Company Tour: Brasilata

Our second company tour took place on Friday, where we visited the Brazilian manufacturing company, Brasilata. Brazilata is a family owned steel can producing company, with over 100 employees, and $250 million a year in sales. Most interesting, though, is their recent “Simplification Project” that for the past 25 years has earned them over 100 new canning industry patents, and put them on the map as one of Brazil’s “Best Places to Work”.

Brasilata adopted the Japanese process efficiency strategies of Kanban and Kaizan to drive innovation in their workplace, where employees (called “inventors”) at every level are encouraged to submit ideas for streamlining the workplace. From this program, they recorded nearly 150,000 ideas in 2012, with an adoption and acceptance rate of 92%. We spent about an hour talking with a Director in charge of the facility and learned why this process was so successful. A couple reasons we learned are below:

  • The goal is not to improve profits, but to improve the internal environment you work in
  • Employees do not receive monetary rewards, but rather symbolic recognition and shared profits
  • The 1000 employees, together, own 15% of the company, and therefore collectively gain from improvements to the bottom line
  • 99% of the ideas cost less than $500 to implement and therefore can be done immediately by teams
  • Each month, the best ideas are submitted and recognized in each department\
  • At the end of the year, the best idea receives the “Super Cup” for greatest recognition
  • Ownership of ideas does not exist, everyone owns them together and builds on them together

On the surface, this has a bit of a socialist mentality where the work/gain of all is shared by all. However, the program works and has made Brasilata the market leader in South America that it is today. It is hard to think that a company that specializes in paint cans, aerosol spray cans, and other chemical containers can be so changeable, but they are among the highest innovators in the world and continuously improve their products, processes, and strategies.

When you look at what you do day to day, how many of these are ideas you can share? A spreadsheet to track progress of a project, a new use of social media to share knowledge, a solution to a problem emailed to you? These are all the types of ideas that Brasilata encourages and records, and the results have been extremely rewarding for them.

It was a good visit, and a nice discussion with one of the company’s top executives. A nice change of pace from the first visit to Natura, where we were given a tour guide and treated more like generic visitors. At Brasilata, we had a chance to evaluate, analyze, and discuss the unique culture of this company with its leaders, and therefore received a better understanding of “Doing Business in Brazil”.

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