Egoitz Pomares
Sinnergiak Social Innovation (UPV/EHU)
Basque Country, Spain

Ederfil Becker, a company located in the Basque Country (Northern Spain), and part of the Mondragón Corporation, is a striking example of innovative management. After a process of transformation which included the fusion of two companies, this manufacturer of electrically conductive materials created a management model based on self-organised teams in which communication, transparency and employee voice set the lines of action of its daily operations.

This Basque company, with Pablo Mendizabal (General Manager) at the helm in collaboration with Unai Elola (Chairman of the Co-operative) and Maider Martin (People Co-ordinator), is dedicated to drawing (stretching) copper and aluminium wire including annealing for different applications such as transformers, components for the automotive sector, electrical motors and household appliances. It competes in a sector with high energy costs where the price of materials is regulated. Today, the two plants that make up the cooperative work one thousand shifts annually, with uninterrupted production 24 hours a day.

“In the Basque Country there are a lot of co-operatives that are working under other management models. Our model is not a consequence of being a co-operative. In our experience the model depends on the people behind it.”

Pablo Mendizabal, Ederfil Becker Cooperative General Manager

These highly competitive market conditions combined with strong regulation led to the establishment of the Erronka (“Challenge” in the Basque language) initiative, which emerged as a continuation of Aldaketa Sortzen (“Creating Change”), the programme to transform and integrate the two companies into a single entity. It was based on the premise of developing the leadership competencies of empowered people and teams, creating a sense of belonging to the newly integrated company and building a stronger link to and focus on customers. Thus the company, based in Gipuzkoa, has developed a management model focused on direct flows of information and communication between customers and production teams. Pablo Mendizabal sees this change, and the company’s resulting distinctiveness, as central to Ederfil Becker’s competitive advantage.

The key in our market is to be proactive.
Pablo Mendizabal, Ederfil Becker Co-operative General Manager

We are doing things differently to create inimitable advantages.
Maider Martin, Ederfil Becker People Co-ordinator

Natural leadership and self-managed teams

Maider Martin remembers that, in the past, individual workers only felt responsible for their own machines. Now, when teams manage themselves, everyone is responsible for the whole shift and there is a much higher level of spontaneous co-operation and flexibility.

Ederfil Becker places great importance on recognising natural leaders, the people who tend naturally to take the initiative in, for example, organising social events or leading local football teams. As volunteers these production workers, quality technicians and maintenance staff meet daily and communicate with the rest of the team, sharing problems and solutions. Likewise, once a month, the leaders meet the General Manager, concentrating on the progress of the business and discussing workers’ concerns and ideas for improvement.

Information, its accessibility, and transparency are areas in which Ederfil Becker has made the biggest effort. Thus, in addition to the information communicated from shift to shift about the issues or incidents that occur during production, there is a real-time information system which allows all workers to access the general and specific information relevant to the value chain.

We decided to start on redefining the model of how the company should be managed. The unique condition I put on the table before this process was started was to avoid the top-down vertical model and to explore horizontally organised models (…).
We worked hard to identify common values and common meaning, so we could have a common language.
Pablo Mendizabal, General Manager

Information and communication

Distributing updated and relevant information facilitates the decision-making process, making a clear commitment to horizontality in daily management. Likewise the participation of workers is intensified, bringing power closer to strategic production areas. The company, with a total of 150 workers divided between two plants, started this process based on the mission, vision and teamwork values proposed during the integration process in 2010 and 2011.

There is only one non-direct person in each plant responsible for the coordination of the plants and shifts.
The way the shifts are organised has much to do with the information they need, so the shifts could develop action plans for continuous improvements…and measure them

Maider Martin, People Coordinator

Customer focus and innovation

In addition to the direct participation of workers in operational and organisational management, the company makes a significant effort in its customer focus. This is why most of the workforce and the work teams know the customer, and know how the customer uses their product. Front line workers know first-hand about the particularities and specifications of customers, both by travelling to where they are located and by receiving them at the plant.

The complexity is high, with a turnover of €144 million in 2014 and production of more than 30,000 tonnes of copper, 78% of which is exported mostly to EU markets. Ederfil Becker has been able to place itself amongst the main international manufacturers with a market share of 40%. Unlike most of its competitors production remained constant during the years of international financial crisis, an achievement which Pablo Mendizabal puts down to the distinctiveness of Ederfil Becker’s management model.

Horizontality and participation

Open communication and empowerment is accompanied by a further commitment to equipping the company with better management and production information systems, with investments that amount to €4 million since 2008. These investments, and the way they are implemented, have also been transformed. The decision to purchase new machinery no longer depends on a single person but is made by several people, mainly those who use it as well as each of the shift managers.

In an investment process there are different key factors: how the investment improves performance, quality, innovation, process, costs, health or the environment. For each one there is a leader. So, first step is to present the idea to other processes who might be involved…we have to negotiate and agree with each other…you have to commit the other people and explain the benefits and costs of the proposal.
Pablo Mendizabal, General Manager

By making it possible to hear the voices of people involved in day-to-day production, the company has reduced down-time and problems associated with the introduction of new machines, cutting costs and increasing productivity.

Every day, each shift starts with a meeting with people from Quality, Enablers, the Drowning Area and Copy Process personnel to discuss overall performance, production rates and ratios per shift…so they could have an image of how the work in going in relation to their shift, the other teams, and plants status and progression.
They have guaranteed access to this information to analyse and manage their shift.
Pablo Mendizabal, General Manager

This participative model, which combines horizontal management with full use of the tacit knowledge of all employees, allows the organisation to create competitive advantages focused on people. It is a clear example of how, by distributing responsibilities, each person can make a distinctive contribution in an innovative way with beneficial effects for the company as a whole.

In short, it is a story of empowerment.