Guest Post: Our USA Journey of Awakening

In June, we launched the BW Leadership Institute (now Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute, read more here) to provide training and resources to organizations ready to build people-centric cultures inside their own organizations.  Recently, Mike Budden, founder and director of Cebano Consulting, travelled more than 8,500 miles from Cape Town, South Africa to participate in the Leadership Institute’s foundational course, Beyond Benchmarking. While in the US, Budden and a group of colleagues also visited several other companies that, like Barry-Wehmiller, are “beacons of hope” because of their commitment to creating workplaces that lead to fulfilled, inspired and impassioned team members. In his guest post, Mike shares what he and his team experienced.


South Africa is a beautiful, exciting, adventurous place with much opportunity. Yet, it has many challenges that often drive people to despair, apathy and deep fear. We often question the applicability and appropriateness of what we hear and see elsewhere in the world that appears to be more evolved than our context.

Cebano, the organization I work with, has a vision to contribute to the transformation of society through enhancing the wellbeing of organizations. And it is in this that I am blessed to work with an amazing team of executives who lead the Peninsula Beverage Company, the Coke bottler in the Western Cape of South Africa. This team is leading a journey to evolve what has been a very positive culture in our South African context into a great and endearing one, as recognized by Raj Sisodia and colleagues in both Firms of Endearment and Conscious Capitalism.

We need more beacons of hope... we need them all over the world. Click To TweetWorking often amongst construction, engineering and manufacturing companies, when proposing these concepts to various teams, I often get a jaded look and can see, whilst it made good sense to them, they found it difficult to accept for real. For most, their thoughts of endearing cultures belong in the realm of retailers, IT companies and such like. Having been inspired by Raj’s work and a further blessing of coming across Bob Chapman’s Tedx talk and Simon Sinek’s work, I was over the moon when I came across Barry-Wehmiller, as here, a “hard-core” manufacturing and engineering company was showing the same thing of what is possible.

For me, even greater things were to come, for the Peninsula Beverage Company Director team decided to make their journey a literal one. Towards the end of April 2015, we embarked on a culture tour of selected US companies whom we thought either were exemplars of or on a journey towards a conscious and endearing culture. The tour surpassed all our expectations on a number of levels. We learned a significant amount of the how this was done – we were inspired by their “why”, their purpose, and how this was lived out. And we were encouraged and spurred on to persevere and continue on this journey back home.

For this team of seven executives, who left their families and photo[5][5]their business in the hands of their people for two weeks, an even further massive benefit was the development of a deeper cohesion as a team. One cannot underestimate the impact of this. We are firm believers that organizational health is based on a cohesive top team. This is a team that has been transforming their understanding of primary team, self-awareness as leaders and developing a deep bond of trust with each other, a trust that is based on capability, authenticity and deep caring. So for them to have experienced this tour together has been an invaluable investment – no one of them would have ever been able to recount their experiences and learning that would have done it justice. And it was not only the visits, but it was the in-between times – the times in the car, at the airports, on the planes where we had deep meaningful conversations about what we were experiencing and learning.

Visiting seven companies, one can well imagine our learning. Starting with Barry-Wehmiller’s Beyond Benchmarking course set a great framework and a lens for us to view the further organizations we were going to visit. Some of the hallmarks of these companies included the following themes:

• Genuine care and deep relationships, based on the principles of family and parenting
• Trusted by others and trusting in others, believing in the intentions of people to do good
• Empathic listening, really understanding where the other is and why they see things the way they do
• Empowering people to get on with their roles, not policing them but removing the frustration and encouraging them to learn and grow
• Helping people be the best they can be – discovering their gifts and exercising them in a way that they are in flow, energetic and passionate about what they are doing
• Bringing the people and the processes into harmony – that these businesses can still do all they need to from a smart aspect, with all their intensity and excellence and yet still care for people – not an either or, but both and it is about care and excellence, head and heart
• Celebration and recognition, fostering places of goodness and valuing people, understanding that the environment is created by the energy of the people

I think underneath all of this, the most important theme is seeing the basic humanity in each of us, truly seeing each other as people and not objects. And this is what touched me most – it does not matter what context we are in, we all are and work with PEOPLE – everybody matters. Everybody is somebody’s mother or father, brother or sister, son or daughter and have the same hopes and dreams as we do for our own families.

I came away believing even more so that this is crucial for South Africa – for our leaders in business, government, education and non-profits to know they can create a circle of safety for people to come together and experience great places to work in. These are places where they can gather strength and the character to go back home, often into broken societies, and make a difference within their families and in their communities. My response to anybody that questions whether this is applicable and appropriate in our context is that it is way more than that – it is essential for our country’s and our world’s future.

We need more beacons of hope like the companies we visited, the Barry-Wehmillers, the Whole Foods Markets, the Menlo Innovations, the Consolidated Bottlers, the Tata’s, and Container Stores amongst a growing number of businesses that are awakening us to greater possibilities. We need them all over the world! My cup will be overflowing when I see leaders fostering great workplaces where people experience safety, fulfillment and meaning and have hope for greater wellbeing in all aspects for themselves and their families.

For more information on improving your corporate culture and the Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute, visit their website or check out this blog post.

Truly Human Leadership is found throughout Barry-Wehmiller Companies, where Bob Chapman is Chairman and CEO. A $3+ billion global capital equipment and engineering consulting firm, Barry-Wehmiller’s 12,000 team members are united around a common belief: we can use the power of business to build a better world. Chapman explores that idea in his Wall Street Journal best-selling book, Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring For Your People Like Family, available from Penguin Random House.


  • Jackson Sikamo says:

    Thanks for sharing Mike. Agreed, organization health is critical to a successful business and a cohesive top team a must.

  • Kit Tennis says:

    What a gift to hear about the search by Penninsula Beverage execs for exemplars, like B-W, of companies where people matter first and great things happen. Especially given our deep hopes for great things in South Africa, it’s truly heartening to know that the Truly Human Leadership message is finding such a positive reception. I’d love to learn more about what Mike and his team learned.

  • mike watson says:

    Mike, thank you for posting about your experience. Part of transforming organizations and society as a whole is the willingness to share, authentically, our own beliefs and personal experiences so that we may connect with a greater audience. Your words will impact many beyond this post and the walls of your company, I am so happy for you and your people to begin their transformation into a people-centric organization. I applaud your courage to be vulnerable, transparent and honest and realize that those are indeed strengths that make a huge difference in not creating change but sustaining it, for it creates a foundation of trust. All my best- I too have taken that course at Barry-Wehmiller and it creates an everlasting impact. Mike Watson, leadership and personal development professional,

    • Mike Budden says:

      Thanks for these encouraging words, Mike. It is good to know that there are others on this journey to bring humanness back into business. At times it seems that many don’t get this and it seems odd – it can be a lonely space, but our hope that this will become the new normal! Thanks again. Mike

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