Companies Don’t Need to Lay People Off to Survive
How one CEO saved his 12,000-person company without a single layoff
When the financial crisis hit in 2008, Bob Chapman was faced with an impossible choice: lay off thousands of his workers, or go out of business. A few years prior, Barry-Wehmiller — a 125-year-old St. Louis-based manufacturing technology company — had publicly committed to “measure success by how they touch the lives of people.” Determined to not break that promise, Chapman came up with a third, seemingly impossible, option that would allow his company to survive the recession without laying off any of his 12,000-plus employees. By finding creative ways to avoid letting people go, his business emerged on other side of the recession stronger, with a workforce not only intact, but energized.
Today, Barry-Wehmiller is a $3 billion privately held company that finds itself staring down the barrel of another recession. Fortunately, it’s in the business of building equipment for essential manufacturing industries like paper processing and packaging (think toilet tissue and Amazon boxes). So while the pandemic might not pose an immediate threat, CEO Chapman is already gearing up for another downturn, contemplating the proactive cost-saving measures he can take to retain his thousands of employees. Chapman spoke with Marker about how to avoid layoffs at all costs.
— As told to Kaushik Viswanath
As business leaders today find themselves faced with the very real and immediate question of their company’s survival, they are quick to resort to layoffs so they can conserve cash and soldier through the current economic crisis without having to shut down altogether.
But while it’s easy to calculate how much money you’ll save the company, what’s impossible to calculate is the loss of skill from your company, the loss of your investment in those people. You can’t calculate the impact it has on the people who are let go, or even on the people who remain at your company.
I empathize with the leaders who are weighing layoffs right now. While my company is in no immediate danger at the moment, when the manufacturing sector went into decline during the last crisis and companies across the industry began to downsize, I felt…