Industryweek 11357 Bob Chapman Jul2010

How Bob Chapman Built a $2.4 Billion Company by Putting Workers First

May 9, 2016
The IndustryWeek Lifetime Achievement Award winner shares how he's been successful by putting people, purpose and performance ahead of product and profits.

At the Manufacturing and Technology Conference last week, humane leadership guru Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, talked about what it means to treat workers right, and what the rewards are.

The author of Everybody Matters, the Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family, Chapman grew his father’s $30,000 investment in a flagging brewery supply company in 1950 to a $2.4 billion capital equipment and engineering company today. Along the way, Chapman learned the value of focusing on people, purpose and performance over product and profits.

Here are some excerpts from Chapman’s speech at the IndustryWeek Lifetime Achievement Awards, where he accepted the Workforce honors:

On Lean:

We embraced lean about 10 years ago for an entirely different reason than most of you. We had developed this concept of caring for our people, and we wanted to find a way to deploy caring in our organization. And one of our team members in Baltimore, Jerry Solomon, kept saying ‘Bob, lean is all about people.’

The power of lean is that we listen to people and let them help us make it better, and in the process we validate their worth and release their competencies.

On Building up a Broken-down Company:

Because I’m from a financial background--I started at a company called Emerson Electric--the only way I could give the company a better future with old technology and old products was to do acquisitions. The only problem was that I had no money. The company was near bankruptcy. So I began in 1984 acquiring companies with no money. And what do you buy when you have no money? You buy things that nobody else wanted.

That journey from 1984  to today, we built a $2.4 billion company. … It has grown its share price by 16% a year compounded for 25 years. We have created something that is unique, and it’s in manufacturing. We have never shut down a plant to move it to lower labor cost markets. As a matter of fact, we have moved production from Brazil back to Green Bay Wisc. with the UAW, and have grown the product lines and grown the contribution.

On Humane Leadership:

Our message is really about caring. Caring for the phenomenal people we have the privilege of leading. One of the things I want you to go away with is an expression I heard from Jerry Solomon: 'We paid people for their hands for years, and they would have given us their heads and their hearts for free if only we’d asked them.'

The other thing I wanted you to know as you embrace these principles from these conferences: The way we lead our businesses, our departments, our responsibilities affects the way people live.

We created a university a few years ago to teach leadership, and 90% of the feedback we get today about leadership principles is the way it affects their marriage and the way they raise their children. So I want you to understand, business and work are not separate. If 88% of people go home feeling not valued, they’re not treating their spouse the way they should and their children are not seeing loving relationships.

So the good news is we can change it tomorrow. All you have to do is care about your people. And ‘care’ is a profoundly meaningful word, just like ‘raising children.’ It doesn’t mean being nice. It means making sure that they’re safe, that they get a chance to discover their gifts, that they get a chance to be appreciated for their gifts, and they share with you a vision so that they realize their potential.

We believe very much in American manufacturing—even though we operate globally, we have never gone to low-cost countries. And our organization is thriving because people feel that.

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