Mental Health First Aid

#29 The workplace leadership needed in a volatile and uncertain world – Bob Chapman, CEO Barry-Wehmiller (s02ep5)

Apr 1, 2022

Bob Chapman is the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, which, under his leadership, has grown from a turnover of $20 million to $3 billion. His shareholders have had a return of 15% p.a. for 25 years, and the company now employs 12000 employees. Bob believes that leadership is about caring for those you have the privilege of working with.
"I thought that when you cared for somebody, you went over and talk to them. It turns out when you care for somebody, you go over to listen to them, not to debate, not to judge, but to understand."
- Bob Chapman


  • The value of ‘reversing the lens’ to consider how you can help your team rather than how they can help you to reach your goals
  • Business could be the most powerful force for good in the world if each business simply cared for the people they had
  • Leadership lessons learnt from parenting
  • Tapping into the law of early adoption – begin with the believers as they are the people who will take your message and run with it.
  • Designing your strategy around creating a ‘safe bus’. Culture is the fuel that goes into that engine.


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Transcript from the interview

 The following transcript was generated using a specific tool. It serves as a convenient method for converting our podcasts into text and allows for easy text searches. However, we kindly ask for your understanding if any typos have inadvertently occurred as a result of the tool’s usage.


Graeme Cowan, Bob Chapman

Graeme Cowan 

It’s a real pleasure to welcome Bob Chapman to The Caring CEO. Bob, when we were talking just before we started, you shared a very interesting story about a lunch with Simon Sinek. Would you mind just give you a little bit of the background of that and why it was so significant to you?


Bob Chapman 0:55 

Yeah, I think, I think this background puts in context, some of the questions you want to cover. Because if you can understand the background, you’ll understand better my responses to some of the questions you kind of put forward to me. But again, this whole journey I’ve had from I’ll call it, ‘Management to Leadership’, really began and I’ll get into later in 1997, it was just an internal series of transformative events that changed my view on what a leader’s responsibility is. But it was just an internal within our company, we weren’t addressing a problem. The company was doing well. It was evolving. And about 12 years ago, our communications director approached me and said, somebody from Green Bay has told us we had to watch this guy named Simon Sinek. Who gives a talk on ‘Finding Your Whys’? She said, I think it sentence, it resonates with kind of things. It’s in our lobby near I think you have to watch it. So, you know, maybe watch half of it. That was sound like the guy was interesting. And I just casually said, our team member MLS and wants just drop him a note in our hands once they have lunch. Didn’t think much of it. Well, apparently, she wrote a very thoughtful note. Simon’s assistant Kim saw it and says, Simon, I think you had to talk to this guy. So, you know, okay, whatever. Simon’s in New York, I’m in St. Louis. And they arranged for us to have lunch in Los Angeles, okay. So, I fly 2000 miles that lunch, not bad. And I get to lunch with this guy, I had no expectation. And so, I sit down, and Simon says, you know, Bob, I hope you understand it. But we’ve only got, I’ve only got an hour because I’ve got a lot of commitments this afternoon. And I said, Simon, that’s fine. I’ve got to get to Aspen for dinner with my wife. So, I really didn’t care. Within 15 minutes, Simon says, you know, I could cancel all my appointments. So, we could meet all afternoon. I said, no, no, Simon, I gotta get to dinner with my wife in Aspen. He now calls it 12 years later, the famous one-hour lunch that lasted three hours. But at the end of the lunch was became very intellectually engaging. Simon’s an anthropologist said on accountant, can you imagine trying to an anthropologist talk to an accountant. But anyway, the end of the conversation, Simon didn’t say this. But what he said was, I love it, but I don’t believe it. I want to see it. Now, we had never thought about it. People being interested in our cultural journey. We hadn’t talked about it. It was just happening, you know, in a very thoughtful way as these experiences happen. And so, Simon flew in and spent two days talking to our people a couple months later, after his first, at the end of his first as we have recorded, he stood up among our team and said, I am no longer a nutty idealist. I have just seen what I dream of. I dream of a day you could walk down any street in this country in the world, tap anybody on the shoulder and say, do you like your job? And I’d say, no, I don’t like my job. I love my job. And Simon said, at Barry Wehmiller what you’ve given me if it exists, it must be possible. So, Simon went as he said he was no longer a naughty idealist, he was a realist because he had just found what he dreamed up. So, Simon, 12 years later, is probably our biggest advocate in the world. He’s got over a million followers. He’s a brilliant thinker in regard to leadership has been a phenomenal partner for us. But his second book ended up being which is called, ‘Leaders Eat Last’ was stimulated by him studying the Marines leadership in the military where officers are dedicated to the men and women in their care. And Barry Wehmiller and a few other examples, but mainly about what he saw at Barry Wehmiller about our dedication to the people we have the privilege of leading. So that journey and Simon open the door to the world. Simon through his massive connecting base started bringing guests into our plant and virtually everybody said to me, I’ve never seen anything like this, you’ve got to share this with the world. So, the opportunity to talk to you today to share with your audiences, this revelation we’ve been given that’s been validated by our book, Everybody Matters is now sold over 80,000 copies around the world in seven languages, it was just bought by a Russian publisher, be published in Russia, Penguin, our publisher said, a good business book sells five to 10,000. Or at 80,000 and growing. And Harvard wrote a case study in our culture similar to our book, and Harvard, Harvard Publishing, told us the other day, is now one of their best sellers with over 70 universities from Japan, India using this to teach culture in business school. So, to your audience today, the message that we’re going to share has been tested by dramatic groups of people from around the world from McKinsey to Harvard, to Stanford, to Russia Zosia, to Sheikh Mohammed to some amazing thought leaders. And the universal statement is I’ve never seen anything like this. And so that, so it’s been validated by both the interest in and all the guests. And, if you will, the opportunity, I have to speak around the world today, to give people a sense of hope that we can begin to heal this poverty of dignity caused by management, which means the manipulation of others for your success. Leadership is a stewardship of the lives entrusted to you.


Graeme Cowan 6:43 

I should just add, for our listeners that I came across your book about four years ago, and it just resonated so strongly. And I just started this new business called Factor C, where C is for ‘Care’. And I bought a copy for my Co-Founder Brendan Carter and sent it to him. And he said, this stuff is gold is absolutely gold. And so, your book, your philosophy has really underpinned everything we have done. And you know, we’ve gone about having a business that can help prevent mental health issues, and really promote a great sense of culture, a caring culture in the workplace. And before we go into your journey, I just like to get your thoughts right now about what care in the workplace need, means to you after everything you’ve done?


Bob Chapman 7:42 

Well, I, words are to me are important, okay? Because, and I’ve gravitated to the word care. Because I want to tell your listeners that this journey, this eclectic journey I’ve been on, where we built a business from 20 million in the 1990s to 3 billion today, a very eclectic journey of putting together in many ways challenged businesses, that we thought we could be good stewards of and give them a future. The same time this cultural journey you and I are talking about is just as eclectic. I didn’t read a book, there wasn’t an advisor. It was and I would say to you that my parenting of six kids taught me more about leadership than my business school ever taught me. And so many of the principles in truly human leadership evolved from my experiences of trying to be a good father and husband, a good steward of these lives in my care. Because as Simon and I frequently say, there’s no difference between parenting and leadership. What is parenting? Parenting is a stewardship of these precious lives that come into our families through birth, adoption, a second marriage, which we all take very seriously. What is leadership? The stewardship of these precious lives that walk in our buildings and our plans around the world. And they simply want to know, they matter and you as a leader, have the opportunity to affirm their worth. Okay, and, and, and show them they matter whether, whatever their role is in the organization, it’s not a top down. It is– It is this reversal of the lens. That’s probably the biggest message I want your listeners to get out of care is the reversal of the lens. I thought through my education and my experience, I thought that the people in our organization were there for my success. I needed an engineer. I needed a sales executive. I needed receptionists I needed an assistant. Why? Because I needed them for my success. When the day I realized that everybody in my span of care was somebody’s precious child, knowing that the way I would lead would dramatically affect their health. And the way they went home and treat their spouses and their kids and behaved in our communities. It changed everything. Because I didn’t, I was never taught to care. I was never taught to taught to build on successful organizations that credit profits, okay? And so, this is not about pay or benefits. This is about treating people with respect and dignity. Because remember, right before the pandemic in America, when we had the lowest unemployment in 50 years, we were not sending young men and women off to fight wars in foreign countries. And we had a record stock market and strong economy, we had the highest level of depression and anxiety we have ever had. Why? We achieve the ultimate goal of our government, we had peace and prosperity. So, people could pursue their dreams, they have the financial resources to live with abundance and, you know, provide for their families. Why would we have anxiety and depression? My view is because if you look at the statistics, are 88% of all people feel they work for an organization that does not care about them. 65% of the people would give up a salary increase if they could fire their boss. Okay? And we know that work related stress is the major cause of chronic illness. So, we were self-destructing as a society in pursuit of the false sense that financial success was true success. And we know that is not the case. Does that make sense?

 Graeme Cowan 7:42 

Yeah, absolutely.

Bob Chapman 8:45 

Now, I want to make sure you really listen you know in the 17 years I’ve been on this journey. Not a person in the world has ever debated. The simple accountants view of the world the way it was intended to be. And so, I would say to you, that the thoughts I’m sharing with you are not my thoughts, there’s no way that my intelligence and my background would prepare me to have conversations with people as thoughtful as you and some of the top McKenzie Harvard people around the world that we now talk to. Some higher powers using us to show the world away as intended to be, where people contributed their gifts and went home each night feeling they’re part of something bigger than themselves. That is the hope I have to awaken in your listeners.

Graeme Cowan 12:29 

Was there one particular event, Bob, that led to that realization that, you know, everyone was so important?

 Bob Chapman 12:37 

Yes, the, again, it began in 1997. And it’s in my book, but the first the, there are three transformative events. The third is the one you’re looking for. The first was watching people in the lunchroom when I had just acquired this company. They didn’t know me; I didn’t know them. And they were in America in March, we have what’s called March Madness, which is everybody betting on the college basketball team, and office pools. That’s fun. And I was having my cup of coffee in the morning and a company had just acquired South Carolina, I sat in a lunchroom. Nobody knew me, I didn’t, they didn’t know me, I didn’t know them. And they’re all having fun talking about the outcome of the playoff games and collegiate basketball the night before. I wasn’t paying any attention to what they’re saying, I was watching their behavior. And in hindsight, I had to piece this all together because I it was a major event for me. So, I watched the closer and got dated clock, you could just see the fun go out of their body when they had to go to work. I always say you can’t say that word work with a smile. Okay? So, I walk into my first meeting. After I, in hindsight, I experienced that. And I said to this group of team members who happen in this area, my first Penny was the team that sells spare parts and service to our customers. Because that was a significant product line. I went to meet with them. I didn’t have an agenda. I’m not an organized person. And I said, let’s play a game a little bit like March Madness. Let’s play a game. Whoever sells the most parts each week wins. As the team makes a team goal. The team wins. They were shocked. They had no idea what I was talking about. But because I see how they did it, guess what happened? Our customer performance, service to our customers went up dramatically. And joy went up a thousand percent. People started having fun. They could look at the scoreboard every day. See, okay, I’m at 100,000 parts and $100,000 and say started it’s like watching a basketball game or sports game. You can see the scoreboard they knew where they were individually as a team. So that was my first revelation. Why can’t business be fun? Why do we call it work? If I could create fun events that aligned to value maybe we could create more value. So anyway, I was astounded. And the feedback I got was amazing. The teamwork that came together to start winning as a team. Before that they came in after the phone and an order answered a phone at another. So, there was no, there’s no joy to it. It’s just, okay. The phone’s ringing, someone’s gonna want something. Now they were anxious to pick up the phone, as one lady said to me was brilliant. She said, Mr. Chairman, I always thought I was nice to the customer. But now I’m really nice to the customer because I want to win. So it was, it was it was priceless. So anyway, the second was sent in our church, we’re Episcopalians, and my mentor was director of our church and after church service, one day, I looked at my wife, Cindy, and I said, sent the add, or our Rector, he’s only got us for one hour a week, we have people for 40 hours a week, we are 40 times more possible, powerful than our faith. Influence people’s lives. And so, I walked out of that church. And I said, my second revelation is, business could be the most powerful force for good in the world. If we simply cared about the people, we had the privilege of leading. That was the second step. A couple of years later, as at a wedding, and Aspen, that’s the one everybody remembers, because people can relate to it so easily. And we’re watching this young man and young woman get married, and we’re all, they look so precious, it was so beautiful, the environment, lots of friends. And that day, I had the major transformation, I think your listeners will relate to. All of a sudden, I had this thought just a little bit like a church, little bit like at that basketball environment. Oh, my goodness, off 12,000 people that work for us around the world. They’re just like those young men and young lady that we all think is so precious, it’s somebody’s precious child has been placed in our care. And the way we treat them, will profoundly affect the way they go home, and live their lives. And all of a sudden, that lens I talked about was switched. I thought people were in our organization for my success in the organization’s success. I had a receptionist, I had an engineer, I had a machinist, I had a store manager, everybody had a function for my success, or my organization’s success. That day, I flipped the lens and I saw those people as my purpose. All of a sudden, I said, my role is to make sure those 12,000 people who put their trust in us every day, go home each night knowing that who they are and what they do matters. And they’re somebody’s precious child and how to function. So that reversal of the way I saw the world changed everything for me that, and that is the issue that most people can relate to. Because wouldn’t you want the organization you run to be one that your son or daughter, your niece or nephew, your mother or father would want to work there because they felt valued. So that was really the cornerstone, capstone event is the wedding when I realized that people are not functions for my success. There’s somebody’s precious child has been placed in my care in the way I treat them, will profoundly affect their health, and the way they come and treat their spouses, their children and behave in our communities.

Graeme Cowan 18:08 

I love that concept of flipping the lens. It’s so simple yet I can see how profound it is. I’d like to go back even further. When you suddenly had to take over the company, due to the death of your father. Can you just explain how you felt on that day when your father passed away so unexpectedly?

Bob Chapman 18:35 

Yeah, I had worked with my dad who I had not been close with as a kid. My dad worked really hard. I was very close to my mom. My dad didn’t, so I didn’t have. But when he invited me into the company, from where I was working at Price Waterhouse, I decided to do it. My mother cried because she thought we’d hate each other and dad and I had a basis that we be honest with each other. So anyway, I joined the, work six years with him as best six years of my life. He was thrilled to see the way I was able to embrace it. But so, we’re having dinner in October 1975 with my mom and dad and I, because he’s leaving the next day for Australia. He was going to Melbourne and we have a nice simple dinner at a drive thru restaurant. And the next morning, he died. Okay? And he had set it up, but he said at dinner, you know, Bob, you’re really running the company. When I get back, I’m gonna make you the Executive Vice President. So, he actually unofficially promoted me moments before he died. So as a shock to find out that my dad had died, and I was immediately given the challenge of stepping into running this pretty broken $18 million company with two or 300 people that was financially very weak. My reaction I believe, and again, you have to kind of go back and put the pieces together because, you know, it’s, I once heard a statement that if, if a car were to kind of break down and, and, and be on top of one of your kids, somehow, you’d lift the car up the energy of getting you couldn’t even explain. My reaction was, I’m not going to go down like this and I threw my mind and body into that challenge. And I turn that company around on a dime. Okay. I mean, seriously, it had the most profitable his year and its 100-year history. The first year I ran it, okay? I think it was in response to my dad’s death. I think it was in response to the fact that our banks pulled on us right after my dad died. And so, one of the things I’d say to your listeners from my, my DNA, my experience, from some of my most challenging moments came my greatest personal growth. Okay. So, and that’s a lesson that I teach students all the time. It was I mean, to have my dad died and have the first person I meet the, the banker, tell us they want out of the loan. And I’m 30 years old. And I rose to the occasion of the challenge, you know, I didn’t have a coach, I didn’t have somebody sat down with me and said, Bob, let’s work through it. I just, I rose to the occasion of the challenges in the way I put it back together. So. And the good news are I was only 30. And I started learning pretty quick.

Graeme Cowan 21:29 

What did you learn from your father?

Bob Chapman 21:32 

I’m gonna rephrase it slightly. The greatest thing my dad ever did for me, he didn’t know he did. I wasn’t a good student. I don’t think he thought I was gonna mount. But I went a problem I just wasn’t good. I was just kind of– And when I joined the company, from my experience of public accounting, I said, you know, Dad, if something ever happens to you, you know, I don’t want to find that I’m got to deal with family issues all the time with mom voting stock, or mom becoming Chairman of the Board. I said, because I want to work for a professional organization. So, my dad, unbeknownst to me, went down with the attorneys and set up a special arrangement called a voting trust. And he made me his sole trustee, so something happened to him. And it did, you know, and, and, as a result, the second he passed away, I became, I voted 97% of stock in the company, even though the stock had been distributed the family. So, the greatest thing my dad did for me, he didn’t know. Which is he giving me his trust, which I had not earned? Okay? And that is a gift that I don’t even know how to modify, quantify what it means. When your father gives you a gift to that he you will take care of all of his descendants upon his unexpected death. It calls you to a higher level than any words could describe. So that was a profound gift, he gave me a challenge that trust and that has driven me for since 1975, to be true that I someday if I get a chance to sit down and talk with my dad, I’m gonna say, Dad, thank you for that trust, I believe I’ve recently profoundly affected my life. That you trusted me when I hadn’t earned it.

Graeme Cowan 23:22 

It must have been very tough, because I lost my father a year ago, he was 91. So, he had a very, very long life. But it wasn’t saddened. And so, everything that wanted to be said was said, and that was a really lovely situation. Was there anything else apart from what you just mentioned that you wish you’d said to your dad, if you had your time again, before he passed away?

Bob Chapman 23:44 

You know, the beauty is, I was cleaning my desk the other day, and I found a note that I wrote him a year before he died. And basically said, Dad, this has been an unbelievable relationship that is dramatically richer than either of us ever could have imagined. I’m going to as he was reading, because that’s family that’s guy couldn’t bear who is from it’s a sign Bob and to dad. I thought it must be fun. My kids say no, but I don’t have a son named Bob. So anyway, it was striking. I mean, I was, I hadn’t seen until just like three days ago, and I was pinned on my desk. I have a desk that my dad had. And I thought, oh, I’m glad I said it to him because so many times we wait for people to be near death to tell him what we feel. And I think the beauty is I had six years to work alongside my dad. And if you said, what did I learn from my dad? My dad had not good health, he had a heart, first heart attack when he’s 45. Second one when he’s 57. He died when he was 60. He appeared to be healthy right before he died. He just passed a life insurance physical so that was an indication that insurance companies were willing to extend life insurance to him but the chance to work with my father, for a father to see his son amount to something in his own eyes, you know, the sense of pride my father had have seen me blossom at that stage. And then for him to step out of this life into heaven, and for me to be able to, somebody, I think you’ve context to your question. I’ve said, you are sitting next to a lady at a dinner party five, seven years ago, and we hadn’t met her before a conversation led to this question, which I think you’ll find, she said, what do you think heaven looks like? And nobody ever asked me that and never thought about it. And I thought, you know, what happened would be a chance to sit down with my dad 40 some years later, and say, you know, Dad, it turned out pretty well. Little company that you were able to keep alive from 1953 to 1975, I kept it alive. The trust you place to me is now a $3 billion global company. That stands for something other than wealth creation stands for human wealth creation, you know, people feel valued. And he would pass out again, because he, because of his health, and his personality, is extremely nice, gentleman. But we couldn’t take this family company that was 100 years old that he had stepped into in 53. And give it a future. And I took, he kept it alive. And I brought it back to life. And today, it’s a vibrant global company that stands for good in the world, not just wealth creation, but human value creation.

Graeme Cowan 26:37 

And it has been a remarkable journey with huge growth. And I read that you’ve had over 100, 120 acquisitions. And traditionally, acquisitions don’t go that well. But obviously, you’ve been able to share the Barry Wehmiller culture with these new acquisitions. How did you go about doing that when you know, day one with the new group, what do you say to them?

Bob Chapman 27:06 

You know, yeah, we’re, I think we’re almost approaching 130 adoptions around the world–

Graeme Cowan 27:10 

Options, like–

Bob Chapman 27:12 

If you were a church, every time somebody in your faith opened a new church in their community, you’d see your faith grow in the world, you have a sense of pride. Every time we get to adopt a company, from Serbia, to China, to India, to Japan, to Germany, Italy, we meet the most wonderful people in the world, who just like you and me simply want to know they matter. And when I go back to my second revelation, that we have people in our care for 40 hours a week, we have a four, four value global company whose focuses on its people, okay. And a guy, in that context, I’d say I was interviewed by Washington University Organizational Development Professors a few years ago, because they’d heard about our culture, they cannot enter, they interviewed me for an hour and a half. And I did other questions like, I don’t know your questions. But after an hour and a half interview, they looked at me and said, Mr. Chapman, you’re the first CEO we’ve ever talked to, that never talked about your product. And these are organizational development fests and I said, oh, I’ve been talking about a product for the last hour and a half. I’m not going to go to my grave proud of the machinery, big capital equipment we build. I’m going to go to my grave proud of the people who designed and built that machinery, and that caught them completely off guard. I didn’t even know I had mentioned our product, okay, that we please. So, I would say to you, it’s our people. You know, we need an economic model to give people a chance to express their gifts. In our case, it’s big capital equipment for people like Procter and Gamble, and Coca Cola and, and the brewing and the food industry. So, we build big machinery and but each time we have an opportunity to step into a new committee, and adopt a company, we have a chance to touch more lives. Okay? I remember, when we acquired this company in California, there was some lovely ladies that were in the audience when I was sharing with them our values, and they virtually crying looked at me and said, I never thought I was going to get to work for a company that cared about me. Okay? And there’s this tremendous hunger in the world for caring. Okay? And in business. We are users of talent, not caring of people that we have the privilege of leading. So, again, that’s what I would say to you. Business can be the most powerful force for good in the world. If we simply care for the people. We have the privilege of leading, but this is not about giving them lollipops and benefits. It’s about genuinely validating their worth, and getting them inspired to work as a team for each other. It’s not about your career. It’s about how you play your role on the team. So that the person sitting to your left and your right has a future. Because if you play their what your role well and they play, you can, as a team, create a better future together. Because remember, Gallup did a survey in the world of the number one source of happiness. And I came back from 155 countries, that a good job doing meaningful work with a company, with people you enjoy is the greatest source of happiness in the world. So, we in organizations, not just business, nonprofit health care, education, we have a chance to give people a chance to be who they’re intended to be. So, they can go home each night feeling valued and treat. Again, when I was educated in business, I was never told that the way I would lead or run my company would affect the way our team members would health. Because remember, we heard from a major medical source United States, the person you work for is more important to your health and your Family Doctor. I was never told that, never taught how to do that. When we promote somebody to a leadership position, it was an accountant to become a Chief Accountant. We don’t say to you know I want you understand that the way you now take on this role is going to affect the health of the people you lead, and the way they come and treat their spouse and kids. Because when we teach in our internal university people to move from management to leadership, 95% of the feedback, 95% and how it affects their marriage, and their relationship with the kids, which is profoundly meaningful to me. We in business, not just affect our customers, okay? And our shareholders. Most importantly, we affect those people in our span of care, who simply want to know they matter. And as the leader, you have the opportunity to value them individually as a team.

Graeme Cowan 31:58 

If you believe like we do that leader number one priority is to build a more caring and resilient team who enjoys growing together, you may be interested in these three free resources we provided at our website, The first one is the ‘We Care Credo Poster’. And this contains the mindset and values of teams that prize, self-care, crew care, and redzone care. The second resource is a poster called, ‘How to support a teammate in distress?’ And this provides easy to follow instructions on how to identify someone who’s struggling, how to have the ‘Are you okay?’ conversation with empathy, and how to guide them to the help that they need. And the third resource is a building a mentally healthy culture checklist. And this provides items to think about before you launch initiative, how you do a great launch. And then thirdly, how to get the momentum going following the launch. These three free resources can be found at


When you go into new adoptee, when you say care is important, and a lot of people are cynical, because I think every company out there say that people are our most important asset, but what they do, what they say is two different things, obviously. So, you stress that you are all about care. How do you show your new employees how to care in the Barry Wehmiller model?

Bob Chapman 33:36 

You know, the people that say, you know, our employees, our most important asset, that’s just an expression.

Graeme Cowan 33:45 


Bob Chapman 33:45 

Behaviors, that’s important, not the expressions, okay? And we didn’t start off by with the intentionality to create a caring environment. very crudely, my first revelation was why don’t we try and send people home feeling fulfilled? That’s just the word I use fulfilled. That’s where it began. And to do so, we needed to teach our leaders how to do that, okay? Because you can’t honestly, we have so many people in our faith in our, in our government to say you need to care about the people in your organization. Nice statement. But caring is a learned skill. We could tell them they need to speak Chinese too but then they’d say okay, but I don’t know how to speak Chinese. So, I would say to you what we do in our, in our internal university. When we wanted to take people from management to leadership. We crudely roughly with a clean sheet of paper said, and one of our team members felt passionate about David Wagnermore, we need to teach people empathetic listening. He would, if you had named a thousand things we needed to do teach to great care and I never would have come up with listening. Because I thought you and I, we know how to listen, we’ve got two ears, we’re adults, we’re not listening to people. Well, I would say to your listeners, the most profound thing we found is the greatest act of caring. The way to actualize caring is not to tell people to care. It is to learn to listen with empathy, it is a skill, it is a learned skill, we teach a three-day intense class where we a do a DISC profile of you. So, you understand yourself and you understand how each of us are created uniquely different. And if you understand that, the way you listen is you flex to the personality style of the person you’re dealing with. You cannot, there’s a great golden rule treat others as you want to be treated. Well, that doesn’t really work. You need to treat others as they need to be treated, because they may have different needs than you. We are all created uniquely different. And all we do is respect that Bill Yuri of Harvard when he came in as World Peace negotiator, he spent two days like Simon did in our company, and he said he saw the answer to world peace in our company. To Bill, how could you see the answer to world peace? And our company said, I saw a place for people genuinely care about each other. And that is the world that he imagines it is real peace negotiations. So again, you can’t ask people to care. You have to teach them how to care. It is a skill and it begins with listening, amplified by recognition and celebration, letting people know they matter in thoughtful, timely, appropriate ways. And then culture of service seizing the opportunity to serve others. Moving kind of from this me centric, it’s all about me and my success and my progress in the organization. To a we model where we care about each other, we operate as a team, we generally want bill and Mary and our left and right to grow with us, because we care for them. So, the good news to your listeners, this is really good news is caring is contagious. Okay? We have found, we have found that if I care about you, it releases within you caring for others. But if I send you home not feeling cared for which 88% of people do, it’s hard for you to, it’s harder for you, it’s not impossible. It’s harder for you to care for others when you don’t feel cared for yourself. Okay? So, what we’ve done is that when we actualized, when you feel cared for, your naturals kept scaring skills surface, but then we teach you how to take those natural skills and turn them into replicable disciplines of caring. Again, I thought when you cared for somebody, you went over and talk to them. That’s what I thought. It turns out when you care for somebody, you go over to listen to them, not to debate, not to judge. But to understand.

Graeme Cowan 38:13 

What do people say, after completing your three-day course? What some of the feedback again?

Bob Chapman 38:20 

95%. 95% is it changed my life.

Graeme Cowan 38:25 


Bob Chapman 38:26 

That and I say in my faith Episcopal faith in my education, what have I ever done in my life that in three days, it changed people’s lives? Young people, older people, because it opens up the potential of human relationships. When you don’t know how to listen, you cannot have the relationships that are meaningful to you. Okay? It is the greatest gift. Again, the greatest gift is to listen with empathy, to validate them. And so, a question I get, which is kind of behind your question is, what do you do about the people that don’t get it? And I said, it’s interesting how many places when I’m giving a talk at church, nonprofit people want to know about the brokenness, and I say, I’m sure there’s some people that don’t get it, but I focus on the people that do. Okay? And I would say to you that if you have somebody and Bill your if Harvard described us as having courageous patients, okay, it’s like a bus he describes as the bus going around a circuit, the bus fault, the Trillium and leadership bus pulls up. So, Graeme, would you’d like to join us in this journey? And Mrs. Graeme said, you know, in all due respect, I’m just not ready. You know, I’m just, I’m just not ready to say that’s okay, Graeme. We’ll be back. Sometime later, that bus pulls up again says, Graeme? Would you like to join us? He said, you need to give me a little more time. We said, that’s okay, Graeme. So, he describes it as courageous patience. Everybody’s journey, everybody’s personality is unique. Yeah, you can, one size does not fit all. You can have somebody in your team who’s been brutalized in his last jobs. I mean, I’ve heard horrible things about bosses, managers, who really are brutal to the people. Yeah, as far results, they get fire, they get downsize. Because you know, it’s all about making the numbers. And so, all of a sudden, somebody comes along, says, we care about you. They say, yeah, that’s right. So, we have courageous patients. And Simon calls that the law of early adoption, we focus on the people that do get it, we don’t let the people that don’t get it overwhelm the people that do. And we constantly take the people who do get a raise, I’m saying thank you. For the law of early adoptions. It’s how you create a movement, you start with the believers, and others join you when they’re ready. When they can genuinely step on that bus and say, I want to be a part of, we have a gentleman of I think he was in the Marines is in really combative military, his understanding, he ran a cut off side thing in the back of our plant. And you kind of stayed away from him if you could, because he was a tough, classic marine type guy. Today, Randall Fleming is a teacher in our university on leave caring leadership. He is amazing. The transformation Harvard professors who went in there wanting to write a book about. The magnitude of transformation, the way articulate is so encouraging. I mean, I just think the world of random but you talk about a conversion. And so, you know, we, if you look at everybody, as somebody is precious child, not a function, and treat them like you’d like your son or daughter or your cousin created, it changes everything. Okay? That’s our standard of care.

Graeme Cowan 38:29

You just going back to that metaphor of, you know, the people on the bus, Tim Collins in his book, Good to gray, so that one of the most important things was having the right people on the bus. And that obviously, by implications means that some people won’t make it and they’ll have to leave. What are your thoughts about that, particularly when you take over or adopt new entities, do you ever feel that there’s someone there that just won’t make it and we’ll be an obstruction and you need to, you need to take some action? Tough actions.

Bob Chapman 42:29

You use the word care, I use the word care, we both ended up in our own journey to that word care. But as parents, one of the things I learned that I’ve embraced, I told your listeners that I learned more being a parent than I did in business school about leadership. It’s called hard love. Okay? Being a good parent, being a good student of these precious life, parent life, as a steward of these precious lives is not about giving them what they want is, it’s about giving them what they need, okay? To develop fully. And so, I would say to you, we call it hard love. It’s the question is, how do you do it? It’s not walking up in yelling and screaming, you’re fired, get out of here, is treating everybody as you would want your son or daughter treated with respect and dignity. If you have a situation where an individual basically is unable to embrace this principle, and in fact, hurting other people, then there’s a human way. And actually, in our listening class, we teach confrontation, how do you confront people in a way that you can get them to understand and listen and affect change? So, it’s a, it’s an actual skill in our lesson class, effective confrontation, okay? So, they can meet your needs. It’s not about attacking them; it’s about helping them meet your needs. So, it’s one of the things we teach, but it astounds me because we began our university to transform managers into leaders. But 95% of our feedback is how it affects their marriage and their relationship with their kids. Can you have any idea how meaningful that is? To me to believe that we’re going to end up our team members are going to be better parents, to their kids, and probably because of that better spouse to their spouse. And therefore, the kids, I could tell my kids to be nice all day long. But if I don’t treat my spouse with respect and dignity and value, what am I teaching my kids? Okay, that observe that behavior. So again, if we send people home feeling valued, they tell us they have better marriages and better relationship with their kids, which is, I can’t even quantify how much that means to my heart and soul. We did affect youth in this country by simply setting parents’ home feeling valued.

Graeme Cowan 44:56 

I heard previously a story with you about an employee called Steve, and he and others have presented to your leadership team about some new projects that are doing in continuous improvement. Can you sit a little bit about that and what you learned?

Bob Chapman 45:15 

Probably 15 years ago, we acquired a company in Baltimore, where they were on the Lean journey, the Toyota production, Lean Journey, continuous improvement, whatever word you want to use. And a gentleman who was very passionate about it, Jerry Solomon, kept saying to us, Bob, Toyota was all about people. Lean is all about people, you know, and you need to embrace us to articulate to actualize your caring leadership. And so, one day, we kind of heard him say, well, maybe we could use this Lean process of engaging people to amplify our cultural journey. So, we didn’t embrace it to reduce costs. We didn’t embrace it to improve efficiency. We embrace it initially, the idea was, we could use that technique to bring about positive change in our culture. And I got into it, and the word Lean means, in fact, waste elimination, no fact, okay, Lean. Do you know anybody that would go home at night motivated by eliminating waste? I met the gentleman who was going to one of the founding fathers of Lean, Jim Womack, really fine gentlemen. And I said, Jim, do you know why 97% of all companies fail to become lead truly lean organizations, he said, he was very frustrated, I said, the reason is, because you called it Lean, if he would call it listen, that what we learn to do is to listen to our people who know, in the right environment, how to make things better, and how to recognize those people do it, it would have been profiling system, but you, you focus it on process improvement, I focus on human improvement. And so, the continuous journey, we don’t like to refer to it as Lean, or we like to call it the living legacy of leadership. Leadership principles, so profound, they will last generations to come. And it’s focused on listening to our people in the spirit of every one of us, whether we’re parents, citizens, or team members in the company, we can be better stewards of our role. And together, we can continually evolve, grow, become better, and enjoy the journey together. So that conversation really led to a dramatic of different approach. It was not about, okay, eliminate waste, you know, again, people who love process, there’s not many people like that, okay? And so, so we really went from lean, continuous improvement to caring, we all need to embrace being better stewards of every aspect of our life every day, to have the society we want to bring kids into, where they will emulate the behavior that we’ve taught. So, we really embraced again, lean continuous in journey, with the idea of using it as a distribution model for our new culture. But clearly, we got into it. And we realized that the challenge of lean it was all about financial improvement, not human improved.


Graeme Cowan 48:30 

And I know that you often ask a question, when people reflect on the results they’ve got, and you ask them, how does that make you feel? What sort of things have you learned by asking that question?

Bob Chapman 48:43 

You know, one of the things I want you to understand is, I have no idea where that question came from. I have to tell the story that I think helps you understand it, we adjust embrace these ideas of continuous improvement. We decided to have a conference up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with all of our operating heads for leaders around the country. We had bright 20 some people in the room and I got an email the night before, from Greg content, says Bob, some of our team members in the assembly area have done a lean event for our major customer, and I’m really proud of what they did, would you be willing to go out in the plant and acknowledge their work? And I said, I do what why don’t you do this? Why don’t you have them come in tomorrow morning, and present to our global leaders? So, these gentlemen, none of whom I knew walked in the next morning to the assembly building and their leader said, you guys are gonna go present to the global leadership. Okay, so they walk over to the conference room and these three assembly team members, none of which I had met before. Sit up and talk about this project they did four major customers to, they came together, they shared ideas, they improve the process, they reduce costs, shorten lead time, improve the workflow and please the customer. Perfect story. But it was all about numbers. Okay, as all is a numeric based conversation, we save money, we reduce warranty costs, etc. And I’m an accountant. So that should have been music to my ear, right? I was paying no attention to them; I was watching them. Again, I just said come over and share I had no agenda. And out of me popped. My wife hates it when I say that. But these gentlemen finished a financial presentation on dramatic improvement they made by working together. And I said to Steve, in this case, okay, Steve, the one of the assembly team members, how did it affect your life? And I don’t know why I asked him that. But I did, had no idea what he’d say. And so, if you’re one of our team members, and you got to present to the global leadership team, and you were just asked to do is fine dance, then all the sudden the chairman say, how did it affect your life? And what he said to me was profound. He said, my wife is talking to me. I said, what? I don’t understand, Steve. He said, Mr. Chapman, I’ve worked at this company for a lot of years before you acquired it, adopted it. And I’d come in every day, I’d punch my card, I’d go to my workstation. I was told what to do. And nobody ever asked me what I thought. I got 10 things right. And I never heard a word, I get one thing wrong, and I got my ass chewed out. He said, Mr. Chapman, I now realize having been a part of your organization for the last few years. Then when I went home at night, I didn’t feel very good about myself, because of that environment. A top-down management environment. Since you took over and people asked me what I think I get to work with my colleagues here and make things better. I go home at night with a much more positive attitude when I do, a much nicer to my wife. And when I’m nicer to her, she talks to me, said, Steve, we’re going to have a new metric in Lean, it’s going to be the reduction in the divorce rate in America. And so, in that same environment, we, after one of these Lean events, we asked one of the assembly team members who was on another but how did it make you feel, and he began crying, because nobody ever has ever asked him how he feels. Okay? And the stories we’ve heard since you felt free to ask people how to make you feel? Revealed things you can’t even imagine. Because when the McKinsey people read my book, what struck these brilliant people that read my book is what came across Bob is the questions you asked, revealed things that never would have come up. I didn’t ask him what the results were. I didn’t ask him how much we saved. I said, how did it make you feel? How’s it affects your life? And what they were? What came out of them was astounding to me. Okay, astounding. So, I would say to you in the work environment, and all environments, don’t we care? And the way we show we care is through the questions we ask. And the way we listen to the answers they give us. And some of the answers they give us. What they’re telling us is not the words they say but the what’s the meaning behind the words. And I could give you many stories about that. So, when you learn to listen, you learn to not listen to the words, you watch the body language and what they’re really saying. Because sometimes what they’re saying is not what they’re really feeling. So, the questions we ask, open up people’s hearts and souls and they will pour them out to you. The question is, how do you acknowledge that? You said Jim Collins, who’s obviously wrote the book about getting the right people and good degrade getting the right people on the bus, right? Okay, that would imply it’s all about getting the right people on the bus. I would say to you, I would add to I would say, let me take that to the next step up. It’s not about getting the right people on the bus. It’s about building a safe bus, which is your business model. And then having drivers who know where they’re going and how to get there where your leaders, and then anybody that gets on the bus is going to be just fine. I was teaching our case at Harvard. To a 160 Global Executives are in for a special program in Harvard, average age 48, 80% outside of the states, and they’ve studied our cultural case that Harvard wrote six years ago, having a vibrant discussion. At the end, the professor Jen Rifkin said to the students, these executives around the world is Barry Wehmiller successful because of its culture, or its strategy. Now, I had never thought about that. So, I’m sitting in the class just watching these people discuss our case. And they ended up voting, whether it’s a culture or the strategy and 75% of these executives voted or success was because of our culture. And that opened my mind again, and Jan said, do you want to react that. And I said, I understand why because the case is about our culture, I understand why you believe it’s our culture that has made us successful. But my view is the foundation of our success is our business model. I designed a robust business model in the 1990s, for my challenges in the 80s. I designed the safe bus, okay, it was based on balance of markets, products and technology. So, we would never be too concentrated in one technology would change and people would get hurt. And then we had to create leaders who knew how to drive that strategy. And so, I said, it’s a little bit like Ferrari, designing the perfect mechanical engine, I mean, perfect high performance racing engine. But if you don’t put premium fuel in that engine, that engine is never going to perform to the potential as engineers designed to. So, the business model is the engine. And the culture is the fuel that goes into that engine that actualizes. That exceptional design. If you put regular fuel, low octane fuel that many engines will run on, in a Ferrari will not perform those potential it’ll perform, but not to its potential. But if you put premium fuel, which it was designed to do, you will see a performance that is exceptional. So, the business model, the bus, is the foundation that every leader got to embrace, so that the people who you invite in the organization will have a sense of a future, I always say it is the responsibility of every leader, to give those in their care a grounded sense of hope for the future, which is a good business model, fueled by a good culture.

Graeme Cowan 56:49 

What– What, how do you practice self-care? How do you keep fuel in your own tank? You know, you’re, you’ve had a long career, but you still have lots of energy and vision, what do you think, is the key to your self-care?

Bob Chapman 57:02 

You know, my Co-Author, Ross has tried to get behind under the hood of my engine to see what was driving me. And I will have to, I’d have to say to you, as I reflect on my life, I was always a nice kid, I was an average student, I didn’t have a lot of drive. And I would say to you that what I’m blessed with is not a high level of intelligence. I’m blessed with a high level of common sense and positive attitude. And when you combine those two, I teach students and graduate schools where I speak, that I’m able to see value or other people don’t, the traditional thinking does, because if anybody that goes in and tries to study Barry Wehmiller, our growth from a 20 million, 100-year-old broken company, to a vibrant $3 billion company with acquisitions around the world, where we combine cultures and technology around the world. And now our share price has gone up 15% of your compounded for 25 years. Beyond our wildest imagination. Because again, when Ford Motor Company designs a new truck, they drive it in the worst terrain in the worst condition to see how it holds up. When you design a business model like GS was and Bank of America others and they hit 08, 09, those trucks crashed. Okay? The design did not hold up to the unprecedented challenge. Our share price went up 11%. And we didn’t let anybody go in 08, 09 because I designed a robust business model so that people, I invited in this organization are safe. Okay? So yeah, I would say to you, it is an eclectic journey from both. And I tended to buy companies that were challenged either from leadership or technology or financial, because I felt that was my skill. My skill was not to buy a high growth, high potential market with great leaders, because that just wasn’t my skill. I had to fix what I had broken in the 80s. Remember, a company exploded after my dad’s death through my through my initiatives, then it collapsed through a variety of reasons. And I had this phenomenal recovery in 87, with a public offering in London. So, I had a chance to take all those traumatic experiences of the late 70s and 80s and embody a design that I thought would be robust. So, I say to you, what would you see in me? So, I just love life, and I love people. I love every day, okay? And that’s just a blessing that some higher power gave me. And I always say you can retire from a job, but you can’t retire from a calling. I believe that I was called to show the world the way we could live and work together where people go home each night feeling valued. We could be good stewards of our relationship with a company and our relationship with our family and our communities. And heal this brokenness. I would leave your listeners with a thought that Thomas Friedman presented some months ago in the New York Times, given kind of the conditions of the world right now, I don’t ever remember a time when reasonable people were more concerned about the future than they are right now. Whether it’s from educational systems to COVID, you know, to all the other issues in the world, there’s just a lot of collective issues. And every part of our society, in every country, they’re a little different. And Tom Friedman wrote an article. And he basically said, we don’t have a poverty of money. We have a poverty of dignity. And when people don’t feel valued, they will feel a sense of humiliation, and you will see anger and unrest like you’ve never seen before. And what we need in the world is deep listening. Okay, now, that is the foundation, I started to tell you, that is the greatest of all skills at home, at work, and our communities, is not listened to argue or debate. But listen to understand and validate. And, and so that gift we’ve been given inspires me. I’ve always said, even in my worst of times, I had the greatest job in the world, I get a chance to be a leader to affect people’s lives. And to create human value along parallel with economic value. Some people say doesn’t cost money to care. And I said, no, actually, if you think about it, when you fuel your business model with people who share their gifts with you, and that’s feel valued and only makes sense that you’re optimizing the skills and the talent and sending people home feeling valued. Because if you design a business model doesn’t work, you’re gonna hurt people. Okay? I’ll leave Simon Sinek has a famous quote now that I use all the time. In the military, we honor those who give themselves in service of others. And in business, we give bonuses to people and sacrifice others in service of themselves.


Graeme Cowan 1:02:01 

Very, very powerful message. It’s been an absolute pleasure catching up today, Bob, really wide-ranging discussion. And it’s just wonderful to think how you’re now spreading this word around the world. Just one final question, if you had the opportunity to go back knowing what you know now, at this stage of your career, and talk to your 20-year-old self? And what do you say to that 20-year-old self? What advice would you give them?

 Bob Chapman 1:02:30 

I get a chance to tell a lot of 20-year-olds, I’ll tell myself and I tell them. Write your eulogy. Okay? Someday when you leave this earth, what do you want people to say about your life would make you proud? And then go make it true. So many people in life live event to event, I got a job. I got married, we had kids, we bought a house, join a club, we got a vacation home. So many people I meet live life as a series of events. And all of a sudden, we come to the end of life when we look back. And what did it mean? I would suggest that the greatest gift you can give to yourself as a 20-year-old is from, from my observations in my life, my faith, my family, my friendships, what do I want my life to stand for? And write it down. And pretend that somebody is going to read that with you sitting there about your life, what would make you proud that you’ve used your gifts, to live life fully in service of others and write that down. And then go make it true by your actions, live life with purpose towards a destination in mind that would make you proud, and those who brought you into this world proud.

Graeme Cowan 1:03:55 

It’s just so interesting that you say that Bob, because I mentioned my father passed away about a year ago. And I was asked to do his eulogy, which was a real privilege. And what I did was that I sent out to about 35 people who knew him best what is three words you think of when you think of Alan Cowen and now put it together into a word cloud. And it was just fascinating to see the most prominent words. Their biggest one by far was generosity. And he was a very generous person in time and advice and money. He was really, really, really generous. And then it was caring and cheekiness and it was just a wonderful, wonderful mist. And I do really believe that he had a chance to see that and realize the impact it had on those around him.


Bob Chapman 1:04:56 

I would say my mom lived my dad died when I was 16, my mom lived to 95. But the beauty is that she was 80 I decided to surprise her with a video of her life, that she actually was a sovereign, but she didn’t know it. And at our 40th birthday, we showed this video of her life while she still had her full mental capabilities. And she was overwhelmed. Because I had a brother and my two sisters talk about her life and, and she told the story because she didn’t know she was time for the reasons. So, she told us I’m a farm girl that, you know, had to sell tomatoes 10 cents of bound by store-bought dress, very modest, simple out a farm girl. And so, it’s interesting is because I capture this is the advice, I give the listeners I’d give it to you, your dad died when is 95 similar as my mom. But when she passed away five years ago, I decided I don’t want anybody to stand up there and talk about my mother. I want my mother to stand up there. So, we rented a portable outdoor big screen. We gathered together the people in her family and it kind of loose semi amphitheater, and my mom gave the talk at her funeral. And it was overwhelming. It was over because it was when she had her, she died of Alzheimer’s. So, she didn’t. She couldn’t have done that, you know. And so, the beauty is she felt appreciated while she had her mental skills. It wasn’t when she was passed away. So, I would say to you don’t wait until they’re in death’s door, to tell them what they mean to you.


Graeme Cowan 1:06:29 

Fantastic. Thanks so much, Bob. It’s been a really wonderful, wonderful experience. And hopefully there’ll be a part two because I think there’s a whole lot of extra areas to explore.


Bob Chapman 1:06:39 

I look forward to your thoughts on this and how to convey it in a way in which it affirms your belief. And honestly, it’s a privilege to talk to people with your character and passion in life. So, it’s a joy. Together, maybe we can make a difference in the world.

Graeme Cowan 1:06:55 

Thanks for joining us today. I hope you’ve learned something new and heard some practical tips you can try with your team. If you enjoyed this interview today, please rate us on iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform. When you rate us, it helps other people to find us. We also welcome any comments. If you’re interested in seeing details about our scalable weekly mental health training programs, please visit us at Our goal for these programs is to make them accessible, practical and ongoing. If you’ve been impressed by a CEO that you would like us to interview, please email details to support at Thanks for joining us.

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