Barry-Wehmiller’s Bob Chapman on redefining leadership

  • April 5, 2019
  • By WashU Olin Business School
  • 2 minute read

Bob Chapman, the chairman and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, stepped into the Defining Moments class ready to redefine success and leadership. To many undergraduate and graduate business students, success means money, power and position, while leadership is how well you manage those around you to achieve company goals.

Chapman wanted to change our mind.

To start, he reflects on his MBA: “I learned management, meaning the manipulation of others for your own success. I was never taught how to inspire, how to care.”

In a room full of business students, this may have served as a wake-up call for some. Chapman wanted to open our eyes to a greater understanding of leadership and success.


Chapman shared what he believes is the incorrect definition of leadership. He made sure to emphasize the privilege of leadership. Chapman believed “there is no difference between parenting and leadership.” With that in mind, Chapman sees the honor and responsibility that comes with holding a leadership position.

In thinking about leadership, many think that the impact of leadership doesn’t extend much past one’s place of business. Chapman made sure the class knew of the much greater impact a boss can have.

He quotes Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of Dying for a Paycheck: “Just in the US, the excess deaths from exposure to workplace stressors is probably 120,000 lives a year.”

Further, Chapman elaborates that with our current record low unemployment rate comes a record high in stress and anxiety.

So where does leadership come in? Focus on what Chapman refers to as human leadership, which encapsulates “people, purpose, performance.” He expands, “Leadership is the stewardship of guiding the people you have the privilege to lead.”

“Why can’t we make business fun?” he asks. “Why do we call it work?”

He brought this attitude to work one day to create a game: Whoever’s account sells the most parts by the end of the week gets $100!” Revenue rose within the week and, most importantly, people were having fun.


As Chapman mentioned before, success is much more than money, power and position.

“When I look back on my success, it was always about need,” he said. “What I need.”

Chapman shares that the truth is many people with money, power and position are still miserable. So then how do we define success? Chapman asks how the class would want their eulogy written, what you would make us proud to have people say.

Success is living your life with purpose rather than living it as a series of events. Success is having an impact.

“We don’t need to change the laws, the policies, the taxes,” he said, in closing. “You are the future leaders of the world. All you have to do is care.”

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Washington University in Saint Louis

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