When Bob Chapman looks out into the world today, he sees all the pieces of what should make people feel happy and secure, but somehow, they don’t add up.
“We have probably the lowest unemployment in 17 years, probably the most vibrant economy I’ve seen in a long time, and people are still not happy,” he says. “We have economic prosperity, but we do not have human prosperity.”
To figure out the reason why, look no further than the place where most adults spend at least 40 hours a week. Chapman, the chairman and CEO of manufacturing technology company Barry-Wehmiller, envisions the workplace as nothing less than the agent for positive societal change. True happiness, he says, stems from working in a good job with people you enjoy, but many in this country are denied that.
He points to a Mayo Clinic study that determined a person’s relationship with their direct supervisor at work is more important to their health than their family doctor. A culture of care at work can create positive ripple effects that make people better spouses, parents, neighbors and community members, he says.
“What we need is to focus on the people we have the privilege of leading so that they can experience a life of meaning and purpose and feel valued.”
That’s the message Chapman will share as keynote speaker at Manufacturing First Expo and Conference, slated for Wednesday, Oct. 24 at the KI Convention Center in Green Bay.
Chapman took over leadership of Barry-Wehmiller in 1975 after his father’s sudden death from a heart attack. Under his tenure, the company has grown into a global supplier of manufacturing technology and services employing more than 12,000 and boasting an annual revenue of $2.4 billion. Green Bay’s Paper Converting Machine Co. is one of the 90-plus companies that make up Barry-Wehmiller, and Wisconsin is home to the company’s largest number of employees.
In the early 2000s, Chapman began championing the cause of what he calls Truly Human Leadership. He spreads the message via his speeches and writings through his blog, trulyhumanleadership.com, and 2015 book “Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family,” co-written with Raj Sisodia. In 2017, he launched Barry-Wehmiller University, designed to teach Truly Human Leadership principles to leaders both within and outside the organization.
Chapman describes three galvanizing events that led him to develop Truly Human Leadership. One of those was in 1997, when he had purchased a South Carolina company and gone to the site to begin his journey of ownership.
When he arrived before the workday had begun, employees were drinking coffee and chatting excitedly about March Madness. As the start of the workday approached, he watched “the joy seep out of them” and began to wonder why work can’t be fun.
“When people express their gifts most fully is when they’re having fun,” he says.
Attending a wedding and observing the bride walking down the aisle led him to understand that all his employees are just as precious to someone as that bride was to her parents. Then, at church one day, he watched the rector and reflected on how privileged he was to impact so many lives through sermons and services. He quickly realized that the rector gets an hour a week with people, and employers get them for 40.
“I walked out of that church that day realizing that business could be the most powerful force for good in the world if it simply cared about the people it had the privilege of leading,” Chapman says.
Chapman defines management as the manipulation of others for one’s own success. Barry-Wehmiller University, instead, emphasizes leadership as a form of stewardship. It’s about learning to listen actively to employees and recognizing and celebrating their successes.
At Manufacturing First, Chapman says he hopes to awaken in people a sense of responsibility for the people they lead and maybe just start a new kind of revolution.
“What we want to show is that in harmony with the industrial revolution that created economic prosperity, we needed a human revolution that created human dignity along with economic prosperity.”
Manufacturing First 2018
KI Convention Center, Green Bay
Oct. 24, 8 a.m. keynote speech by Bob Chapman with special introduction by Wilson Jones, CEO of Oshkosh Corp.
To register: manufacturingfirst.com
For more information: trulyhumanleadership.com