Workers' paradise delivers the goods

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The Independent Online
The captains of British industry were yesterday taught the secret of business success - sit back and let the workers run the company. At Ken Lewis's sheet metal-working firm in Sandy, Bedfordshire, the staff decide their own salaries and hours of work, set their own budgets and double as salesmen, cost accountants and quality control inspectors.

Mr Lewis, managing director of Dutton Engineering (Woodside) Ltd, says: "I don't think I've made a decision for two years, I've not had to sack anybody and I've only ever had to discipline one chap and as it happens he brought in a pounds 300,000 contract the other week."

The 28 staff work in teams of seven and decide their own work patterns, and when to take a long weekend to go fishing instead of slaving over a hot press.

There are no workers committees or trade unions, and overtime is an alien concept. The average salary is pounds 16,500 but at the end of every month 20 per cent of the profits are shared out among staff.

Mr Lewis got the idea after a visit to Japan in 1984. "It's just common bloody sense," he says. "Too much British management is devoid of common sense. I am a happy man and so is everyone else because people's quality of life has gone up. We work smart, not hard."

His recipe for commercial success was spelt out yesterday to 120 business leaders at a competitiveness summit in London, organised by Margaret Beckett, the President of the Board of Trade. In case they were sceptical, he had come armed with the statistics - sales per employee twice the industry average, paperwork reduced by 70 per cent, lead times cut from six weeks to eight hours, reject rate down to a fraction of a decimal point and, best of all, a pounds 250,000 overdraft turned into a positive bank balance. Mr Lewis has no doubts his philosophy will catch on. He gets 600 visitors a year and last week entertained a deputation from Kuwait.

Since the business now runs without him, Mr Lewis can afford to spend his time going around the country, proselytizing and promoting his book, How to Transform Your Company and Enjoy It. "I don't think I am ever going to retire. I enjoy being a missionary too much."

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