Yesterday I attended a talk and workshop by Uwe Lübbermann, founder and Central Moderator of Premium Cola. The talk was fascinating because it described a successful business model, built within the capitalist legal framework of our society, that does away with virtually all the conventional structures of a business.
There are no bosses. No regular working hours, only verbal contracts. Important decisions are taken collectively, with everyone involved, from the suppliers, to the workers and the customers having an equal say.
Can't work right?
Well, they achieve about 10% growth each year. The volume of business they do and the number of employees they have puts them firmly on the map as a medium size business in Germany. These medium sized businesses by the way are the mainstay of the German Economy and Employment Market.
They effectively sell sugared water, as do all soft drinks manufacturers, so this is a tough Market. However, Premium Cola's marketing budget is virtually zero. Pretty much all the marketing they do is to put artists works on the inside of their labels. There is a website that you can visit for a look at what they sell, but there are no spam-mailshots, adbanners or flyers. Word of mouth is how it's done.
Their cost structures are open and even price rises for the Product are voted on by everyone, including the customers. Uwe gave an interesting example of how this openness forms a safety net - when growth threatened to outstrip cash-flow, two of their biggest customers offered to pay early to bankroll the next level of production.
So how is all this done? By creating a network of equals who are interested in making/selling/buying a good product at a fair price. By giving everyone a real say in how it's done. By creating a culture of transparency, discussion and consensus. Uwe's role is that of a moderator between these actors - his title is "Central Moderator". As the nominal owner of the firm he is, of course, legally invested with certain powers. These he only uses in emergencies (one example was a recall in the case of a batch of cola going out with double the amount of caffeine shown on the label). There is no time for discussion in such circumstances. This power he has exercised twice in 15 years.
Not everything is "open" of course, but as much as possible is. If you're involved in the collective, you can take a look at the accounts only after signing an NDA. Personal data is heavily protected in Germany anyway, but the guiding principle is to make the organisation as transparent as possible whilst keeping personal data private.
There is so much that is interesting about this organisation, for instance, they have a negative rebate for volume. That means the more you buy the more expensive the product becomes. This recognizes that the overheads for smaller customers are often higher and goes some way to compensating for this. It also increases the robustness of the business because lots of small customers may be marginally less profitable, but the chances of them all going out of business at once are virtually zero.
If you'd like to known more, or maybe even start your own seedling form of a fair democratic working world. You can find more information in the links below.
I'm afraid that you'll have to turn on google translate or similar for the last three links if you don't read German.