Bob Chapman, Barry Wehmiller – Hero of Conscious Capitalism
Bob Chapman is the Chairman and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller and, as his LinkedIn proudly states, “After seeing the positive impact of Barry-Wehmiller’s people-centric culture on the lives of his employees, Chapman felt compelled to raise awareness about business enterprise’s opportunity to become the most powerful positive influence on our society.” Chapman rightly champions his achievement of a powerful, purpose-driven, people-centric culture. He is one of the business and educational leaders of the conscious capitalism creed, leading by example and showing others how they too can grow their companies to the benefit of all.
When Chapman’s father passed away unexpectedly in 1975, Barry-Wehmiller was a small, and teetering, bottle washing business. Chapman took over and faced many obstacles in stabilizing the company. However, during his long time as CEO, Chapman has overseen the company continually grow into other industries such as packaging, paper, corrugating, engineering consulting, and capital equipment. Barry-Wehmiller expanded by acquiring over 70 new companies, becoming a global conglomerate worth $2 billion.
Beginning in the 2000s, Chapman began to focus more on his company’s purpose and culture. He wanted to make sure that they were going to be able to keep their focus and character as they grew larger. In order to accomplish this, Chapman started to emphasize open communication, respect, trust, and the pursuit of freedom to act coupled with responsibility and a desire to always improve. Applying the lessons from that experience to businesses today, he argues, “We need to move from a me-centric culture to a we-centric culture.” The importance needed to be on helping people flourish and be appreciated and not managing them in a way that drags down morale, their lives, their productivity, and society as a whole. In short, “[P]eople want to be led, not managed.”
Over the last two decades, Barry-Wehmiller has been so successful largely because of how its leadership and people effectively employ listening skills, team building, empathy, and self-reflection to improve and to serve their many stakeholders. Chapman knows that if you care and treat others as people then they will begin to join with you in dreaming up and building something big.
Chapman also found other ways to both listen to his employees’ concerns and raise production. One problem he encountered was that executives and white-collar office workers could make phone calls and drink coffee whenever they wanted but that the blue collar workers on the factory floor could not. In response, Chapman allowed everyone to do as they needed instead of having to constantly follow legalistic rules that made them feel like they weren’t trusted.
Another reform was instituting friendly competitions at work which raised morale, generated excitement, and boosted efficiency. The winner would be elected by their peers and allowed to use a luxury sports vehicle for a week. The result was that people felt honored by their coworkers when they were selected and they were able to make their loved ones proud by showing that Chapman trusted them with their car for a week.
The end result as that independent, academic research found that 79% of Chapman’s employees do feel like Barry-Wehmiller cares about them and that they also feel altruistic towards others as a result. This has caused Chapman to expand his focus on what he calls people-centric “Truly Human Leadership,” offering internal free classes for his workers and paid external ones for other companies through Barry-Wehmiller University. At 15% compound growth in revenue and share value since 1987, Chapman’s success story is another example of conscious capitalism at work.