Guest Post: Annie Chapman

Barry-Wehmiller has been a family business for almost 60 years. In a family business, many family members may spend their share of time with the company in one capacity or another.

In the last couple of years, three of my granddaughters have had summer internships with Barry-Wehmiller while in college – Chapman, Aidan and now, Annie.

Annie is studying computer science and math with a concentration in statistics and probability. She wants to go to medical school and find a way to integrate her background in technology with medicine, either directly through research or by working in a teaching hospital that funds projects to integrate tech into more aspects of how we practice medicine.

To say that I’m proud of her – as I am of all my children and grandchildren – is an understatement.

Annie spent her summer working with our Data Insights team at our corporate headquarters in St. Louis, MO (USA). After she left, she sent me this touching email that I’d like to share it with you.

 

According to my grandfather, everybody matters. As he often says, following this simple and yet hopeful phrase, he’s never had a single person disagree with him. His countless speeches, Q&A sessions, podcasts–and not one person has dared to challenge the foundation, the seed out of which his business has grown. His argument goes something like, well, if you believe that everybody matters, then how can you justify treating employees as a means to an end, tools used for personal success? Regardless of position, everyone deserves respect.

As someone who has not had many jobs and thus far only one in an office, this does not sound revolutionary. My ignorance led me to believe that this idea should be ubiquitous within business, the adult world. After hearing stories of my co-workers’ previous jobs, I caught a glimpse of the seemingly extreme but surprisingly common employee experience. Bosses throwing objects at their employees, shouting verbal abuse, going to strip clubs on company time with company money, and worse. To these people so entrenched in toxic company cultures, they cannot imagine business any other way. Unacceptable behavior somewhere down the line became normalized when people abused the power they were entrusted with and lost their humanity.

If you’ve heard any of my grandfather’s speeches, you might have heard one of his favorite statistics: 65% of people would take the chance to fire their boss in lieu of receiving a pay raise. I guarantee none of his team members feel that way. After this summer interning for a company that has given me so much, it also gave me a standard by which I will judge all other jobs, all other professional relationships. I now know what it’s like to work in the environment of mutual respect and professionalism I had always imagined was intrinsic to adulthood.

When I started working on the Data Insights team, my leader Eric Creeth asked me about myself. Not the standard questions: “What do you study?” “What do you want to gain through the internship this summer?” “What programming languages have you worked with?” But he started by asking me how I was doing. I responded with something like, “I’m doing well, how are you?” And rather than responding in kind, like most people do when they are merely asking to be polite, he tells me about how the electric fence for his dog keeps breaking and the company that installed the fence doesn’t include his issue in the warranty. Something as simple as being genuine with someone rather than choosing to simply be polite stuck with me.

As I started to get to know more people, I realized this was more the norm than an anomaly. People wanted to hear about how I was, which led me to want to hear about them. And when issues arose, whether it was frustration over miscommunication or a pressing deadline, a line was never crossed, emotions were kept in check, and professionalism was maintained. The business world I had believed in as a child did, in fact, exist.

While I do not see myself continuing on toward a career in a corporate IT department, my experience interning for people like Eric in a company like Barry-Wehmiller has given me a sense of self-worth, a confidence in knowing that I, as well as those around me, deserve to be treated with respect. My grandfather has worked to build a culture surrounding this idea, not only at Barry-Wehmiller but in other businesses as well. And though no company, no one person is perfect, we always aspire to be better than we were yesterday.

Thank you to those who made my experience this summer full of meaning, learning, and growth—it meant the world to me. And thank you to a company and family that never ceases to give.

Truly Human Leadership is found throughout Barry-Wehmiller Companies, where Bob Chapman is Chairman and CEO. A $2+ billion global capital equipment and engineering consulting firm, Barry-Wehmiller’s 11,000 team members are united around a common belief: we can use the power of business to build a better world. Chapman explores that idea in his Wall Street Journal best-selling book, Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring For Your People Like Family, available from Penguin Random House.

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