I am feeling especially grateful this Thanksgiving for what I gained during four incredible weeks this past summer. For that brief period, I had the great fortune of being a Barry-Wehmiller intern.
But while the rest of the interns with whom I worked called Barry-Wehmiller’s beloved CEO Mr. Chapman or Bob, he will always be Bobby to me.
Bob Chapman is my grandfather. As his namesake and the eldest of his 22 grandchildren, Bobby and I have always had a special bond. When I was younger, my family spent the Fourth of July holiday in Aspen with my grandparents and I ‘helped’ Bobby drive the tractor that pulled the rest of our family on a hay wagon through the big parade. Most mornings, Bobby and I woke up at six and he waited while I pulled on my froggy rain boots before venturing up to the paddocks to feed the horses while everyone else continued to dream in their beds.
Over the years our relationship has adapted to encompass our busy schedules but we have always managed to stay close through emails, texts, phone calls and occasional visits. When I was growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, Bobby always made it a priority to stop by while on a visit to one of Barry-Wehmiller’s plants nearby. Each time he visited, he joined our family for dinner to learn about the latest developments in our lives.
At the beginning of my senior year in high school, Bobby came to visit once again, but this time we had two reasons to celebrate. The first was my acceptance to Columbia University in New York City. Although Bobby was incredibly proud of me, I remember him telling me with great conviction that I should not let a school define me and encouraged me to seek purpose in my life.
From that point forward, many of our discussions revolved around determining my career path. The second piece of exciting news was the book deal for Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family. The pride that Bobby felt toward his company and the opportunity to tell its story through this book was incredibly inspiring and piqued my interest in the Barry-Wehmiller community.
During my freshman year at Columbia, Bobby made frequent visits to New York for meetings with the publisher. He often invited me to attend those sessions because I had admitted to having a passion for editing during our talks about my future. Unfortunately, I was never able to join him in an actual meeting, but during one of our coffee dates, I shared that I was trying to figure out my summer plans. He casually mentioned that I consider an internship with Barry-Wehmiller where preparation and pre-promotion for the book would be in full swing.
To be honest, I expected an internship with Barry-Wehmiller to be somewhat dull. I grew up with a father who often came home from his corporate job feeling exhausted and unsatisfied in his role. I unintentionally associated this type of attitude with all desk jobs and so I thought the BW internship would be the same.
In retrospect, I can see how naive I was to believe that. My internship with Barry-Wehmiller proved to be an unbelievably unique and wonderful experience where I was surrounded by people full of life, ideas and happiness. Every morning I walked into the office and everyone made eye contact with me and greeted me enthusiastically. People that I didn’t know and whom didn’t know me would come up and introduce themselves so that they could address me by name the next day. On my way to get coffee I would pass many desks where co-workers were asking each other about their families and plans for the weekends. This didn’t seem like the boring, quiet office that I used to visit with my father when I was younger; the Barry-Wehmiller office was teeming with energy and productivity.
I was given the opportunity to work with the book team as well as on several other projects. And even though I was an intern with no experience, I was always considered an equal voice in the conversation. I was routinely encouraged and felt completely comfortable offering my ideas and input. From day one, they extended their trust in me and my ability to decide the best way to get the needed job accomplished and then let me run with it.
One of the most rewarding and amazing parts of the experience were Daily Touch Meetings with the People Team. The 10-minute meeting, held first thing each day, was designed to be a quick sharing of each team member’s projects and needs with the intent to increase efficiency and make each team member feel as if she or he was getting the most out of the experience.
Each meeting began with a segment entitled “Recognition & Celebration” where team members recognize one another for any type of positive event, like completing a project, helping out a friend in need, conducting a successful meeting, or even to say congrats on a new baby. It was very inspiring to see the sincere appreciation the team had for each other’s contributions and successes both at work and at home.
As I reflected back on my time with Barry-Wehmiller, I realized that I had spent my internship amongst a group of friends who truly cared about me, not just co-workers. Bobby intended to give me an experience that would help me find my dream career. And while I am still not certain what career I will pursue, I gained something far more meaningful. I gained a clearer picture of my purpose. The experience made me realize that I want to foster a workplace environment where everyone feels respected and valued and eager to go to work in the morning.
So in the spirit of the holiday season, I want to thank not only my grandfather, Bobby, for giving me the internship of a lifetime, but also the Barry-Wehmiller team members for exposing me to a people-centric work environment. I will take that experience with me wherever my career path leads and do what I can to create that kind of environment with my generation of team members.
If everyone could go to work and feel as appreciated as I did for those few weeks, we would live in a completely different world.