Building a Brand? Bob Chapman Knows That Everybody Matters

Bob Chapman and Barry-Wehmiller

Craft brewing is considered a modern-day phenomenon, yet in reality, small, independent breweries were the foundation of the beer industry. Nowhere in America was this truer than in St. Louis, Missouri. That’s why, in 1885, Thomas J. Barry and his brother-in-law, Alfred Wehmiller opened a machine shop to provide transportation and conveying equipment to malt houses. In short order, they expanded their product line to include a machine to wash refillable bottles.

The company, Barry-Wehmiller, performed well through the first half of the twentieth century until the explosion of canned beer began to impact the bottle business. In 1953, Bill Chapman, who had been involved in the business as an outside accountant was hired as president of the company. The business passed to the Chapman family in 1963. Soon after, Bill’s son joined the business.

Suddenly and sadly, Bill Chapman died of a heart attack in 1976. His son, Bob, became Chairman and CEO of the company. With an undergraduate degree from Indiana University and an MBA from the University of Michigan and nearly a decade in the business, he certainly had the qualifications. His management skills were put to the test immediately. The company’s line of credit was frozen by the bank. The situation was ominous.

Bob determined that he wouldn’t let the company fail. Taking control, he implemented significant and immediate changes – cutting costs and establishing new business processes. The company achieved record sales and profits in the first year under Bob. In 1987, Chapman spun off two-thirds of the company, generating the capital and setting the stage for significant diversification through a series of business acquisitions and expansions.

Just after the turn of the century Bob implemented the company’s Guiding Principles of Leadership – a vision statement which would be the cornerstone for the company’s culture. Bob Chapman had learned a lesson that very few other CEO’s had – the greatest assets of his company was its people. He had come to believe that managing a company was virtually the same as parenting. He thought of his employees as ‘someone’s precious child’. Chapman’s aim was to clearly state how he wanted all of his people to be treated – and to treat each other.

This wasn’t a fluff piece – it was an ideal woven into the very core of the corporation and all of its companies. Recognition programs, a wellness plan and employee development programs were initiated. 2008 saw the creation of Barry-Wehmiller University. Chapman travelled the world essentially ‘evangelizing’ the company’s culture. 

The downturn in the economy hit Barry-Wehmiller hard in 2009 as evidenced by a 40% drop in new orders. As was the case in 1976, action had to be taken. He anguished over how to survive the economy while being loyal and fair to all of the company’s employees – those people he thought of as a parent would. While at meetings in Italy, Bob had an epiphany – all could suffer a little as opposed to a few suffering a lot.

The company created a ‘furlough’ plan whereby each employee would take one month without pay. Importantly, the employee chose which month they would take – the timing was not mandated by management. The company also ceased matching the employee’s 401K contributions. Eventually the company’s performance returned to a more normal state. No one had been laid off – no one had been fired.  

Today, the company boasts revenue of $1.8 billion and is one of the top manufacturing, consulting and design entities in the world. Barry-Wehmiller comprises over 75 companies in 28 countries with over 100 locations. Of greater significance is the fact that they employ over 8,500 people worldwide.

Bob Chapman is the consummate fearless brand. He lives his purpose, leverages his talents and brings relevant to hundreds of thousands of people. He has created another fearless brand – Barry-Wehmiller – a company dedicated to building a better world through business.  Here’s what is rare and significant – Bob Chapman and his company are committed to bringing out the fearless brand in each and every one of their employees.

Fearless Brands implicitly know that Everybody Matters

Bob Chapman has led an organization which has achieved ground breaking success. Under Chapman’s guidance, Barry-Wehmiller has become a vibrant, real-world case study –  proving that caring about people is not only a good business philosophy, it’s a profitable one as well. As Mr. Chapman says “Business growth and people growth aren’t separate ideas; they are complementary pieces in creating value.”

That is what Bob Chapman discovered his purpose to be – building a company which values its people, a company which believes it is intended to care for those people. In turn, Barry-Wehmiller realized that its purpose was crystal clear: “We’re in business so that all of our team members can have meaningful and fulfilling lives.”

If you’ve not yet done so, I encourage you to buy and read Bob Chapman’s book, co-authored with Raj Sisodia, Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring For Your People Like Family. You’ll thank me. In the meantime, here are some key takeaways from Mr. Chapman and Barry-Wehmiller which you can incorporate into your life, your business, your brand.

Listen with the intent to understand – In Mr. Chapman’s own words “Building trust starts with listening with empathy. That is the way we demonstrate how we care for another and truly value each other’s thoughts and feelings. It is the foundation of all trusting relationships. Rather than talk to each other, begin by listening.”

Create a safe environment – There is a focus on creating and maintaining a positive environment for all. Bob Chapman sees his business model as being a safe bus, one that’s comfortable to ride on. They train their people to be responsible drivers and supply them with a navigating system to assist with guidance.

Nurture trust – As he struggled both to keep his company sound and his employees safe during the 2008 crisis, the furlough solution was brilliant. The financial needs of the business were met. More importantly, Chapman realized that a shared hardship brings people closer together – that it increases trust. Trust leads to confidence, security, a sense of belonging and therefore happier and more productive employees. 

Stop ‘managing’ – start leading – Mr. Chapman advocates eliminating the words “manager, boss and supervisor” adopting “mentor, coach and leader” in their place. If a person is a manager, they want to manage, which can be contrary to an open and listening environment. Leaders are everywhere says Chapman – find them, mentor them encourage them.

Care about others – Throughout his schooling and most of his work life, Chapman was taught that it was about him and his success – he had never been taught to care about others. He learned about caring from being a parent. Not immediately, but after time, he had one of his epiphanies – managing is the same as parenting. That philosophy has been instilled into the corporate culture of Barry-Wehmiller.

While you’re doing good – do less harm – Doing good is, well, good. Doing good is admirable and beneficial and profitable. However, don’t just look to do good – look to minimize harm at the same time. Simple. More good. Less bad.

Bob Chapman and Barry-Wehmiller have proven beyond doubt that creating a people-centric business whose purpose is to create meaningful lives for those people is not only noble, it’s profitable as well.

You can do exactly what Bob Chapman has. Follow his formula – put other’s interests first, care for others, build trust, add value. Branding is all about creating and adding value. Branding is the path to inspiration – inspiring yourself and inspiring others to take action.

So, whether you’re focused on building your personal brand, your company brand, empowering others to build theirs or all of the above, know that you, along with Bob and Barry-Wehmiller can help to build a better world.


Friday's Fearless Brand Personal Branding

Coach, International Speaker and Thought Partner - Bill’s mission is to add value to the world – one brand at a time. Bill guides individuals and companies alike in building what he refers to as a ‘fearless brand’. This is the process of discovering, embracing and delivering their greatest value – which allows them to realize greater profit. Read More

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