Record reach

Manufacturing First Expo & Conference draws largest-ever crowd

Posted on Nov 14, 2018 :: Feature
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

If the grand ballroom at the KI Convention Center on the morning of the Manufacturing First Expo & Conference was any indication, the day was a smashing success.

By the time keynote speaker Bob Chapman, chairman and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, took the stage, a standing-room-only crowd had filled the space eager to hear his message of compassionate leadership. In addition to leading the St. Louis-based global manufacturing technology and services company, he co-wrote New York Times Best Seller “Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family.”

A record 1,300-plus people registered for the one-day event that celebrates October as Manufacturing Month.

Chapman gained national acclaim for his book as well as his blog, Truly Human Leadership, and the company’s Barry-Wehmiller University, which offers leadership training. Wisconsin is home to three Barry-Wehmiller companies — Green Bay’s Paper Converting Machine Co. and Hudson-Sharp and BW Papersystems of Phillips — and the largest concentration of the company’s 11,000 employees.


In a time of an ever-growing talent crunch, Chapman shared with the audience his strategies for cultivating a culture of care. He spoke of the importance of listening to employees with empathy, leading versus “bossing” or managing people, and recognition and celebration.

“We think because we pay them, they should appreciate their job,” he said. “Pay does not create happiness. Recognition and celebration allows people to feel appreciated.”

Two special presentations followed Chapman’s keynote. Bryan Brandt, chief marketing officer for Oshkosh Corp., spoke about the company’s People First initiative led by President and CEO Wilson Jones and how it has transformed the manufacturer’s company culture.

“We truly realize the importance of taking care of our people. Team members are more loyal and engaged when they realize how much the company and its leaders value them,” he said. “We are focused on keeping employees engaged, developing their skills and staying truly connected.”

Brandt praised Jones for his leadership, sharing a story about when a quarter was coming to an end and there was a big focus to “push product out.” Someone suggested the employees work through the weekend, which included Father’s Day. Jones turned that idea down and instead proposed giving employees a half-day off on Friday and the entire weekend.

“Wilson was right. They came back to work on Monday rejuvenated and our production went through the roof,” Brandt said. “If we had kept the workers there through the weekend, they wouldn’t have been motivated and it probably would have been less effective. But by putting employees first, we were still able to hit our production goals.”


First Business Bank CEO Mark Meloy led a panel discussion on fast-tracking company growth with customer financing strategies. Panelists shared best practices for manufacturers to implement at their businesses and discussed the impact of new Financial Account Standards Board lease accounting standards set to take effect Dec. 15.

In addition to manufacturers, the day drew nearly 600 high school students from around the region to hear a special presentation from Oshkosh Corp., tour the expo hall floor and meet with manufacturers to learn about job, apprenticeship and internship opportunities.

The exhibitor floor included nearly 200 booths that gave attendees a chance to learn more about business offerings and even interact with a roving robot courtesy of Braas Co. Oshkosh Corp., First Business Bank and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. offered XCELLD booths that provided enhanced educational opportunities.

The morning and afternoon each provided six breakout learning sessions on topics such as cybersecurity, Industry 4.0, succession planning and productivity, leadership and talent attraction strategies.


Presentations concluded with Alan Yeung, director of U.S. Strategic Initiatives for Foxconn Technology Group, who previewed Foxconn technology of the future as well as the company’s campus being built in southeastern Wisconsin. He also shared his excitement about the company’s presence in Northeast Wisconsin.

“The reason I’m here today is … because Green Bay, Brown County and the New North region really is the epicenter for advanced manufacturing, and Foxconn is pleased to actually add on and contribute here to its success,” he said.

Yeung ended his talk by detailing the “A through F” steps of bringing Foxconn to Wisconsin and concluded with adding G, which stands for Green Bay.

“We are very excited that we are the G,” said Ann Franz, director of the NEW Manufacturing Alliance.

The day concluded with the Business After Hours cocktail reception and the first-ever Power Hour, which gave attendees a chance to register to win cash and prizes, including a $500 gift card from First Business Bank. The company also provided three winners an opportunity to grab as many bills as they could in 22 seconds in its Cash Cube, which contained $2,500.