented for production line workers?

The system was implemented primarily for production workers. After several years, it has been extended to other categories of workers, such as maintenance workers and other support activities. We attempt to use a similar system for all employees, trying to treasure this positive experience.

How did the unions react to this policy of production management?

Obviously it was necessary to explain many things. But since the system is based on the promotion of the social behaviour of people, the trade unions have accepted this change. Last spring [2012], the unions called a general strike with a related demonstration in Prague to protest against the economic crisis. It was attended by employees of every company in the Republic, from each of which buses were sent to the capital. When I asked our union representatives how many buses would be going from Continental, they said they would not be able to fill even one compartment of a train...

What do you exactly mean with "social behaviour of people"?

I mean solidarity, support for colleagues, thinking "we are a team", eventually arriving at the "fraternity" as the watchword for economic life in Steiner’s threefold conception of society.

What do you understand by that?

For me, it is the way to build an harmonious and Christian human future on earth. Starting from the threefold nature of the human being to the threefold nature of the social organism in which he lives.

What is the true task of a company? We can say that it has to satisfy human needs, to give workers a decent standard of living and at the same time nourish the cultural life of society? Is it still essential to be profitable?

I think we need to understand the threefold nature of life. We live in three worlds at the same time: physical (economy), psychological (law, politics) and spiritual (culture, science, religion). And we must not forget the special needs of each of these three spheres. Profit and money are an important aspect of economic life, but we should also think about the harmony and the three types of money according to the Rudolf Steiner’s view of things. One of the examples of my management style is the Benedictine motto "ora et labora"...

How do the employees perceive Barum-Continental management?

AwarenessCurrently we have not been beaten by anyone! [Laughs ..] Of course, there is always someone who flatly disagrees with everything and tries to destroy things... But every two years Continental Corporation evaluates the management on the basis of an anonymous questionnaire, that is then assessed by an outside consulting firm, so we also have an objective feedback. We regularly organize various programs for employees, such as the days when the company opens its doors to everybody, through discussions, cutting the grass in the company garden together, fun days for the families of workers, etc.

What have been the highlights of this feedback?

This questionnaire and feedback are managed by a human resources company that works for the whole of Continental, worldwide. Each manager of each area must prepare an action plan to improve the situation. I believe that similar systems are used by many modern multi-national companies. But much depends on how the managers use these systems... Trust and honesty are necessary.

In addition to the income supplements you described are there other benefits which the employees can avail themselves of?

In total we have 18 different kinds of benefits (for example, spa treatments, discounts for employees, catering, etc.). When we had the disastrous flood of 1997, we donated 12 thousand Euros to each employee who have been affected [64 in all, Ed.], meanwhile other 12 thousand Euro amounts were disbursed as zero interest rebuilding loans. In such matters and in the allocations of benefits the unions have an important role.

You mean that unions can suggest how to divide the benefits?

The unions decide on the kind of benefits, for whom, and how to allocate them. The benefits are paid from the "social account", generally approved by the owners in the annual budget and the expense must be approved by the union.

What were the strengths and major difficulties encountered in applying this to the organization of production?

I believe that the most important thing is to have a clear vision and know how to make it attractive to all, and always to be ready to answer when people come and ask: "What’s in this for me?” It is one thing to have a clear vision and a clear strategy, but another to get the trust of employees. You can only earn this "heart to heart"...

The threefold idea envisages a distinction – but also an interaction – between the rights, economic and spiritual parts of the social organism. How has your governance model implemented these principles?

A company is a living organism that gets sick when one of the three elements becomes repressed or does not develop. It has its own memory and DNA. The spiritual part of the social organism manifests itself for example in the corporate culture, in the general atmosphere, in the moral values and in the way of realising the company's mission. It also manifests itself in the individual creativity and evolution of every employee, and this must be absolutely supported. The rights part of society manifests itself in regulations and in "laws", before which we are all equal. Here all have one vote. People accept more than anything else what they themselves invent. To this end, we go to considerable lengths to allow our workers to establish the values and regulations, under which their teams will work and want to follow. So it is important that the management then carefully respects these regulations. When a general manager goes onto the production floor, he must wear safety shoes and respect everything he expects his workers to respect. He must behave in an exemplary manner. In the rights sphere it is very important that every employee has the security that he can "obtain communication", that he knows who to contact in case he feels that his rights have been violated. In this regard, as well as trade unions collaboration with the management, I recommend that there should also be a "civic defender": a moral and apolitical authority. In the economic sector there can be no parity: such an economy could not work. For instance, not everyone can have the same salary. But it is still necessary to respect solidarity and legitimate fraternity. If in a community the spiritual and soul parts work, then trust is born: something that cannot be bought at any price, something that has decisive influence on the economy and on profitability. An economy without trust is very inefficient.

Can you give some examples of these workers' regulations?

Awareness workshopThe workers formulate "the basic principles of their workplace" and the "matrix of responsibilities and authority" for each team. External or inside facilitators are sometimes needed to help the process of team building. Then a new problem can arise: Problems among teams in the customer-supplier chain. For this eventuality we have developed a two-day workshop, which ends with an "agreement between customer and supplier" signed by all those concerned.

What differentiates your model of wage integration from similar initiatives now common in a lot of companies in many countries?

Perhaps it is different really because we hold trust and truth as fundamental. Every lie, even the most insignificant, turns the best system into a caricature. Incapable and selfish executives can spoil every system. In our country we experienced the long period of communism, in which similar team systems were imposed. But the majority of people derided them, and nobody believed in them. If the community does not systematically work precisely on a spiritual, moral and cultural basis, if it does not have clear values, sooner or later one falls into one of the temptations: greed, sex, money, power, glory, pride. One can learn a lot from the history of the various religious communities: for me the factory is a temple, where people come to work and thus making their love visible.

Listening to your words, leads one to wonder if a manager doesn’t need to be a Buddhist monk to manage an enterprise. How important for you is the spiritual evolution of an individual?

In my opinion this is a serious problem in modern management, and my recommendation is to read the books of Anselm Grün and other anthroposophical authors. In the management of Barum-Continental, we have been lucky to have had the top manager, Pavel Pravec, and some others who think in an anthroposophical way.

What is the next step you would like to realize on the threefold road in Barum-Continental?

To increase further solidarity and to live in a more intense way in the spiritual and cultural sphere. We are currently working on a project for how all employees can collaborate to create the company’s vision and strategy. We have also begun some exhibitions of art works directly within the company and in the workplaces. It is always necessary ask yourself how to improve and maintain mutual trust with all employees. We have started a project in elementary, middle and high schools, and also in the university of our region, to support manual rather than informatics education, because we have observed that the new young employees only know how to work with computers, to the detriment of their creativity and manual abilities.Awareness workshop

How important do you consider the role of donations in the economic process? How could it be implemented for example in a huge factory like Barum-Continental?

I would not know, I think it depends on the possibilities and the situation. For example, in 1997 we had a great flood in the region and we spent almost 2 million Euros to socially support all the employees who were stricken by it. In general, in the factory in Otrokovice there are no fixed rules regarding donations: once in a while someone proposes an idea and there is always the spirit or atmosphere for an open discussion and decisions-making in the social field, budget allowing.

Are the wage negotiations, or the economic factor, only just a lever to get high performances from workers?

This factor differs in different countries. Sometimes even the most modest economic incentive can increase employees’ performances in a decisive way. On the other hand, the opposite can happen, because money by itself does not motivate. One needs to take into account the specific culture of each country, and the period and situations that people find themselves in. And in any case we have to work with people’s inner lives and spiritual needs.

What they think about your results at head office? Have they shown interest in replicating your model in other facilities?

Yes, Continental Corporation uses the software and the basic model of our salary system in other facilities, for instance in Brazil, in Romania, in China, in Mexico, etc. But in Europe and in the USA there are many more problems because of the old thought patterns of the trade unions, so the wage model is not used. It also depends on the circumstances and management strategy of the particular facility. In general, managers believe that pay-per-team is something strange and that this is only possible in the countries in the ex-communist bloc, but I do not think in this way...

Given the experience of Barum-Continental, have trade unions tried to propagate your model in other companies?

You know, it seems to me that in every country and every company the trade unions are slightly different, but they are often very short termist and they are selfish: they think only of themselves and of the relative advantages of their own members, often to the detriment of other people or other companies or countries or the other side of the world. There is also a great deal of competition between the branches and between countries. Often they ask for more autonomy, but do want neither the duties nor the responsibility for results. We were lucky thanks to the tradition in our region, that is based on the great entrepreneur and philanthropist, Tomas Bata. he gave his employees great autonomy, but he also required great responsibility. He said: "The duty of a citizen is to govern, but not to complain". Our employees have accepted this philosophy, and I believe it has paid dividends.

Barum Continental

The interview is ended, we are about to leave the management offices. Without waiting for the transfer to the safety staff, Jiri turns off all the lights and closes any windows that have been left open: "Sometimes we get really strong thunderstorms here...," he tells us while he is closing them with care, as if they were the windows in his own home.

Aurelio Riccioli