Posted: 2:39 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, 2013
By Srikumar Rao
I know an entrepreneur who is in business for the express purpose of hiring people, treating them superbly, paying them fairly, and bringing out their best. I mean it.
I have a friend who has an astonishingly different view of why he is in business. It is rare. And it is refreshing. He really is anchored in this view and his company is doing very well. He feels that his company is doing well because of this view he holds.
Others say, "Not so." They say his company does well because of the policies he implements, rather than his view. But then the policies he implements grow from the view he has. So we are stuck in circular reasoning. But I mean it. He is doing something remarkable. He is bringing heavy manufacturing back into the United States. And he is making money doing so.
He runs quite a sizeable organization--about $1.5 billion in revenue and a payroll of 7,000, so I'm not talking about small potatoes. Who is this man and what is the breathtakingly different perspective he has? Relax, I will tell you shortly.
Why Are You in Business?
Before I go further, think about why you are in business. I have asked hundreds of entrepreneurs this question. The most common answer is that they want to be in control of their destiny. Some say they want to make a difference in the world and by this they mean everything from affecting the lives of many, to building a large and thriving business. A relatively few want money and lots of it. Not that entrepreneurs don't want to get rich, but that is not the primary driver for most. They are most thrilled about building something that is their own creation.
So why do entrepreneurs hire people, and how do they treat them? Of course, they hire people because they're needed to get work done. Some entrepreneurs don't care at all about those they employ and ruthlessly manipulate them to extract as much value as they can. Most are well meaning and want their people to do well. But their primary focus is on the tasks that need to get done and how they can accomplish this with as little expenditure as possible.
My Friend Has a Different Vision
My friend is in business because he wants to hire people and treat them superbly, pay them fairly, and bring out the best in them. He just happens to do this by becoming a "...diversified global supplier of manufacturing technology and services across a broad spectrum of industries..." In other words he makes machinery and sells consulting services.
It is possible that you have encountered a similar notion before. Greyston Bakery, for example, famously states that it bakes cakes so it can hire people. The people it hires are sometimes unemployable elsewhere because of arrest records, drug use, and the like. And it teaches them basic survival skills in employment, like show up on time, keep your word, and so on.
But Greyston Bakery and others like it are on the fringes of business and classified as "do-gooders," with their own rules. Nice to have around, but not really relevant.
A Serious Business With a Serious Management Mission
My friend is different. He runs a serious business that makes serious money. And he really is on a mission. A mission to change the social contract between a company and those who work in it. He believes, really believes, that we have a crisis of leadership in the world and the principal way this reveals itself is in the number of people who are disengaged in the workplace.
He also believes that if you concentrate on creating a culture where each employee--mind you, there are no 'employees' in his company, there are associates and team members--can flourish, then they will make magic happen, and part of this magic is a veritable rain of golden shekels.
I love the tagline he uses. "We Build GREAT People Who Do EXTRAORDINARY Things."
And, let me tell you, it works. He takes companies that are bankrupt or nearly so and he turns them around. He does not fire anyone during downturns and he has seen plenty of these.
I will tell you a lot more about his philosophy and the specific methods he uses in coming columns.
This Guy Is for Real
And now I will tell you who he is. His name is Bob Chapman and he runs the privately held Barry-Wehmiller. Check out this talk, in which he outlines his philosophy.
Some feel that he is paternalistic and have been put off by this. But, trust me, he is not paternalistic in the sense of wanting to control you. He just wants to give you the opportunity to be the best you are capable of being.
What do you think of Bob Chapman's strategy? Let me know in the comments section below.