Meeting “Mr. FAVI”, a highly successful CEO who believes in freedom, love, trust and respect

“Men is good” and “Our clients have to love us”. These are the two key messages out of many other relevant ones we got during our 2 days of meeting and exchanging with Mr. Zobrist, Ex CEO of the French production company FAVI. All readers of Frederic Laloux’s “Reinventing Organizations” might be familiar with it as one of the shining examples, that are organized totally different from our known paradigms of hierarchy, control and predictability.

In the beginning of the 1980s, when nobody talked about purpose, freedom, resilience, self-drivenness etc, Mr. Zobrist came up with his never seen totally self-generated approach, centred around his belief, that “men are good”, and that “trust is more powerful than control”.

One of his most important principles — “The people working in an organization have to be happy, this creates happy customers and this again creates happy shareholders” — turns out to be another key leverage point in his organization.

When we met him for 2 days of exchange, following the invitation of our clients, we met an open, energetic and humble person, happy, never tired to share with us all of his experience he could offer — and there was a lot to share!

He visualized his explanation at every moment using one of his 2 iPads, be it Power Point, Small Movies, Pictures or a live painting app. He changed his devices and applications at the same speed as he talked.

I selected some of the most important messages of his philosophy he shared with us:

Don’t be afraid to trust! “Trust first, trust is the basis” — “Control is good, trust is by far better” “The companies going back to trust will be the ones to succeed and sustain the markets” “The cost of control has become tremendously high!”

Happiness Mr Zobrist explained to us how convinced he was, that happines leads to better performance. “To succeed you need to have happy people!” And to be happy it must be also nice and beautiful. So he painted the floor of the factory in a beautiful blue, tore down walls, brought in light, cooled down shop floors — at a time where nobody did so — to make people happy.

Men is good Men/workers are good, so they won’t steel, be late on purpose or lazy, so why then control them! “If you put a fence around people all you will get are sheep..”.”When there is a problem we should not ask: who’s fault is it? Men is good.. there are maybe 2–3% of people who do not work with integrity, but we treat the other 97% as well as if they had no integrity (and need to be controlled, ask for permission for everything..). And then they stop being integre.”

Budgets and plans: “People want to model everything.. but with numbers you can cheat! 30% of people in organizations are playing with the numers, like wizards they project a future that never comes. But these numbers are all wrong, they are never concrete: nobody knows the future. The Budget is nothing but an invention”-..” It is like this game — monopoly — all for the game” Nevertheless, money (real money) is important, but profit never is the goal, it is a result, cash flow is necessary to stay alive, it is like the breath of the organization. Without money you are dead. “Goal and result are mixed up most of the time!” Intuition “Intuition is very important, we are still hunters” sometimes we need to go “From intuition to action without reflection: Respect your intuition!”

Management “Management is manipulation” and “Most structures have become obsolete”

Change and Transformation Never improve the existent. By improvement you can decrease the lead time form 10 to maybe 7 days. To decrease it from 10 to 1 day you have to invent something different! “Tomorrow kills today and yesterday”..Don’t plan everything ahead, we only know the next stepstone. For the next stone you have to use your third eye .. you have to think outside the box” Self organization as principle & Respect His way was never to force people, but to invite them, to offer possibilities to them. “Inspire, don’t organize! It is important to let people organize themselves”..”You have to respect the people!”

Traditional organizations: Mr. Zobrist shows a picture of a classical hierarchical pyramide. He explains to the audience that this is absurd: where are the clients and the suppliers, whose love we need to win? In FAVIS orgchart we see circles, organic structures, client names and many hearts. 70% of ideas come from the workers “The most important thing is to understand, why and for whom we are doing the things. The HOW should be organized by the workers”. Everyone would have to question his/her role everyday! Does it create value for the client (internel/external)

Human Resources: “Human Resources — isn’t it monstrous to put human beings on the same level as coal or other natural resources?”

Rule of coherence: “We have that common dream: we want to stay in the village!” Have Courage!!“I did not think about what happens, when I put down the walls.. I just put them away and then told the people: cope with it, it is your problem now. And they did!

Role of the CEO: The role of the CEO is to create the identity, the cohesion. And to have “one ear inside and one ear outside”.

“Outside In and Inside Out”: Mr. Zobrist tells us the stroy when he went to a conference and met a medical doctor. During their conversation and the ongoing meetings it turned out, that FAVIs product and core competence could be as well used in the medical sector, not only in cars. “If I had not gone to that conference I had never met the doctor and we would not be in this business today” We have to allow the “outside (world)” come in and the “Inside (world)” mingle with the outside. “Give coincidence the chance to happen” (Man muss dem Zufall Möglichkeiten lassen)

Freedom with limits “Only free people are happy people. When they are controlled, they are not happy! Nevertheless freedom needs limits and tools.” It is very easy: every day we have to ask ourselves: how can we produce always more/better/cheaper for the love of our clients? And do you know what the limits of most (old) organizations are and why they don’t create anything new? They operate within these two limits:

  1. No risk
  2. Think about everything in advance

Identity & Love Identity is self-consciousness: the consciousness about WHAT you are. This is everything one needs to know. “Par et pour le client” — more, better, cheaper for our client in our village… to earn the love of the client. And you cannot love someone who is too late”. FAVI never delivered too late in 30 years. It was against the dream and the identity. Workers would come to the factory voluntarily on saturdays and sundays to get things done in time. One time Mr. Zobrist even ordered a helicopter from Paris to deliver to the client in time, as one employee forgot to organize the delivery — goods ready, but no truck. “of course this is stupid money wise, but we had to prove to ourselves that we will never be late..” “you need to turn to the hearts and souls of people” — they always invented small surprises and presents for their own employees and one day the workers had the idea to send small presents to the workers of the client’s companies… they produced small hearts, flowers, christmas trees out of the very same material of their product and mixed it into the goods: a small present from workers to the workers.

Simplicity and reduction For decades very much in favor of the radical simplicity of Japanese management thinking (Kaizen, et al) he appears as a pure researcher by nature, driven by this humble curiosity, love and strive for happiness of humans. “The simplicity is the difficulty.. it is very difficult to explain/understand the simple things”

Innovation “If you want to be innovative you have to stop all these meetings and reports”: And: “Everybody has to be innovative on his/her level!”

We thank Mr. Zobrist for inspiring even more confidence and trust for our clients to head forward into the unknown!

P.S.: I sent this post to Jean-Francois to make sure I got it all right and this was his kind feedback:

“Dear Julia, you report is perfect

It is exactly what I feel, I think and I mean