Bob Chapman: A CEO The Business World Must Emulate

When Bob Chapman was thirty years old, his father died of a sudden heart attack – instantly making Bob CEO of a small, unprofitable manufacturing company his dad had only recently purchased. For the next two decades, leveraging an MBA from the University of Michigan, and a few years’ experience as a senior level accountant to prepare him, he led his company as most CEOs of his era did. He squeezed his workers as much as he could, and laid them off in times when the business’s profits were challenged.

But in the late 1990’s Bob Chapman had a massive change of heart.

He started caring about his employees in truly significant ways. With great intention, he reimagined the culture at Barry-Wehmiller, and went on to build a $3.7 billion (revenue) business via 60 acquisitions. And every time he took on a new team or a new plant, he went there personally to ensure his skeptical workers heard it from him: They were now working for a company based on trust and the ideal that “everybody matters.”

During the Great Recession, Chapman never laid off a soul in any of his many locations. He personally forfeited 90% of his salary and then asked every employee to take a one-month unpaid leave. The way he saw it, “during tough times a family pulls together, makes sacrifices together, and endures short-term pain together. “If a parent loses his or her job, a family doesn’t lay off one of the kids.” As a result of his approach, Barry-Wehmiller remarkably emerged from the downturn with higher employee morale than ever before.

In his book, “Everybody Matters,” Chapman says, “once you stop treating people like functions or costs, disengaged workers begin to share their gifts and talents toward a shared future. Uninspired workers stop feeling that their jobs have no meaning. Frustrated workers stop taking their bad days out on their spouses and kids. And everyone stops counting the minutes until it’s time to go home.” 

In the eight years since his book was published, Chapman has become an activist in the world of CEOs. He realizes too few of them have embraced any of the humane leadership practices that have made his company so successful – and he spends much of his time working to persuade them to change.

This podcast exists for the sole purpose of persuading managers around the world that there is nothing but upside for them once they begin to lead from the heart. Bob Chapman is the embodiment of that ideal – and a model leaders can follow if they not only want to drive performance and profits, but positively impact the lives of other people as well.