In celebration of Father’s Day, I’m going to do something a little different. As an incredibly proud father of six children and grandfather of 20 grandchildren, I want to shine the light on one of them.
A few weeks ago, I received a text from my grandson, Tripp, who is 17. He wanted to ask me a few questions because he was writing his end-of-year history project on me! He told me that they were supposed to “pick someone that we think should be recognized by the nation for their impact on the world” and he immediately thought of me.
I’m sure other parents/ grandparents can understand how touched and humbled I was. But I was also impressed that such a young man could see the impact of what we are trying to do here at Barry-Wehmiller.
At one point, when I texted him to ask how the paper was going, he wrote back: “The paper is going well. I just hope that I can write it well enough that it shows what you stand for and what everyone needs to learn should be their priority in dealing with people. The world has too much hate and not enough people brave enough to learn how to care.”
He shared that, as a young child, although he’d often hear the family talking about the “leadership stuff” we were doing, he only knew me as a funny, loving grandfather. Then a few years ago, the headmaster at his school invited me and Tripp and a few others to a lunch to discuss their interest in incorporating Barry-Wehmiller’s leadership program into his school’s curriculum. “This was the first time that I had sat down and really listened to his message and it just kind of hit me. He wasn’t just my goofy grandfather anymore, but an inspiration and example of the man I hope to be one day as well. Someone who is more focused on the feelings of the people around him than his own, and treating everyone in a way that reminds them that they are important and that they matter.”
As a father or grandfather, there isn’t more you could ask for – not only that your child or grandchild is proud of your work, but understands the need for more caring in the world, especially at work.
So for this week’s post, this proud father and grandfather would like to share Tripp’s essay with you, so that you may see Truly Human Leadership through the eyes of our future.
“Que Paso Amigo”
To me Bob Chapman, better known to me as Bobby, is just my goofy grandfather
responsible for a huge chunk of childhood memories. For other people, he is known as “Bob
Chapman, CEO of St. Louis, MO based Barry-Wehmiller, a $3 billion global manufacturing
business with more than 12,000 team members and over 100 companies world wide.” But that
just scratches the surface of the amazing grandfather, leader, and friend I know him to be.
Bob inherited his father’s bottle washer business, due to his dad’s untimely death from a
heart attack in 1975. Immediately, “my first thought was, I must build something good from this
business that killed my dad.” A large burden to put upon himself at the young age of 30. He now had to turn an 80 year-old, $20 million revenue company with outdated machinery and a
struggling financial situation, into a thriving company in order to keep the promise he made to
himself. Bob attended Indiana University to earn his BS in accounting and then continued his
academic career at Michigan University to achieve a masters degree in business administration.
His only work experience at this point was with Price Waterhouse, a public accounting firm. For
most people in his situation, running a struggling company would have been a very daunting
task, but he remained optimistic and encouraged to turn his father’s company around.
Bob’s first 50 years as CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, he resembled a traditional businessman
focusing primarily on saving the company his father once purchased for just $30,000. It was
known that “my priorities were to save the company from bankruptcy and give it a future. A real
challenge given the state of the business, the competitive landscape, and old technology I had to
work with.” From the knowledge and techniques that he learned from his studies in college, Bob
succeeded in turning his father’s company around financially. Making a once struggling St. Louis
company, into a $3 billion revenue company that has over 100 locations in 28 different countries
and over 12,000 employees. This wasn’t enough. Accomplishing this was a amazing
achievement, but his promise was that he must “build something good from the business that
killed my father”, and to Bob, all he had done with the company was financial. Nothing “good”
had been made of it.
One day my grandfather was attending a wedding of a close friend’s daughter, which
ended up being one of the most influential moments in his business career. The wedding opened
his eyes to the fact that “people are not functions or machines, but someone’s precious child.”
As a father of six, this changed his entire outlook on his role as a leader. “Leadership is a
privilege, and it takes courage to care for the people you have been given the privilege to lead.”
With this, Bob founded a leadership program known as “Truly Human Leadership”. The main
idea of this program is to encourage the change from “management” to “leadership”. From
“using” people for economic gain to “embracing” the need to care about all of the people that
you have the privilege to lead. Updating their mission statement to “We measure success by the
way that we touch the lives of people.” This changed a lot of how Barry-Wehmiller operated
and went about the acquisition of new companies. In most instances, if a CEO acquires a new
company, they will fire and replace employees to better suit their own needs. Barry-Wehmiller
takes a much different approach. “When Barry-Wehmiller acquires a struggling company,
chairman and CEO Bob Chapman almost never fires anybody. Instead, he comes in and says,
“You are safe here. We’re going to train you on leadership and culture, and we’re going to be
patient.” He’s not expecting returns in the first quarter or even the first year. Yet, reliably, if he
gives his Truly Human Leadership principles three to five years to take hold, the acquired
companies turn around to be more profitable than they had ever been before — with the same
people.” Proving that his real intentions are not in making an immediate profit, but in the
betterment of the people he has the “privilege” to lead.
As far as Bob’s efforts have gone already, his plans for the future are simple. Bob
believes that “Life is a journey. That everyday we are learning how to be better stewards of the
lives entrusted to us. It is about people, purpose, and performance. It all begins with our
fundamental responsibility to those in our care, then we have to perform for those who have put
their trust in us.”8 A simple concept that he hopes will continue to develop and be adopted by
companies and leaders everywhere. He hopes for a future in which work can be fun, and where
everyone can work for a company that cares about them. When asked what matters most to you
as a CEO, Bob replied with, “That I create a culture where “Everybody Matters”. That my
employees return home each and every day safe, healthy, and fulfilled… knowing that who they
are and what they do matter.”9 This is a very rare occurrence in many modern day companies. In
fact “Research shows that 88% of American workers believe that the organizations they work for
do not care about them as individuals; that three out of four workers are disengaged from the
work that they do. A sad statistic given that the number one source of happiness among Americans is not wealth or health, its a good job.”10 This is the the main reasoning behind all of
what Bob Chapman stands for. His main goal is to try to make a difference in the world by
providing the future with the skills needed to be a “Truly Human Leader”, and the skills to truly
care, even if it means sacrificing his personal profit for the betterment of the future of his
company and the world. The New York Times states “the primary value exchange between
employees and their employers has been time for money, and not much more. Bob Chapman is
suggesting a deeper, richer value exchange: We will invest in you not just as a worker but also as
a human being. You’ll get better at both, and so will we.”
I believe that Bob Chapman’s efforts towards creating a future in which “Everybody
Matters” is the beginning of a better world. A journey that has changed the lives of so many, and
will continue to bring joy and meaning to people’s lives everywhere. As Bobby’s grandson I am
incredibly fortunate to have such an amazing role model that I have and will look up to my entire
life. I can only hope to make as big an impact on the world as he has, and I am excited to follow
his lead in prioritizing the needs of others before my own. I want to become a “Truly Human
Leader” and follow the example that has been set before me. Bobby, thank you for everything
you have done for me and our family. I will always look up to you and work to make you proud.
Not only are you the the most “truly human leader” I have ever known, but one of my best
friends in the entire world. You always tell me “I can’t be “with” you forever, but I can be in
your head and heart forever”. A statement that will be forever true to me and all the people
whose lives you have changed for the better. On behalf of everyone you have positively affected,
Thank you for all that you do for us to make this world a better place.