EL CHE on Business

We have often heard about Ernesto “Che” Guevara, as the revolutionary man he was: fighting for his ideals of social freedom and equality and spreading his beliefs in Communism from Cuba to Africa, and finally being murdered because of his actions and vision for the entire Latin America. Besides this iconic revolutionary figure and what it represents, little is commonly known about his work as President of the National Bank in Cuba and “Ministro de Industrias” (Minister of Industry) in charge of taking governmental control of all types of production in Cuba. This period of his life occurred between 1959 and 1965, starting two years before Bay of Pigs Invasion (Playa Girón) and ending with his departure back to the front line in Africa.

I am not a historian nor a fan of biographies and I was born after the cold war, but I was interested in reading a book called “Ernesto Guevara también conocido como El Che” written by Paco Ignacio Taibo II. When reading Che’s biography as Minister of Industry, I wondered, what would it be like if suddenly I was given the task to take hold of an entire nation’s industry where business pressure is not stockholder’s happiness and company’s profits but instead social survival? Imagine that. What actions would you take in order to provide food, clothing, products for personal hygiene, construction, transportation, and all basic needs to an expecting population when what you have is mainly a sugar-based industry? Add the fact that you don’t have technology (some machinery came from the Soviet Union but it wasn’t as advanced and in good shape as they thought) nor you have skilled workers motivated by personal growth and income as in Capitalism and that suffer poverty and product’s rationalization. Talking about places where change management and innovation are needed!

I enjoyed reading Paco Taibo’s novel with recompilation of quotes from El Che, especially those that talked about production, quality control, human resources, and even design, I felt I was reading Drucker instead of a communist revolutionary. It also gave me Che's sense of trying to put theory into action (as this blog intends for innovation). I allowed myself to translate some of his quotes on business matters and his complaints:

“We should emphasize on the mistakes (being done by the Ministry of Industry). What’s important is not to justify errors; it’s preventing them from repeating. You received me with a nourished and warm applause. I don’t know if it was as consumers or simply as accomplices (…) I think it was as accomplices.”

“There are companies that associate quality with the contra-revolution and consider quality as one of capitalism’s vices; that in this socialism era there is no need of concerning about quality (…) For reassuring savings, for reassuring production, quality is constantly sacrificed (…) we have discussed, not enough, but we have insisted (…) socialist development and social development in a fairly led country, is done for men, it’s not done for some entelechy (…) Beauty is not in quarrel with the revolution. Making a commonly used artifact ugly, when it could have been made pretty, is a real fault. Colleagues sometimes think we can give anything to the common people, that when something bad is given to them (…) and supply is not taken care of properly (…) and the common people reply, then they are contra-revolutionaries. And that is false, people don’t like some things that sadly happen and that is why we are here reunited (…) It’s not good when there’s soap in La Habana but there’s no soap in the fields; if there is no soap in the fields there must be no soap in La Habana.”

“In the soda industry we’ve had one of the mayor relative failures; coca cola which was one of the most consumed products, today, it tastes like coughing syrup. (…) Matches are one of the Ministry’s biggest shames, there’s no person that doesn’t remember the Ministry several times a day when trying to light a match. (…) We have to be demanding in consumer issues, we have to make things as best as possible… when you want to light a match, its head rips off… when you are able to light the cigarette, the cigarette puts off.”

“From this ninth floor we won’t be able to diagnose what is happening.”

“There is a great deal of absenteeism of all kinds; there’s direct absenteeism from people that don’t feel like coming to work and they don’t, there is absenteeism from the people that arrive late and leave on time, there is absenteeism from those who stay until late and take that as an excuse to arrive late next day and do not perform properly all day (…) I found a colleague reading the newspaper, don’t worry, I forgot the face.”

“American Caterpillar is better than any soviet tractor, why? Because in capitalism’s competition two kilometers more in speed count, a slight difference in the hydraulic system counts, four more horse powers count.”

“Workers in charge of any article’s production do not have any right over them. Bakers do not have right over bread as cement workers don’t have the right for more cement bags, and you don’t have the right over motorcycle parts.”

“You, for example, the other day you weren’t saying the whole truth about the shoe´s prototypes. You said they were pretty and many are ugly.”

“More than a year ago I went to Nuevitas, there was machinery out in the open, one kilometer away from the ocean, spoiling. The administrator hadn’t moved the machinery for protection because he had no cranes… with some poles he could have done it! Egyptians made the pyramids with this kind of system and pyramids are made of huge stones that were brought from I don’t know how many kilometers far away. Now it turns out that Cuba, building socialism is not able to move a single stone that doesn’t even weight a ton.”

When asked to increase the production of a highly specialized medical magazine. “I’m curious. How can there be 6,300 printed samples, when there is not even that amount of doctors in Cuba? (…) Are rats using the magazine to increase their psychiatric knowledge or to temper their stomachs?”

“I do not deny the objective need of material stimuli (…) but direct material stimulus and consciousness are contradictory terms. (…) Work must stop being a painful need to become a pleasant imperative. New production relationships should be used to accentuate human evolution to the reign of will.”

For what I read, Che as a government member worked hard side by side with the people and predicted equality with his example (look at my earlier post Skunk Works). He also made harsh auto-criticisms concerning his military approach towards workers and how work should be more humane. Still, a man of weapons is a man of weapons.

I would like to end with Che’s quote about creativity: “Once we talked about the need of a creative spirit inside the workers in order for them to help technicians and administrative technicians to improve work quality and extract the great potential richness in our soil, in our storages, that we can’t coordinate due to the lack of raw material, lack of technologies and lack of organization, preventing us from reaching our goals.”

Show your creative and revolutionary spirit and work hard to reach your goals.

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