Thursday, December 8, 2016

Charles Koch - Engineering Intellectural

From The Economist:

"Mr Koch has used his reading to forge a theory of management which the Charles Koch Institute, his think-tank-cum-philanthropic outfit, has trademarked as market-based management or MBM. The main idea is that market signals should operate just as vigorously within organisations as between them. Workers should be paid according to the value they add rather than their position in the hierarchy. Koch Industries keeps base pay low (it is regarded as just a down-payment on the year’s value-added reward) and workers are often paid more than their bosses. Companies should grant “decision rights” to those employees who have records of making choices that boost profits.

As Mr Koch’s philosophy took shape, so his company boomed. When he took over as chief executive from his father in the late 1960s Koch Industries was a small company centred on oil and gas with $200m in yearly sales and 650 employees. Today it is the second-largest private firm in America, with $100bn in annual revenues and more than 100,000 employees. It is one of the world’s largest commodities traders, operates three ranches covering more than 460,000 acres, processes some 600,000 barrels of crude oil a day and produces a wide range of materials such as paper towels, nylon and spandex. Koch Industries estimates that its value has increased over 4,500 times since 1960, outperforming the S&P 500 index by a factor of nearly 30.

Yet MBM has attracted remarkably few imitators. Mr Koch says that Morning Star, a California-based tomato producer, has also experimented, independently, with an internal-market system, but that hardly suggests a fashion. One reason may be that Koch Industries is based in the Midwest, away from the great business-theory factories such as Harvard or Stanford. Another is that it is easy to imagine MBM degenerating into a time-consuming bureaucracy. In any case, the firm’s success probably owes as much to Mr Koch’s managerial drive as to MBM (insiders joke that Koch stands for “keep old Charlie happy)”, and to two big insights: that its core competence in processing, transporting and trading can be applied to a wide range of commodities; and that the Midwest is full of first-class engineers and technicians educated in places like Murray State University and the University of Tulsa."

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