TED duo throw spotlight on Barry-Wehmiller at Harvard Business School

By Jenny Eagle

- Last updated on GMT

Cuddy and Sinek at Barry-Wehmiller
Cuddy and Sinek at Barry-Wehmiller
TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talk speakers; author Simon Sinek and Amy Cuddy, associate professor, Harvard Business School, visited two plants belonging to Barry-Wehmiller (BW) recently to gather research for a joint project on the company.

The pair visited Paper Converting Machine Company (PCMC) in Green Bay, focusing on tissue converting, packaging, flexographic printing and nonwovens technology, and BW Papersystems in Phillips, both Wisconsin, as a fact-finding exercise for a case study for Harvard.

Lost 30% of orders

Sinek, author of ‘Start with Why’, and ‘Leaders eat last’, was invited to Wisconsin after meeting Bob Chapman, CEO, Barry-Wehmiller, a $1.7bn manufacturing technology and consulting company based in St. Louis who is an advocate for what he calls "Truly Human Leadership", putting employees first.

In 2008, Barry-Wehmiller was hit by the global recession and lost 30% of its orders overnight​,” said Sinek.

The company couldn’t afford its labor pool and needed to save $10m but Chapman refused to discuss lay-offs. He decided against it. He knew it would destroy the morale of those who stayed back and would instil fear in them​.

Instead, he created a safe place for employee to pitch in. He asked everybody in the company to take a four week unpaid vacation instead of laying off a large chunk of the workforce. He delivered the news himself and told everybody that it is better that everybody suffers a little bit rather than any of one of them suffers a lot. This boosted everybody’s morale​.

Those who could afford to take more unpaid vacation traded their paid weeks with others who could not. Nobody had to lay down ground rules. It happened organically because the team trusted each other and the management. As a result, the company saved $20m.​”

'US has a crisis of leadership'

Cuddy said she never thought this type of management existed where people feel respected and cared for and care about the people they work with as much as themselves, and has returned to Barry-Wehmiller to interview employees on the factory floor to get first-hand witness accounts.

The best managers and leaders help people get in touch with their personal “why” and connect it to the “why” of the company or organization​,” added Sinek.

If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears​.”

According to Chapman, the US has a crisis of leadership where people believe they work for an organisation that doesn’t care about them.

Our response is to create an environment where people can discover their gifts, develop their gifts, share them and be recognised for doing so, so that they will feel valued​,” he said.

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