W.L. Gore: Dry Goods

As rival textile producers move their operations overseas to save money, W.L. Gore is staying put in the U.S. Its competitive advantage? Democracy.

What can a textile manufacturer that still wants to make fabric in America claim as its competitive advantage?

If youre W.L. Gore & Associates of Newark, Del., its democracy.

Gores technology to make plastic-based fabrics and its iconic Gore-Tex brand of outdoor clothing, with its Guaranteed to Keep You Dry pledge, may be the companys hallmark.

But its organizational style also stands out. Founder Bill Gore banished the typical corporate chain of command in favor of what the company terms a "flat lattice" organization.

New employees—"associates" in Gore-speak—are assigned to general work areas. Associates learn the business and gravitate toward projects under the tutelage of seasoned "sponsors."

Projects are highly collaborative. A person with an idea recruits like-minded associates, who may represent several different disciplines. Team members are accountable to each other. Bosses, in the usual sense, dont exist.

Thats why Thomas Malone, professor of management at MITs Sloan School, describes Gore as a miniature democracy.

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