Barry-Wehmiller is committed to building a better world through business. They seem to be doing a pretty good job. 

Today, the Barry-Wehmiller companies have total revenues of $2.4 billion. How they achieved this level of success is an interesting story.

The company was founded in 1885 as a maker of machinery for the brewing industry.

Bob Chapman was an accountant for Price Waterhouse (go accountants!) and joined the firm in 1969 at his father’s request. 

Chapman assumed control of the company after his father’s death in 1975. The bank pulled their loan that year and Chapman almost lost the company. But he persevered and grew the company to $22 million in revenues in 1976.

Since then, Chapman and his team have acquired more than 80 organizations and brought them together under their leadership principles.

What are the leadership principles that have allowed BW to successfully grow at this pace while staying true to its vision of building a better world through business?

It all starts with an interesting story about when Chapman “saw the light” and began his journey towards what he calls, “Truly Human Leadership.”

Chapman was at a wedding in an idyllic location, enjoying the moment of the father giving his daughter’s hand in marriage. Chapman had already walked his daughters down the aisle so he knew what this father was thinking. What he was thinking was very different from what he said.

The father said, “Her mother and I give our daughter to be wed to this young man.” What he was thinking was “Look here, young man. We expect the two of you to be stewards of each other’s life. To allow each of you to become who God intended you to be. Do you understand that, young man?”

Chapman’s mind went to the 11,000 people that work in his organizations. He realized that each of these people was someone’s precious child. He began to understand that, as the leader, he had been given the awesome responsibility to steward these precious children, to help them become who they are supposed to be. 

These people are not “assets” to be used in the pursuit of organizational goals, but someone’s precious child who has been placed in your care.

That moment completely changed Chapman’s view of leadership. That moment was the beginning of Truly Human Leadership. Leadership that measures success by “the way we touch the lives of people.”

Next week, we’ll dive deeper into Barry-Wehmiller’s guiding principles of leadership and see how you can begin to implement this leadership style into your organization.

Curt Fowler is the president of Fowler & Company, a business advisory firm dedicated to helping leaders create and achieve an inspiring vision for their organization. He has an MBA in strategy and entrepreneurship, is a CPA, and a pretty good guy as defined by his wife and four children.

Have a business growth topic you’d like me to cover? Send suggestions to

Jason Smith is a reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be contacted at 229-244-3400 ext.1256.

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