Top company by employee – 21 – W. L. Gore & Associates – Delaware US
Industry: Manufacturing & Production
Previous rank: 38
2011 revenue ($ millions): $3,234
What makes it so great?
Eschewing hierarchy and bosses, the maker of Gore-Tex fabric and Glide dental floss encourages a team-based environment— and there are no executive perks. “At Gore, we don’t manage people," wrote founder Bill Gore. “We expect people to manage themselves."
|Founder(s)||Bill Gore and Vieve Gore|
|Headquarters||555 Paper Mill Road
Newark, Delaware 19711
|Key people||Robert W. Gore, Chairman of the Board
Terri Kelly, President
|Revenue||$2.963 billion (2010)|
W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc. is an American manufacturing company specializing in products derived from fluoropolymers. It is a privately held corporation headquartered in Newark, Delaware. It is best known as the developer of waterproof, breathable Gore-Texfabrics.
The company was founded in 1958 by Wilbert (Bill) Lee Gore and his wife Genevieve (Vieve) Walton Gore in Newark. Bill Gore had spent 16 years with the DuPont Company in a number of technical positions that included fluoropolymer research when he decided to form his own company. While working in his basement, he set out to develop a process for insulating a series of parallel electrical wires using polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a fluoropolymer discovered in 1938 by Roy Plunkett, a chemist with DuPont. His son,Robert W. Gore (Bob), in college at the time, suggested a method for encapsulating the wires which proved successful and led to the company’s first patent. The resulting product was called Multi-Tet cable, a multi-conductor ribbon cable used in computers, communications, and process control equipment.
The company operated from the basement of the Gores’ home until 1960, when an order from the Denver Water Company for seven and a half miles of Multi-Tet cable made it necessary to expand manufacturing capacity. The Gores built a new facility in Delaware, not far from their home, which is still in operation. By 1970, Gore and its subsidiary companies had manufacturing plants for wire and cable in Arizona, Scotland, Germany, and Japan.
Bob Gore joined the company in 1963 upon completion of a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at the University of Minnesota. In 1969, he was researching a process for stretching extruded PTFE into pipe thread tape when he discovered that the polymer could be “expanded.” The discovery followed a series of unsuccessful experiments in which he was attempting to stretch rods of PTFE by about 10%. As it turned out, the right conditions for stretching PTFE were counterintuitive. Instead of slowly stretching the heated material, he applied a sudden, accelerating yank that unexpectedly caused it to stretch about 800%. This resulted in the transformation of the solid PTFE into a microporous structure that was about 70% air. The company initially referred to this new material as “fibrillated PTFE”. One year later, it was given the name of “Gore-Tex expanded PTFE”. Today, expanded PTFE (ePTFE) accounts for the vast majority of the company’s products.
In 1985, Bill Gore received the Prince Philip Award for Polymers in the Service of Mankind, which honored Gore’s Medical Products Division. The award is given in recognition ofpolymers that have provided a significant service for mankind. In 2005, the Society of Chemical Industry presented Bob Gore with the Perkin Medal, which recognizes the most significant achievements in applied chemistry. In 2006, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for the invention of ePTFE.
Bill Gore served as president of the company until 1976, when Bob Gore assumed the position. Bill continued as chairman until he died in 1986 at the age of 74. Genevieve (Vieve) Gore continued in active service to the company until she died in 2005 at the age of 91.
Charles (Chuck) Carroll, a long-term business leader in the Electronics and Fabrics Divisions, replaced Bob Gore as president in 2000. Terri Kelly, who joined Gore in 1983 as a mechanical engineer in the Fabrics Division, became president in 2005. Bob Gore continues as Chairman of the Board. The company remains privately held. Gore is one of the 200 largest privately held companies in the United States. Gore and its subsidiaries employ approximately 8,500 associates at more than 50 facilities throughout the world in East Asia,Australia, Europe and the Americas.
Culture at Gore
In 2009, for the twelfth consecutive year, W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc. earned a position on Fortune magazine’s annual list of the U.S. “100 Best Companies to Work For." Its European operations have also earned similar honors. Gore UK has been named seven times by London’s The Sunday Times as one of the “Best Companies to Work For.” In 2009, Gore Germany ranked eighth in the “100 Best Places to Work in Germany" among mid-sized companies. Gore Italy ranked sixth among the “35 Best Places to Work in Italy." Gore France topped the list of “Best Workplaces in France” while Gore Scandinavia ranked fourth among small companies on the list of “Best Workplaces in Sweden.” Gore was listed 12th on the “50 Best Large Workplaces in Europe 2009.”
An important factor in this recognition is Gore’s unique culture, which evolved from the company’s success with small teams during its early years. This approach to business was based on Bill Gore’s experience with “task force teams” while he was employed at the DuPont Company. Such groups were formed at DuPont on an ad hoc basis to attack problem situations. They were usually multidisciplinary and typically operated for short periods of time outside of the company’s formal management hierarchy.
Bill Gore first presented the concept of a “lattice” organization to Gore associates in 1967. He later refined his ideas and presented what he termed “culture principles” in a paper entitled “The Lattice Organization – A Philosophy of Enterprise.” It was distributed to Gore associates in 1976.
Unlike the traditional management structure that Bill Gore had experienced at DuPont, he proposed a flat, lattice-like organizational structure where everyone shares the same title of “associate.” There are neither chains of command nor predetermined channels of communication. Leaders replace the idea of “bosses.” Associates choose to follow leaders rather than have bosses assigned to them. Associate contribution reviews are based on a peer-level rating system.
Bill Gore articulated four culture principles that he called freedom, fairness, commitment and waterline:
- Associates have the freedom to encourage, help, and allow other associates to grow in knowledge, skill, and scope of responsibility
- Associates should demonstrate fairness to each other and everyone with whom they come in contact
- Associates are provided the ability to make one’s own commitments and are expected to keep them
- A waterline situation involves consultation with other associates before undertaking actions that could impact the reputation or profitability of the company and otherwise “sink the ship.”
In the lattice organization, associates are encouraged to communicate directly with each other and are accountable to fellow members of their teams. Hands-on product innovation and prototyping are encouraged. Teams typically organize around opportunities, new product concepts, or businesses. As teams evolve, leaders frequently emerge as they gain followership. This unusual organizational structure and culture has been shown to be a significant contributor to associate satisfaction and retention.
Gore’s product line builds around a core material set using expanded PTFE and other fluoropolymers. PTFE has a combination of properties well suited to high performance applications. Some of those properties are
- Low dielectric constant (good electrical insulator)
- High thermal resistance (-200°C to + 260°C)
- Low coefficient of friction
- Low flammability
- Hydrophobic and oleophobic (non-wetting to water and oil)
- Chemically inert (and biocompatible)
In addition to these properties, PTFE is soft and mechanically weak, which can be a disadvantage in certain applications. However, Gore has developed capabilities using forms of expanded PTFE with engineered microstructures that can significantly increase its strength and durability. Other Gore capabilities enable different materials to be incorporated into the ePTFE microstructure, such as catalysts and antimicrobial agents. This leads to products that can extend the inherent properties of PTFE, such as gas diffusion membranes with chemical reactivity.
Gore’s product portfolio derives from a number of basic ePTFE forms that include tubes, fibers, tapes, membranes and custom shapes, such as gaskets and patches. Extreme performance testing and reliability are important steps in the development process.