I have been reading the amazing book by Malcolm Gladwell called the tipping point. In this Malcolm looks at why Gore is such a innovative company both in products and management. I have dug about there website, and used some of the basic tennents from Gladwell’s short piece.
For every climber, Hillwalker, Mountaineer dare I say it anyone who enjoys the outdoors, has probably owned a product at one point or another that was manufactured by Gore and Associates, the eponymous Gore-Tex. What we don’t really know about that little logo on our clothing means that the fabric and the manufacturing process that put it together has reached the high standards set by Gore company.
What we probably don’t understand is that multinational company W.L. Gore & Associates has a £2.5 billion pound turnover, and for the past 14 years has made the FORTUNE list of the top 100 companies to work for, it has been I the lists since they were first conceived. It has also been named as one of the best companies to work for in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden and Spain.
You have probably guessed that waterproof clothing isn’t there main line of work, instead it is just one of the many uses for the new polymer that the company invented. This was expanded polytetrafluorothylene which is a bit of a mouthful. However its street name of ePTFE, is much more widely recognized.
The company started as suppliers of plastic shielding to wiring, that was needed more and more as the digital age started to take shape, including a very early contract with IBM and NASA during the 1960’s. It wasn’t until 1969 that the innovation that was to rapidally expand there product range, when Bill Gore decided to stretch PTFE tape as quickly as possible, instead of breaking the resultant material is strong, Highly porous and extremely versatile. Its early use was in pipe thread (plumber tape) and Joint sealant in industrial pipes.
It wasn’t until the mid 1970’s that real modern uses that have made Gore-tex famous were developed. First with the construction of vascular grafts, and Gore sets up its medical division which is one of its key uses in modern medicine. It wasn’t until 1976 that Gore-Tex the fabric was launched, and from that point on the company had a heads start on innovation, and has continued to develop its fabrics year on year making them better and even more versatile for the average user. Today one of there leading fabrics is gore-tex that is waterproof and stretchy.
But this doesn’t necessarily tell us why Gore Associates is such a good company to work for. For that I have to go back to Malcolm Gladwells book the tipping point. In this he refers to the magic number of 150. This if you read his book is a number that is widely acknowledge as the maximum of people that an individual human can come into contact with and have a close enough relationship and understanding of that the close and strong ties can be made between member of that group.
Gore has had a policy of restricting each factory unit to around this number, one of the associates jokes that by restricting the car park to just 150 places they know when they need a new factory as there are cars parked on the grass.
Gore’s business model goes beyond that and the workers are known as associates, and because of this, there is no real heirachy, in that the manufacturer, the designers and the sales people all work together on projects. When people are hired they have a sponsor not a boss. By all accounts and accolades this model has worked to keep Gore at the forefront of technology that makes a real difference to thousands if not millions of people a year, even if you don’t know it.
So whilst you might wear a Gore-Tex logo on your jacket, the odds are other things in your life that hide the gore-tex logo, good business management is one of them!