Over the last month at Barry-Wehmiller’s PCMC in Lucca, Italy, the conference room has been filling up with bottles of wine, bags of pasta, plates of cookies, mobile phones, Parmesan cheese, Parma ham, neck ties, books, electronic devices and more.
Every year, when holiday gifts for managing director Sergio Casella and other senior executives arrive from vendors, they are put into a room until a special event held a few days before Christmas. This year, the big day will be December 23rd. On that day, they will hold a lottery to distribute the gifts to team members so that everyone at the facility goes home with at least one gift.
“Everybody deserves to get something back,” Sergio explained. “Our people give all the time. What they give should come back to them.”
Before Sergio arrived to lead this company and its 120 people in late 1999, gifts from vendors and suppliers were typically enjoyed by the executives who received them. Changing that tradition so that the gifts were distributed evenly among all the team members was one of the first ways Sergio demonstrated the type of leader he intended to be.
“I am in my position to serve,” Sergio said when asked to summarize his leadership philosophy. “As a leader, it is my job to take care of our people. That means being willing to sacrifice—sometimes, big things; sometimes, small things–for them.”
A dedicated champion of Truly Human Leadership, Sergio says Barry-Wehmiller’s new model of leadership that places people at its core is “not so common here in Europe. Here the common managerial practice is to focus on figures and processes and look at people as a tool in the process.”
When Sergio took over leadership of PCMC-Italy, the company was financially challenged and its revenue was around 150 million euros below its main competitor. Since applying people-centric practices to the business, the company has rebounded and its equipment revenues today are “very near those of our main competitor.”
Sergio credits this turnaround to a daily commitment to “creating work environments and a way of working that allow people to go home fulfilled with what they have done and happy to have contributed to a known and shared corporate design,” he shared. “All of this was made possible by people and those principles, which have made them feel special and able to do extraordinary things.”
In 2014 Sergio wrote a book , La morale aziendale, about this new people-centric leadership approach, which he says, is not really new at all but rather rooted in Western philosophical teachings “We have always had these principles before us but did not see them in this light and with this purpose.”
One of the goals of his book was to provide an interpretation of the issue from a European standpoint. “In Europe, history is very important to us. We are always looking for links to our past—to the Greek and Romans and European philosophers– to help us make sense of the present.” Sergio felt that pointing out the revered philosophers’ influence on this “incredibly modern and fresh leadership model” would help convey the validity of adopting business practices centered around people rather than just profit.
This past August Sergio shared the concepts of Truly Human Leadership in Brazil at Conarh 2016, a large conference held in Sao Paulo focused on human resource practices, and at Positivo University in Curitiba. “I am honored to spread the good news about this model for leadership adopted throughout Barry-Wehmiller with new audiences because it has the potential to improve so many lives.
“It is amazing how much people will give back if they are the recipients of a caring attitude,” he pointed out.
He says this attitude when followed by examples, perseverance, and, above all, consistency, “illuminates everything with new light and brings unexpected results.”
Sergio believes business leaders are constantly presented with opportunities to do little things that show their team members they care about them.
He recalled a time when a piece of equipment in the plant broke down requiring a manufacturing team member to stay through the night to repair it.
“I told him ‘I cannot do what you do but I will stay through the night to support you.’ If he had to stay, then I would stay too.”
He believes great leadership is demonstrated through small daily actions that over time lead to increased trust.
“It’s what you do, not what you say,” he said.
Recently, Sergio and his senior leadership team walked their talk in a big way. Faced with the challenge to grow the business to meet future market needs, they conceived a solution that put their people at the forefront: a new plant designed to unleash their team members’ potential.
“We wanted an environment that would inspire and support them as we are all going to have to work very hard to make our growth goals a reality,” Sergio said.
They launched the “People Care Moves Our Company” initiative and engaged team members from across the business in creating a new highly-functional plant that met everyone’s needs.
As always, the goals of the new plant were founded in care for their people: to provide a comfortable workplace where team members could do their best work and to guarantee a future through a sustainable, thriving business.
“Everybody gave input on how to organize the facility, what kind of offices and furniture, even location of offices to optimize flow of value across the plant. In short, it is their plant,” Sergio said.
“The two main components of Truly Human Leadership are a sustainable business model AND caring for people. These aren’t new concepts but somewhere along the way, business stopped caring for people,” he said. “It’s time for business to find the way again.”