Thierry Pick, the former donkey with 4,000 employees

TAHITI, May 26, 2022 – The organizational management event called Tahiti Congrès starts on June 1. It normally happens every two years, but shaken by Covid, the 4th edition was postponed by a year. Thierry Pick is one of the speakers.

“Frugality and impact”, is the theme of Thierry Pick’s intervention. Presented as “ex donkey”, started his own business as a handcrafted tile washer-cleaner in 1980. Created Clinitex, a cleaning company that, with 35 years of double-digit growth, has nearly 4,000 employees and the Bcorp brand. At the forefront of management, annual interviews take place during forest walks, good humor is an official value, cleaning agents know the CEO’s salary and employee autonomy is a reality!

You talk about Montessori management about your organization, can you explain?

This term came with time. I applied an instinctive management that was built over time. I realized, maybe 5 or 6 years ago, that we were applying the principles of Maria Montessori’s pedagogy within the company. Everything is based on employee autonomy, learning through experimentation, the right to make mistakes, freedom and trust. This setup is because I’m actually lazy, I want peace of mind, and everything seems to work better than authority.”

Concretely, how does this translate?

We don’t have top executives, schedules, expense report control or vacation distribution for department employees within the company. And it pays off, every year we carry out measurements of the well-being of employees and customer satisfaction. Employees, for example, say they are 97% happy at work. So, of course, it’s not paradise, there are discrepancies from time to time, but this system has more advantages than disadvantages.

Can the right to err not harm society?

This requires experimentation, you can make mistakes, but you need to do it quickly. What costs dearly is not the repetition of mistakes, but their duration. A duration that often depends on the ego. Of course, all this must be done within the limits of the safety of goods and people. For example, an employee who does not put on a harness would be guilty, it would not be a mistake.”

How do you define the limits of freedom? No deviations?

The limits of freedom are defined by the customer’s specifications, their requirements, and the fulfillment of those requirements. The corollary of this total freedom is managerial courage. We also have to be completely transparent. For example, everyone knows everyone’s salary. We know the commercial performance in real time, everything is accessible and without a password: expense reports, operating accounts… Fantasies are born from things we hide. Cheating is not possible, or if it occurs, it is over. If someone gets lost, the team takes care of reshaping them. We don’t criticize, the employees themselves seek to progress, get closer to mentors to improve their skills, no one watches anyone, but everyone helps each other.

This was all thought upstream, did you have a strategy?

No, I never had a business plan. It is our employees who lead us, history is being written as it progresses. I myself met inspiring people like Jean-François Zobrist who was the first boss in France to adopt and apply the principles of the liberated company, I read books that guided me. I had a winding journey, experienced failures and had to rectify the trajectory several times. I was out for three years at once. Three years during which the company was doing very well financially, but there was no happiness at work. Everything was locked, a control system had been set up. When I came back, I decapsulated this system, and it was like a volcano. We ended up finding the balance, the employees their joy of living.”

Can your model be duplicated for other organizations?

It would be cloning and I don’t think it can work. But it can be inspiring. I’m not talking about a model, but a philosophy and the idea is to show that there are other things, other ways of doing things.”

Finally, you created the concept of a company’s “threshold of frugality”, what is it?

This was created four or five years ago with the Deloitte company in France. It has to do with the relationship we have with money. The problem with the capitalist system is that it is insatiable. With the threshold of frugality, we ended the pressure of goals, now we move forward in forecasting. The limit of frugality is that time of year when the company guaranteed its vital needs, its independence, met the needs of development… We work all year to meet the needs and that is revolutionary. Once the threshold of frugality has passed, we are completely safe. By generalizing this concept, capitalism can be made moral. Not that he’s immoral, he’s amoral.”

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