Book: Eckart’s notes - good book, critique of the outcome

Tags: books, django

Summary: good book, nice to read. Lots of good tips that I like. But at the end I was left with a sour taste because the good didn’t last. The company that is the core of the book and that embodied the book’s contents got sold and that was the end of line for a lot that the book tries to tell/sell. I’ll include an example of something that might work at the end.

Disclaimer: I know nobody that worked in any of those companies I mention, so I might be totally wrong of I might have a wrong impression. Please correct by e-mail or by adding a comment if it is the case!

The book

A colleague was wildly enthousiastic about the magical Eckart’s notes, presumably a great book with a non-standard notebook-like look. Written by Eckart Wintzen . I didn’t manage to get my hand on it as his copy was in heavy circulation: others kept grabbing it before I could lay my hand on it :-) You can’t have better advertising than that :-) I planned on buying it myself but got lucky at the last Dutch django meeting as Wim gave a talk about reading books and loaned it to me afterwards :-)

I finished the book in about two evenings: well worth the time! It is a good book for everyone working in a company. (Note: only available in Dutch). It is full of short chapters with a plain common sense that you also find in books like getting real (which I also enjoyed).

The good things

Some good things, including comments on how my current company, Nelen & Schuurmans is doing in that regard.

  • No single huge company, please. Small cells. Once the company grew to about 50 people, it got splitted. And again. And again. Apparently this was pioneered earlier by CMG, but they did it with 150 people per cell/sub-company. Keeping the size down is important for lots of reasons. For instance knowing everybody you work with.

    I really like it that Nelen & Schuurmans has some 40 employees. Small enough to have lunch together downstairs!

  • Within a cell, you have to manage almost everything yourself. There are no staff divisions within the company as a whole. No IT department. No HR department. Despite calls of “efficiency” that often accompany the start of centralized departments, it often results in mire of muck that sucks the efficiency out of the company. “Worse than the politburo” is a phrase used in the book.

    In our company, we don’t have staff divisions, naturally. Not bit enough yet :-) You can go directly to someone if you want to get something done. And the customers don’t have to wade through three layers of defence in order to talk to the one doing the real work for them. And hiring? The boss sits in at the interviews, but also the direct colleagues: hiring isn’t handled by some remote HR department.

  • One of the best: quality = enthousiasm x know-how.

    At Nelen & Schuurmans virtually everyone is enthousiastic and passionate about the work that we do. I know that I am, at least. Of course there are murmerings about things, but I’m willing to defend “enthousiastic and passionate”, even though “passionate” is not a word I use often. And our know-how is good. Most have a university degree and everyone knows their stuff.

    The combination of enthousiasm and know-how is, indeed, quality. Wow. Hire us and you get great bang for the buck.

  • Openness. Montly cell-wide meetings where everyone gets to hear about upcoming new contracts, failed new contracts, new developments and upcoming plans.

    We have weekly meetings like this. One week the outgoing new contracts, the other week the possible contracts. We’ll probably switch to montly meetings soon, however. The openness is something that I like.

Good company-building approach, but where is the company now?

After 15-20 years, the company that Eckart build (“BSO”) was sold/merged. The company that embodied his vision and company-building approach is now part of Atos origin. And his vision is no longer the core. I’m pretty sure the cell structure is gone now.

I tried googling for “cell structure” and “BSO”. Wiped off the face of the earth. Virtually nothing in wikipedia. You can find something of the vision and culture on Eckart’s website. Apparently, from some articles I saw, many former employees are still enthousiastic about most of the aspects of working there. But the original company is gone.

Similar to that other big originally-cell-like consultancy company I mentioned, CMG. Also merged/taken over. And the cell-like structure is gone.

Long-term company vision is possible

The (christian) student club I was a member of organized montly talks. Early in the 1990s someone gave a talk about an installation company with a specific vision. Based on a christian viewpoint. Capital should, basically, be used for good. So building a company with a “good” vision and selling it later is not a good idea. What happens with the vision and the mission after the merger with a bigger company? “Selling out”...

The example he used was of a former Dutch ice company (“Hertog ijs”) that only employed christians and that had a strictly christian character. Until it was sold off. The one giving the talk was very critical about the original professed christian-ness of the company. According to him they were empty words when you, as the company owner, suddenly sell your company and allow the culture to evaporate. (The factory was closed down soon afterwards and the production was moved elsewhere, so also the jobs evaporated).

The company he worked in also had some christian ideals, but it “just” wanted to do good work and be good to the employees. So he devised a company structure that would ensure it stayed that way. The owners put their money into the company in such a way that they could not get it out. Profits were given to the employees (50%) and to the owners (50%). But the owners were obliged to put those profits that they got right back into the company. The “only” thing they got was a reasonable rent on the capital they provided in this way.

The company was split up into smaller parts, each with their own employees. They didn’t own anything themselves, all the equipment was bought for them (and owned by) the mother company. But they did have their own customers and had to arrange many things themselves, like dividing the salaries collectively. Having to do that honestly and collectively ensures a social company: if someone is really bad, he’ll get ousted. If someone is really unlucky (accident, for instance), they’ll figure out a way to keep him working for his salary: it can be you the next time!

Well, that was what I remembered in any case. Company owners that relinquish a lot of control so that they cannot sell out anymore. But does it work? Does the company still exist? It is now some 15-20 years after I heard that talk...

Yes, it does! Breman installatiegroep. Alive and well! And the structure is still standing, as they’ve got a (Dutch) PDF that explains the company structure. And it pretty much resembles what I remembered. The owners put their money were their mouth was. And it worked!

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My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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