Dennis Bakke was co-founder and eventually CEO of AES, a large energy company which grew to over $8 billion in annual revenue and over 40,000 employees. Bakke's Joy at Work is in part, a CEO memoir, as it chronicles AES's growth, complete with anecdotes about boardroom confrontations, employee relations, and new openings of production facilities. Joy at Work goes beyond the standard business tale, though: Bakke believes in moral values as ends in themselves, as opposed to means towards the end of greater financial return, and he's not afraid to say it.
A number of authors in recent years have made the case that companies which embody humanistic values, and which nurture uplifting cultures, come to house happier, more productive employees. "Values" should be embraced, the argument goes, because they lead to better business results. Bakke shuns such thinking. He wants "values" for values' sake--because he believes they are an integral part of the human experience, and one that daily work should incorporate. He argues that financial return is only one good alongside others. As Bakke writes at one point in Joy at Work: "Why should enriching shareholders be more important than producing quality products and selling them to customers at fair prices?"
Readers who start off sympathetic to Bakke's worldview will likely enjoy Bakke's book. "Joy at Work" is situated perfectly within values-led business literature, alongside books like Howard Schultzs Pour Your Heart Into It, the Body Shop's Anita Roddick (Take It Personally) and Ben & Jerry's Double Dip, by the ice-cream guys. Joy at Work provokes questions and warrants a read, if, for no reason other than its impressive string of blurbs from friends of the author: Everyone from President Bill Clinton to Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren vouches for Bakke and his gospel. --Peter Han
From Publishers Weekly
Bakke cofounded international energy giant AES in 1981 and was its president and CEO from 1994 to 2002. This memoir-cum-inspirational business book has an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel; in relaxed, roundabout prose, Bakke tells of his first work experience (chasing cows to the barn for milking at age five), his schooling, his friendships and partnerships, and how it all coalesced into a philosophy of work that puts employee satisfaction ahead of profit as a company's goal—a frightening thing for most managers. Bakke believes worker autonomy and self-determination to be the straightest path to success. Most of the book takes AES as a case study; his matter-of-fact descriptions of the Houston power plant's experience with "honeycombing"—or transition to egalitarian, collective self-supervision, including spending—or of humility as a managerial necessity, are genuinely inspiring, though job elimination is involved in the transitions he proposes. Bakke argues that his values and techniques did, in fact, lead to profit (until, he says, the energy industry scandals of the past few years), but that profit is not the point of work. While most managers would not dream of experimenting with Bakke's ideas, they will find it difficult to deny their potential. 22-city author tour.(Mar. 8)
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