CEO Chapman Spreads Gospel of ‘Truly Human Leadership’ Beyond Manufacturing

The more successful his diversified industrial company has become, the more that Barry-Wehmiller CEO Bob Chapman believes in sharing the company’s success lessons with others. And the more he does that, the more Chapman focuses on man and woman over machine.

Truly Human Leadership is what Chapman calls the philosophy by which he has built and guided the St. Louis-based company over the last 30 years into a $3-billion-plus supplier of manufacturing technology and solutions serving a diverse platform of industries. He and his team have applied the philosophy in managing Barry-Wehmiller’s 12,000-plus employees worldwide and, increasingly, are spreading their approach through affiliated and rapidly growing consulting platforms.

Manufacturing CEOs, join us for our annual Manufacturing Summit to hear keynotes from Bob Chapman, David Farr and others. Held this year in Dallas, Texas on May 14-15. Register here.

They include a Design Group that consults in industrial manufacturing, Chapman’s own not-for-profit outfit that works a lot with schools and government agencies, and  Barry-Wehmiller Leadership Institute, which has put its shoulders into work for blue-chip corporate clients including American Airlines and Meijer. And now Harvard Business School MBA students read a case study about Barry-Wehmiller’s culture and management philosophy.

“There’s global interest in this, and with clients who come in to engage with us,” Chapman told Chief Executive. “We’re closer and closer to starting a movement where it’s not about Barry-Wehmiller or about me or anyone else abut about how to move from management to leadership, and move on from just using people for our benefit.”

Chapman wrote a book on his approach to management a few years ago and since then the interest in his Truly Human Leadership philosophy – in which “everybody matters” – has boomed. He called it a form of “philanthropic capitalism” and said that it’s more relevant than ever even in an era of nearly full employment.

“There clearly is as universal truth that [business leaders] were never taught to care about the people we have the privilege of leading,” he said. “WE have the lowest unemployment in 50 years and peace in most of the world. But there’s a level of frustration. People have good jobs and they’re not having to send their kids out to work, but they’re frustrated because of the way they’re treated for 40 hours a week in those jobs.

“Everyone wants to know who they are and that what they do matters, that they are valued. Our leadership philosophy is to let people know that they matter.”

One way Truly Human Leadership addresses this deficit is to help leaders figure out how to engage their employees. “Disengagement” has been identified for years as an epidemic in the American workplace. “So many people are just doing what it takes to get by,” Chapman said, “and nothing more.”

But, he said, what if managers and leaders “looked at the people in their care as someone’s precious child. Wouldn’t you want to make a material impact on their lives? It changes everything. Among other things you realize that the person they report to at work is more important to their health than their family doctor.

“Not only that, but we found out that how we treat people in our care materially affects how they treat their spouse and children.”

Truly Human Leadership can be exercised in something as basic as ensuring a company has a successful business model, explained Chapman, whose company has made 107 acquisitions – most of them of companies that needed some help.

“You have to have a good business model if you want to be good to your people,” he said. “If your model fails, people will get hurt.”