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Spark: How Old-Fashioned Values Drive a Twenty-First-Century Corporation: Lessons from Lincoln Electric's Unique Guaranteed Employment Program Hardcover – February 23, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Veteran journalist Koller goes inside Lincoln Electric, a Cleveland arc-welding equipment manufacturer dating back to 1895, a company that promises that no permanent employee who meets the firm's performance standards will ever be laid off due to lack of work. This promise is so sacrosanct, it's included in the employee handbook and in the organization's annual report. The company has also paid out profit-sharing bonuses without fail since 1934, bonuses which almost always exceed 60% of an employee's basic earnings. Koller offers a fascinating glimpse into this remarkable yet, in many ways, ordinary organization, which survives, even thrives, in a sunset industry where overseas outsourcing is the norm. Readers follow the company through the days of Carnegie and Rockefeller, recessions in the 1950s, and the present crisis, and witness how it weathers challenges. Instructive and heartening, this book offers a proven model for companies that not only want healthy bottom lines but also satisfied, dedicated employees. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"2010 Noteworthy Book in Industrial Relations and Labor Economics." - Princeton University

Norman A. Berg, Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School
“Frank Koller has done a remarkable job of presenting both an economic and a moral argument for the value to society of the unusual policies followed with great success by Lincoln Electric for over a hundred years. The book is excellent in both the historical overview and the numerous interviews with current and past employees. There is much that modern management can learn about the benefits to employees, customers, shareholders, and communities by examining the role of the ‘old fashioned’ culture of Lincoln Electric.”

Thomas A. Kochan, George M. Bunker Professor of Management and Co-Director, MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research
“A timely book, well researched and well written. Business, labor, and government leaders would do well to read Spark as they search for more equitable and sustainable principles for rebuilding trust in management, and getting compensation once again growing in tandem with productivity and profits.”

Publishers Weekly
“A fascinating glimpse into this remarkable yet, in many ways, ordinary organization, which survives, even thrives, in a sunset industry where overseas outsourcing is the norm.... Instructive and heartening, this book offers a proven model for companies that not only want healthy bottom lines but also satisfied, dedicated employees”

Richard Freeman, Professor of Economics, Harvard University “In a time of recession, massive layoffs, and Wall Street bailouts, Spark tells the remarkable story of the better side of American capitalism: Lincoln Electric, the billion dollar manufacturer that succeeds by treating its employees the right way. This book should be required reading for everyone who wants to make the economy work for us all, from the President and his economic advisors to business leaders and employees everywhere.”

Harvard Business Review
“A fascinating depiction of a rare human resource practice in a company with a long and hearty track record—food for thought for the rest of us.”

Wall Street Journal
"Striking … against the backdrop of the layoff mania that has claimed more than eight million American jobs since late 2007.”

Akron Beacon-Journal
“Koller offers a fascinating insight into a singular operation that may be an alternative for layoff-plagued America.”

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Edition edition (February 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586487957
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586487959
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #256,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Frank Koller is an author, economics journalist and former foreign correspondent with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Over nearly thirty years with CBC, he reported from hot spots around the world with a special emphasis on the United States and East and Southeast Asia. He has long been fascinated by the ways in which economics, the world of work, family and community intersect to affect how we live our lives. It is the subject of his first book Spark, about Lincoln Electric's guaranteed employment policy, with more to come. From 2005 to 2009, Koller was the CBC's specialist on the changing North American workplace.

Based in Washington, D.C. from 1998 to 2005, Koller crisscrossed the US many times - covering Presidential election campaigns, the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, Capital Hill during the Clinton and Bush years, financial crises such as the Enron debacle, environmental battles in New Mexico, hurricanes in Florida, urban sprawl in Oregon and cowboy poets in southwestern Missouri. He also traveled regularly to South America, chronicling economic developments in Argentina and Brazil.

From 1985 until 1998, Koller was on the road in Asia - reporting from Jakarta (where he lived for three years), Seoul, Rangoon, Phnom Penh, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Hanoi and almost everywhere in between. Koller covered the 1989 democracy protests in Tienanmen Square, the Asian economic meltdown in the late 1990s, the fall of Indonesia's President Suharto in 1998 and Cambodia's desperate struggle to recover from the Killing Fields. During those years, he also taught journalists in Indonesia and Cambodia on behalf of the Canadian Journalists for Freedom of Expression and the Asian Institute of Broadcasting.

His work has been recognized with awards from the Canadian Association of Journalists, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Nurses Association among others.

Before stumbling into journalism in the early 1980s, Koller was a professional jazz musician, composer and recording artist. His 1980 album Single Malt received rave reviews in Canada: The Globe and Mail praised him as "an excellent guitarist", while Canadian Musician magazine called him a "session man extraordinaire." Koller earned a Master's Degree in Transportation Systems from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after graduating from Carleton University in Ottawa in Civil Engineering. It is widely acknowledged, however, that he must never be given any hand tools with the hope that he might be able to fix, let alone build, anything.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author of this book, Frank Koller, and I share something in common. He learned of a company named Lincoln Electric, headquartered in Cleveland, as he was listening to an interview of the CEO on National Public Radio (NPR). I learned of the book as I was listening to an interview on NPR of the author. As I live in Cleveland, I am familiar with Lincoln Electric, however I didn't know about some of the things that make them extremely unique, not only in Cleveland, but in the world. Frank Koller, in his book, Spark: How Old Fashioned Values Drive a Twenty-First Century Corporation: Lessons from Lincoln Electric's Unique Guaranteed Employment Program, exposes the world's number one manufacturer of welding machines key strength; its Guaranteed Employment Program. Yes, you read that correctly; if an employee passes the three year probation period, and meets performance standards, they are guaranteed a job for as long as they want to work. Most of the employees retire after 30 to 40 years and, much like manufacturer's of the past, it isn't uncommon for generations of families to work at the company. How is it possible that, under a guaranteed employment program, Lincoln Electric has survived since 1895?

Chapter 1: "Tossed Out on the Street Like Worthless Scrap"
Chapter 2: "If We Tried Harder, Could the Company Pay Us More?
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Format: Hardcover
Koller opens by reporting that the best-selling Harvard Business School (HBS) case study of all time is about the Cleveland-based arc-welding manufacturer Lincoln Electric - actually, the HBS has created 8 cases about Lincoln Electric. With 14% of world market-share, it is the largest in the world, and has survived the Great Depression, globalization and the decline of industrial America, and the recent Great Recession. Like Toyota, there are no designated parking spots, special entrances, or eating places for management. Any employee with over three years of tenure is promised the company will do everything it can to avoid layoffs for economic reasons - and for more than 60 none have. Lincoln Electric also has paid a profit-sharing bonus every year for 74-straight years. The amount has almost always exceeded 60% of an employee's base earnings.

Lincoln Electric's story begins in 1895 when John C. Lincoln was laid off from his job at a Cleveland manufacturer of electric motors. Lincoln decided to go into business for himself, and by 1907 had expanded into welding machinery. John's brother, James, soon joined and took over management - John was an inventor. James is the one that implemented piece-rate payment, open-door communications, and the annual bonus. James was accused by various congressmen for years of using the bonus system to avoid paying U.S. taxes. The first payout, in 1934, represented 22% of worker pay. The company has now settled on a standard payout of 32% of earnings before interest, taxes, and bonus.

James also initiated an Advisory Board of elected representatives from throughout the factory, meeting every two weeks.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the story of Lincoln Electric (LECO), an industrial products manufacturer in Cleveland, that is said to practice the type of "human values" management that seems to have become extinct at most other American companies.

According to Koller, Lincoln Electric operates on the principles that were originated by its founding brothers back in the late 1890s:

1. Employees are a high-value resource. "Treat employees like you (management) would want to be treated." Employees who perform their jobs up to company standards (which ARE rigorous) are paid according to the quality and quantity of their work. employees should not have to worry about losing their jobs in tough economic conditions, although they should expect to have hours and compensation curtailed.

2. The key to profitability is paying wages commensurate with productivity. During times of full production Lincoln Electric pays its most productive people bonuses of 70% and 120% of their base wage. At these times assembly line workers may earn $90,000, presumably from bonsuses and overtime pay. During slack times when production falls employee pay is sharply curtailed, but even so, this would seem to be preferable to laying people off.

3. Employee input into the business is essential for continual improvement. Employees make their voices heard through the Employee Advisory Board and the Open Door Policy whereby any employee may talk to the President. Employee bonuses are enhanced by the amount of productivity-improving ideas they originate.

4. In a global economy retaining employees is a competive advantage, not a liability.
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