There is No Substitute for Family

April 14, 2016
  • Rhonda Spencer
  • Rhonda Spencer
    Chief People Officer at Barry-Wehmiller

“How would a caring family respond?”

This is the question we’ve often asked ourselves at Barry-Wehmiller as we apply our Guiding Principles of Leadership to issues large and small that we, as a global business, face every day.

The Guiding Principles of Leadership look like your typical corporate “post and boast” values statements that you would see hanging on the walls of any corporate office. Asking the right question helps transform our values into action.

Pix-7-450x800We found ourselves asking this question again at the end of last year, after we learned that the lives of many of our team members in Chennai, India with Barry-Wehmiller International (now part of Design Group), our IT consulting firm, were turned upside down.

Throughout November and December of 2015, unprecedented flooding caused many of our B-WI friends to lose their homes and the majority of their possessions. As news of the extent of the damage made its way to the United States, we were getting more and more emails from team members throughout the organization asking, “What can I do to help?”

When you see a family member affected by hardship, you want to be able to do something, even if it’s just a hug or a word of encouragement. And the compound effect of all those acts of kindness can turn into something much more meaningful than a replacement of what was lost.

Because so many asked how they could help, a YouCaring page was set up to receive donations for our Chennai teammates. When the page was live, we announced it throughout the company and support poured in. We were overwhelmed to see the outpouring of generosity from all corners of the world, day after day.

Our Thiele Technologies (now BW Integrated Systems and BW Flexible Systems) and  Accraply companies in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area even held a silent auction offering items created by loving hearts and hands — pickles, enchilada dinners, car washes and spring lawnmower tune-ups, to name a few. They raised more than $2,400.

Beyond just financial assistance, we had a team here in our St. Louis headquarters who met daily at first, then weekly to work to find a way to lend our support, and to ensure that the donations had the optimum impact in getting to those who needed them most.

What struck me is that people were more than engaged. Both donors and volunteers seemed relieved and energized by having an avenue to lend a hand to team members on the other side of the globe, most of whom had never met.

Through these acts of generosity and kindness of our BW team members, customers and other caring parties, we raised $23,689. Our CEO, Bob Chapman, made a generous offer to match what was raised, which helped us meet the requests for assistance of our friends in India. They have begun the process of rebuilding their lives.

It’s often said that Barry-Wehmiller is not “like” a family, it is a family. The outpouring of care and concern for teammates halfway around the world, whom most of us have never met, is a wonderful testament to the goodness of our people.

Lakshmipriya Radhakrishnan, B-WI’s Culture and People Development Director in India, helped coordinate the effort to get money and assistance to her local teammates. After we began the process and were able to start getting funds and supplies overseas, Lakshmipriya wrote a very touching email about the experience from the Chennai perspective.

“Unfortunate though it was, the Chennai floods taught us two important things,” she said. “First – when it comes to safety, there is no place for complacency; second – there is no substitute for family.

“By ‘family’ here, we do not mean just father, brothers, mothers and sisters. We mean the hundreds of people all across the globe in BW, most of who have never seen us earlier, but who understood our pain and loss, and stepped up to help us when we needed it the most.

“Many of us lost household assets accumulated over a lifetime, our vehicles and sustained severe damage to our houses, not to speak of complete disruption to our hitherto safe, normal lives. It was touching to have B-WI team members brave disease-infested surroundings to help us with food and other essentials when we were marooned by the floods.

“But when we were trying to pick up the pieces of our damaged homes and desperately trying to organize funds to make them habitable again, there came such an outpouring of help from all across the world that made our worries so much easier to bear and tide over.

“We at B-WI are very proud to belong to the Barry-Wehmiller family. We hope and pray that disasters never cloud any of us ever again, but it makes us feel two feet taller when we know that no matter what happens, we have a family watching out for us.”

Here are some comments Lakshmipriya received from the most affected team members:

Not even my relatives or family members helped us out the way BW did.

We are very grateful to the BW members who helped us so generously through this completely unexpected crisis. Thank you is just not enough to express how I, my wife and children feel about all you have done for us.

When the waters receded, my house was infested by fungus. We stayed in the house of a relative, and I was desperately looking for a way to raise the funds that would help me clean up my house to make it habitable again. With the money that I got through the grant, I was able to completely clean up the house and repair some of the structure that was broken. My wife, my aged mother, and my two little boys are now back in our own home, safe and sound, and we are very thankful to all those who helped us and made this possible.

Some companies here have also set up assistance processes for their people; most are still a work in progress, the mode of fund transfer still being worked out, and where done, the process is official, strict and mechanical. In contrast, BW was quickly able to send us the money, no strict orders for evidence of damage sustained were required – and we felt cared for. Never were we made to feel we were just ‘receivers.’ Not only did BW help us out, they kept our self-respect intact.

We do not know you by name or by face, and probably will never know all the friends who helped us. But we pray sincerely that God bless everyone who stood by us and helped us almost forget the tragedy that happened here. Your kindness and help in the time of our need will never be forgotten.

Since we began our cultural journey, the challenge has always been to ensure that our actions are aligned with our words. We want our culture to be more than nice words hanging on the wall.

We believe that human beings are fundamentally built to thrive together by caring for each other — and that business can be a force for good in society, fostering this natural human caring. Experiences like the response to the disaster in Chennai reassure me that our vision is becoming reality.


Rhonda Spencer is Barry-Wehmiller’s Chief People Officer.

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