Classic Case 6
W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc.
Salisbury State University
Charles C. Manz
Arizona State University
To make money and have fun.
W. L. Gore
On July 26, 1976, Jack Dougherty, a newly minted MBA from the College of William and Mary, dressed in a dark blue suit and bursting with resolve, reported for his first day at W. L. Gore & Associates. He presented himself to Bill Gore, shook hands firmly, looked him in the eye, and said he was ready for anything. What happened next was one thing for which Jack was not ready. Gore replied, “That’s fine, Jack, fine. Why don’t you look around and find something you’d like to do.” Three frustrating weeks later he found that something, dressed in jeans, loading fabric into the mouth of a machine that laminated the company’s patented Gore-Tex membrane to fabric. By 1982, Jack had become responsible for all advertising and marketing in the fabrics group. This story was part of the folklore that was heard over and over about W. L. Gore. By 1991, the process was slightly more structured. New associates took a journey through the business before settling into their own positions, regardless of the position for which they were hired. A new sales associate in the Fabric Division might spend six weeks rotating through different areas before concentrating on sales and marketing. Among other things, he or she might learn how Gore-Tex fabric was made, what it could and could not do, how Gore handled customer complaints, and how it made investment decisions. Anita McBride related her early experience at W. L. Gore & Associates this way: Before I cam to Gore, I had worked for a structured organization. I came here, and for the first month it was fairly structured because I was going through training and this is what we do and this is how Gore is and all of that, and I went to Flagstaff for that training. After a month I came down to Phoenix, and my sponsor said, “Well, here’s your office, and here’s your desk,” and walked away. And I thought, “Now what do I do,” you know? I was waiting for a memo or something, or a job description. Finally after another month I was so frustrated, I felt, “What have I gotten myself into?” And so I went to my sponsor and I said, “What the heck do you want from me? I need something from you.” And he said, “If you don’t know what you’re supposed to do, examine your commitment, and opportunities.” Background
W. L. Gore & Associates evolved from the late Wilbert L. Gore’s experiences personally, organizationally, and technically. He was born in Meridian, Idaho, near Boise in 1912. By age six, he claimed he had become an avid hiker in the Wasatch Mountain Range in Utah. In those mountains, at a church camp, he met Genevieve (called Vieve by everyone), his future wife. In 1935, they got married, which was, in their eyes, a partnership—a partnership that lasted a lifetime. He received both a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering in 1933 and a master of science in physical chemistry in 1935 from the University of Utah. He began his professional career at American Smelting and Refining in 1936; moved to Remington Arms Company in 1941; and moved once again to E. I. du Pont de Nemours in 1945 where he held positions of research supervisor and head of operations research. While at Du Pont, he worked on a team to develop applications for polytetraflurothylene, frequently referred to as PTFE in the scientific community and known as Teflon by consumers. On this team, Wilbert Gore, called Bill by everyone, felt a sense of excited commitment, personal fulfillment, and self-direction. He followed the development of computers and transistors and believed that PTFE had the ideal insulating characteristics for use with such equipment. He tried a number of ways to make a PTFE-coated ribbon cable without success. A breakthrough came in his home basement laboratory. He was explaining the problem to his son, Bob. Bob saw some PTFE sealant tape...
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Hoerr, J. “A Company Where Everybody Is the Boss,” Business Week, April 15, 1985, p. 98.
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Ward, Alex. “An All-Weather Idea,” The New York Times Magazine, November 10, 1985, sec. 6.
Weber, Joseph. “No Bosses. And Even ‘Leaders’ Can’t Give Orders,” Business Week, December 10, 1990, pp. 196–97.
“Wilbert L. Gore,” Industry Week, October 17, 1983, pp. 48–49.
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