People often ask me if growing up the son of a successful businessman offered opportunities to learn about great strategies, secrets to successful acquisitions, or key financial insights revealed during dinner table discussions and bedtime stories.
I always felt that my dad successfully—and intentionally–kept business separate from home. I don’t ever recall him showing any sign of the stress and pressure he must have felt during Barry-Wehmiller’s tumultuous years of the 1980s or even the normal up/downs of running a growing company. And he always managed to be at my sporting events and the key moments of my life, in spite of the hectic travel schedule required by someone acquiring companies across the globe.
So, while deep dives into Keynesian Economic Theory were never regular dinner table conversation, I now realize that many of the parenting traits that my dad (and mom) utilized to raise me were the foundation for success in life and business, and represent some of the key underpinnings of Truly Human Leadership:
Power of Visioning: I played tennis (not very well) as a child, and after a horrible match during which I allowed frustration to derail my game, my parents sat me down and talked to me about visioning. They urged me to close my eyes and envision better shot placement, cleaner strokes, a winning strategy. Essentially, they wanted me to define a path forward, be confident and stick to my game plan. While this did not improve my game, their words stuck with me, proving valuable in other sports, in school, and more importantly, as I outlined my future career path.
”Beginning with the ideal outcome in mind” helped me focus in college, guided my early career choices, and ultimately enabled me to realize my dream job, as co-founder of Forsyth Capital Investors. Understanding visioning’s power to unleash the true potential of people, we now utilize the visioning process for each of our portfolio companies where it has yielded significant growth and success.
The Golden Rule: On the sports field, in the classroom, or with a group of friends, I would often call upon my dad’s advice “treat others how you want to be treated” to guide me. Although simple in concept, following through is sometimes difficult, especially when I feel challenged by someone or when making a tough decision.
At these times, when many would resort to retaliation as a suitable response, I again relied upon my dad’s advice to guide my actions: “Kyle,” Dad would say “when you play with pigs, you get dirty and they have fun.” Treating others as I would like to be treated as well as committing to staying above the fray has proven especially powerful in dispute resolution, deal negotiations and, most importantly, accepting alternative viewpoints or motivations.
I strive to live my life by the Golden Rule and diligently weave my father’s sage advice when appropriate into my daily interactions with my four children as they face the competitive pressures of sports, school and life in general.
Endless Optimism: My dad is an eternal optimist. I used to think to a fault. In fact, my siblings and I often joke that he sees unicorns, butterflies and puppies in his dreams as they symbolize his utopian outlook on life. He is resolved to see only the best in people and constantly lifts them up with praise. He simply refuses to focus on the negative. His optimistic outlook has significantly influenced me and has led me to always ‘assume positive intent’.
Too often in business, people feel they are being wronged as they operate without trust. They tend to react negatively, closing down, creating anxiety for themselves and team members. My dad’s optimism has shown me the value of approaching situations with a foundation of trust, assuming positive intent. This generally leads to more constructive conversations, open and honest feedback, and a stronger partnership. Above all, it is a much more personally rewarding way to go through life!
Mr. Unconventional: Dad has always avoided following the trends; his undying devotion to bolo ties and love for hyper-colored Chevy SSR cars are evidence of that. He does not allow ‘herd mentality’ to influence his decisions or bend his disciplines.
When I was a child he often urged me to think independently. When discussing business, he constantly encourages me to “look for value where others don’t” -– one of the keys to Barry-Wehmiller’s successful business model. He regularly engages in value-creating activities that would typically be ‘overlooked’ by most CEOs, viewing these activities as ‘below their pay grade.’ Dad’s leadership advice runs contrary to the way many CEOs lead: pay intense attention to details, stay closely connected to the people, ground your beliefs in facts, and never let your title dissuade you from rolling up your sleeves and digging into the business.
These core beliefs instilled in me by my father helped me land roles in the private equity realm and other senior leadership positions before returning to St. Louis to establish Forsyth Capital Investors (now BW Forsyth Partners), a ‘hybrid’ equity firm with a unique approach–buying and building companies through a balance of operating expertise and intense focus on people-centric leadership to create value for the long-term.
With Father’s Day just around the corner and as the father of four amazing children myself, I am immensely grateful for the influence my dad has had on my family and business life. He has always said that “raising a family and running a business are no different.” I can attest to that as the lessons he and my mother taught me as a child I still call upon as a business leader today. I feel extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work alongside my dad and absorb many of his great leadership principles. He is my most trusted advisor, devoted business partner, enthusiastic supporter and best friend.
Thanks, Dad, for the amazing impact you have had and continue to have on me and the 8,000+ (and growing) lives you touch daily through Barry-Wehmiller. Not only are you a truly human leader, but you are truly an inspiration to all of us. Happy Father’s Day. I love you!
Kyle Chapman is the Co-Founder of Forsyth Capital Investors and CEO of Baldwin Technology