Ask Michael E. Mark about his company’s procedures for making a big capital investment, and he is likely to refer you to the Flextronics International Corporate Policy Manual. It has 80 pages – all of them blank. Although Marks is Flextronics’ chairman and CEO, he says he sometimes lets subordinates such as Humphrey W. Porter, the head of Flextronics’ European operations, do multi-million dollar acquisitions without showing him the paperwork. He disdains staff meetings at his San Jose (Calf.) headquarters, and he refuses to draw up an organization chart delineating his managers’ responsibilities.
One might think Marks’ style is too casual for a growing conglomerate. This is a giant that owns dozens of factories scattered over four continents and has big contracts with some of the most demanding corporate customers on earth, from Cisco Systems Inc. to Siemens. In recent years it has acquired manufacturing plants, design firms, and component makers in the United States, Europe and Asia. It also has landed huge manufacturing contracts with Motorola Inc. and Microsoft Corp.
As Marks sees it, the business of global contract manufacturing is all about speed. The time it takes to get a prototype into mass production and onto retail shelves across the globe can determine whether a leading-edge digital gadget succeeds or flops. And with the Internet and corporate makeovers rapidly reconfiguring entire industries, Marks thinks it’s a bigger sin to miss important opportunities than to make a mistake or two. So he doesn’t want to tie down his top managers with bureaucracy. One of Marks’ favorite dictums: “It’s not the big who eat the small. It’s the fast who eat the slow.”
So far Marks has managed to craft the right balance. A Harvard MBA who had run several small electronics makers, Marks helped engineer a takeover of Singapore domiciled Flextronics in 1993, when it was nearly bankrupt. After turning the company around, he began to rebuild. Flextronics became a favored supplier to companies like Cisco, 3Com, and Palm. Flextronics is poised to become the world’s second-largest contract manufacturer, after Milpitas (Calif.) based Solectron Corp. Beside the industrial parks in Hungary, it also has huge manufacturing campuses in Mexico, China and Brazil.
The basketball hoop hanging in Marks’ modest, somewhat disheveled office seems to sum up his self-image. Marks is a passionate player – even though he stands all of 5 ft. 2 in. Likewise, in the business world Marks seems determined to prove a point. One way or another, he’s convinced he can retain the agile management style of a start-up, while making Flextronics a global enterprise that can play in the big leagues.
1. Based on your reading of the case, describe Marks’ leadership process, style, behavior and the text term that best defines it. Do you think he is successful because of or in spite of his leadership approach?
2. What leadership theories covered in the chapter would best support Marks? Give specific examples.
3. How do you think Marks would do in another industry such as running a national retail chain?