Imagine a company where people love coming to work and are highly productive on a daily basis. Imagine a company whose top executives, in a quest to create the most "fun" workplace ever, obliterate labor-management divisions and push decision-making responsibility down to the plant floor. Could such a company compete in today's bottom-line corporate world? Could it even turn a profit? Well, imagine no more.
In Joy at Work, Dennis W. Bakke tells the true story of this extraordinary company--and how, as its co-founder and longtime CEO, he challenged the business establishment with revolutionary ideas that could remake America's organizations. It is the story of AES, whose business model and operating ethos -"let's have fun"-were conceived during a 90-minute car ride from Annapolis, Maryland, to Washington, D.C. In the next two decades, it became a worldwide energy giant with 40,000 employees in 31 countries and revenues of $8.6 billion. It's a remarkable tale told by a remarkable man: Bakke, a farm boy who was shaped by his religious faith, his years at Harvard Business School, and his experience working for the Federal Energy Administration. He rejects workplace drudgery as a noxious remnant of the Industrial Revolution. He believes work should be fun, and at AES he set out to prove it could be. Bakke sought not the empty "fun" of the Friday beer blast but the joy of a workplace where every person, from custodian to CEO, has the power to use his or her God-given talents free of needless corporate bureaucracy.
In Joy at Work, Bakke tells how he helped create a company where every decision made at the top was lamented as a lost chance to delegate responsibility--and where all employees were encouraged to take the "game-winning shot," even when it wasn't a slam-dunk. Perhaps Bakke's most radical stand was his struggle to break the stranglehold of "creating shareholder value" on the corporate mind-set and replace it with more timeless values: integrity, fairness, social responsibility, and a sense of fun.
Bakke cofounded international energy giant AES in 1981 and was its president and CEO from 1994 to 2002. This memoir-cum-inspirational business book has an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel; in relaxed, roundabout prose, Bakke tells of his first work experience (chasing cows to the barn for milking at age five), his schooling, his friendships and partnerships, and how it all coalesced into a philosophy of work that puts employee satisfaction ahead of profit as a company's goal a frightening thing for most managers. Bakke believes worker autonomy and self-determination to be the straightest path to success. Most of the book takes AES as a case study; his matter-of-fact descriptions of the Houston power plant's experience with "honeycombing" or transition to egalitarian, collective self-supervision, including spending or of humility as a managerial necessity, are genuinely inspiring, though job elimination is involved in the transitions he proposes. Bakke argues that his values and techniques did, in fact, lead to profit (until, he says, the energy industry scandals of the past few years), but that profit is not the point of work. While most managers would not dream of experimenting with Bakke's ideas, they will find it difficult to deny their potential. 22-city author tour.FYI:PVG is a Seattle press founded in 2004 by Mark Pearson; Joy at Work is his second title.