Truly Human Leadership in Uncertain Times

March 24, 2020
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller
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On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I walked into an architect’s office for a meeting, oblivious to what was happening in the world outside.

Inside, everyone was glued to the television, so I was immediately curious.  The second plane hit the World Trade Center as I stood there.

The first thing that came to my mind was, “What did I just see? It must be a science fiction movie?”

When I realized what was happening, my immediate thought was that the world will never be the same.

In 2008-2009, many people’s lives were turned upside down as our world’s economy was hit with the greatest financial turmoil since the Great Depression. It was an extraordinary test not only for our business, but for the cultural principles of Truly Human Leadership we were still in the midst of establishing across our growing organization. To some degree, the principles were still in their infancy, having yet to take root firmly in the hearts of our people, or even be trusted as legitimate. But our response to the ’08-09 challenges and the unprecedented measures we took to weather that storm made us a stronger company and helped validate the principles of Truly Human Leadership.

And, as often happens when a family endures difficulty, they come out on the other side stronger and closer than ever.

This current set of exceptional circumstances – the COVID-19 pandemic – is again a situation that is uncertain and difficult to understand what it will mean to our lives. In the past week, the leadership teams throughout Barry-Wehmiller have worked hard as events have evolved to determine the right courses of action to secure not only the health of our people, but the health of our business as well.

The culture of our global organization is the most significant way we touch the lives of our people – striving to send every team member home each night knowing that who they are and what they do matters and showing the world that you can create economic value and human value in harmony.

Our businesses also touch the lives of many other people. More specifically, our communities and our customers.

Barry-Wehmiller businesses support many different industries. One company – Pneumatic Scale Angelus – manufactures centrifuges used in drug research for the medical industry. They, alongside our other BW Packaging Systems businesses (Accraply, BW Flexible Systems, BW Integrated Systems and Synerlink) also build equipment that package the household goods, pharmaceutical items, food and beverages that families need for day-to-day living. Our BW Papersystems machines make the corrugated board that becomes boxes for online companies to ship packages to people ordering from home. Another company, Paper Converting Machine Company, makes machines that produce toilet tissue and machines that produce wet wipes.

So, it is critical to make the right decisions for our team members, our customers and our communities during these extraordinary times. Not only do we need to sustain our thriving business to take care of our people, but also for our customers – and, ultimately, people like you and me who have a need for their products, especially as we practice social distancing at home – as they depend on Barry-Wehmiller companies and the decisions we, as leaders, make.

We can empathize with business leaders who are balancing so many decisions at this unprecedented time. Throughout our companies, we are implementing many different protocols to keep people safe and healthy within our workplaces while keeping our business moving forward, for the good of all our stakeholders.

I’m heartbroken by seeing the difficulties of many small businesses in our global communities. These are tough times and there will be even tougher times ahead.

This may be small comfort right now, but here are some of the things we consider while making decisions at Barry-Wehmiller:

  • We first listen. We listen to our people; we listen to many different points of view. We listen with empathy.
  • We think about the safety of our people. As our safety covenant says, “Our objective is to ensure that every life we touch arrives home healthy, safe and fulfilled.” At the end of the day, it’s about caring for your friends because they are the real bottom line of our business.
  • We give our people trust. That may sound backwards, but it’s not about them earning it. To earn trust, you must first extend it. Trust is more important than ever during exceptional times when the norm is upended.
  • We ask ourselves, “How would a caring family respond?”

We have placed our trust in the 12,000 caring members of our Barry-Wehmiller family to care for their friends in this time of crisis and uncertainty – friends on our team or friends we serve through our work. We, as leaders, are doing our best to keep everyone safe and the business strong for when we are able to resume coming to work.

Culture is who you are on your worst days. When your culture is that of a caring family, everyone pulls together in a crisis. True leadership is demonstrated in tough times, not good times. I am confident that at the end of all of this, we will have seen the Truly Human leaders who emerged and communities around the world will be stronger than ever.

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