Humanism in the Private Sector
Interview with Roberto Blueh and Juan Aviñó
We had a chance to talk with the managers of a private company trying to implement a new model in the relations between capital and labour, as well as in the way their business is managed. Inspired by the Humanist Document, for the past twenty years these two Chileans have been trying to implement their vision of a company that develops and grows whilst meeting positive standards that allow it to compete in the domestic market, not to become indebted to banks, reinvests its profits in the development of the company, prioritising the best possible treatment for staff and suppliers as well as customers, in constant search for improvements consistent with its principles.
Roberto Blueh and Juan Aviñó created Alfacom Engineering twenty years ago, looking to form a company that allowed the participation of workers in the company’s decision-making process, based on a friendly treatment that promotes creativity in people. They did not want an authoritarian firm, but one in which people could feel well, doing their job impeccably and feeling happy, feeling fine during working hours.
PF: In general companies prioritise profits. There are other institutions that are formed to improve people’s lifestyle: NGOs, charities, churches, clubs…
JA: “We were also interested in the company generating profits. However, when people participate in the decision-making of the company, it becomes more intelligent as a whole. The company develops better and people feel better. If it is capable of channelling the employees’ ideas and projects to improve the company, everything moves forward. We have faith in people, in teams, in people’s intelligence. But it happens that in most companies, each worker has to do the same thing, or a series of functions that are ultimately always the same. Work becomes a routine in search of efficiency and thereby life becomes a routine, people lose their ability to innovate, they lose creativity, intelligence and all turns into a mechanical activity. Nobody feels that they are developing, unless they move jobs leading to a high staff turnover in companies. We have been working for many years with the same people, but seeking that each one develops to the fullest and becomes increasingly intelligent. Each may develop their full potential making in this way fewer mistakes. In fact, the number of errors managers can make by having a huge amount of things to resolve, in a centralised situation, is very large. We decentralise the decision-making and, as a company, we make fewer mistakes. Moreover, in general, managers handle the resources. If these resources are decentralised and each one has effectively decision-making power over a part of the resources, the potential for error is reduced and the potential to keep improving increases.”
PF: So, is this is a company in which decision-making power is decentralised?.
JA: “Very decentralised. This is seen especially at times of crisis, in which the whole human group will be giving responses, whilst the management retains an administrative capacity, especially for strategic issues or changes in direction. But apart from that, most of the decisions are taken by the different positions, each taking their appropriate responsibility, in an autonomous and decentralised way.”
PF: What is the company’s relationship with capital, in particular, with the banks?
RB: “We have worked for twenty years calmly, with no debts, with jobs security, job stability for the workers and with working hours that are – at most – the legal hours required. No employee is abused; it is a matter of working as little as possible rather than having to spend extra hours in the company. We seek to work independently and without pressure. Without blackmail, fear or tension. As for the relationship with the banks, we have no debt, no loans. Indeed, when you want a bank to lend you money to inject into the company, you are looking to go faster than what you are able to generate. The fact is that you could not accomplish such resources within your company. Then you put your business on a forced pace. We prefer to create our own capital through growth and reinvest the profits in the growth of the company. We do not speculate with our profits, we reinvest them. Besides, borrowing from banks generates a dependency which, at any time of crisis, may become disastrous for the company. Doing it our way may be much slower; perhaps it takes twenty years instead of five. But if you aim to grow rapidly based on debts, you live in a state of turmoil, both for the labour and for the capital. That’s why we have opted for the slow but sure, for not falling into debt but to strengthen us based on what we ourselves generate, without shortcuts. We have grown through savings.”
PF: What are the savings?
RB: “Year after year we reinvest. We bought all the properties in which Alfacom functions, the inventory we have is our own, we reinvest the savings in equipment, training, and personal development of employees: English lessons, travel abroad to expand one’s own experience, visits to Trade Fairs, technology training. Also we get qualifications in various aspects. We prefer to diversify within the company rather than to speculate with the capital saved. “
JA: “We’re diversifying in terms of the services and products we offer, also meeting the requirements that the market indicates. These new requirements are identified by our salespeople, by staff, no ideas come from management, but it is all out of specific requirements we pay attention to and we reinvest in them.”
PF: The Company is twenty years old, it began with you two. How many people are part of Alfacom staff today?
JA: “Fifty people”
PF: What capital did you begin with?
RB: “With the capital necessary to buy two computers … today it would be two thousand dollars.”
PF: What is its current capital?
RB: “About two million dollars.”
PF: So in twenty years have been able to employ fifty people and produce a capital of two million dollars, living calmly and working in a style that seeks the fullest development of each of the people.
RB: “Our intention is that people should have job security. We hope that those who are hired by Alfacom remain in the company for as long as possible and that is also the reason why our company’s salaries are higher than the market. The culture of our company is mutual support, share knowledge, we help each other. Since we aim to spend years with the same employees, the treatment is extremely important, the warm welcome, understanding the difficulties of each one and aim to gradually overcoming them. Solidarity, reciprocity, development of intelligence as a way of solving problems.”
“The core value of this company is a much-loved construction, which moves through human intentions without putting money as the primary, but rather learning, the projects that we can undertake, new products and services that we can develop. The company is a construction. “
JA: “We started with one customer and today we have a thousand. Many of our customers have been loyal, there are customers who have been 15 or more years with us and that’s not just because we offer an impeccable service, not only for the products, but mainly for the way we treat them. Our suppliers also have been permanent in time; we pay them as soon as possible, we give them the best treatment. More than half of Alfacom employees have more than five years with the business. “
PF: How would you define the culture and values of Alfacom?
RB: “We see the company as a process in which the worker and the client also feel better and better, is a joint venture aimed at developing solidarity between labour and capital, sharing the management, ensuring continuity and job stability and developing ourselves as a company, reinvesting profits in its own growth, anticipating to increase salaries before anyone requests it, intent on a better state for everyone. The foundation is the real respect for the other person. We value diversity greatly, different functions are all essential, the company is built between all of them and therefore extremely respectful treatment is very important. Such good treatment, by the way, includes even the families of the employees, forming a world of links between people.”