Everybody Matters

Sojourner Salutes: Bob and Cynthia Chapman

This couple’s generosity helps make our community—and beyond—a better place, one listener at a time.

By Allison Pattillo Photography by Karl Wolfgang December 10, 2019 Published in the Holiday 2019–2020 issue of Aspen Sojourner

We communicate all the time–with family, co-workers, friends—usually without giving it much thought. But how much more effectively could we communicate if we did it with intention? That’s the dream of Bob and Cynthia Chapman, the Aspen couple behind the nationwide program Our Community Listens (OCL). 

“We imagine a world where everybody matters, a world where everyone has the skills to care for others, a world where people think of others first,” says Bob. 

The Chapmans first came to Aspen in the 1970s with family friends for a ski trip. Later they bought a vacation home here and, ultimately, turned it into their permanent residence once the youngest of their six children had left for college. For the past 20 years, Bob, who is CEO of global manufacturing firm Barry-Wehmiller, has commuted weekly to his office in St. Louis. 

Early in his career, Bob was tasked with turning around the company, at the same time he and Cynthia were raising their family. Instead of viewing employees as cogs in a corporate wheel, Bob drew on his parenting experience and began to really listen. The happiest employees, he soon discovered, were the ones who were able to make use of their talents and were recognized for their accomplishments. 

Another light bulb moment: watching a friend walk his daughter down the aisle at Christ Episcopal Church in Aspen. Bob became acutely aware that all of his employees are someone’s son or daughter, and he has a responsibility to care for them. He crystallized his philosophy of Truly Human Leadership in 1997. (Bob’s book Everybody Matters, written with Raj Sisodia, details the approach.) 

The Chapmans later developed a course, Communication Skills Training, which has been taught at Barry-Wehmiller for more than a decade. “When I heard the feedback from alumni that they were better parents and spouses after learning to listen, I was incredibly touched,” says Cynthia of the initial response. “I realized we needed to share this gift of listening outside the walls of Barry-Wehmiller to create better relationships in families and communities.” In 2010, the Chapmans established a nonprofit to bring the often life-changing introductory course to communities around the country, at no charge to participants.

As of 2012, three of those communities have been Aspen, Carbondale, and Glenwood Springs. “Because of Aspen’s global reputation, it occurred to us that our community could be a ‘shining light on the hill,’ becoming known for its caring culture,” says Cynthia. Last summer, OCL delivered its 100th class locally, under the direction of area-chapter leader Shara Brice. Partners include the City of Aspen—half of city employees have completed the course. 

“I walked away from the course with a broader understanding of how to be a better manager and with a greater awareness of my own behavioral tendencies,” says alumna Jen Burn, a senior account manager at a local public relations firm. “Plus, the folks behind OCL have made sure there is a network in place to encourage practicing and using all the skills you learned.”

To date, almost 1,800 people in the Roaring Fork Valley have taken OCL’s introductory course—three days of intensive lessons, discussions, and role playing to understand communication styles and, most importantly, to listen. “Cynthia and I have people in shops and restaurants stop to tell us they have taken our course and that it had a dramatic impact on their lives,” says Bob. 

Thanks to the Chapmans’ vision and generosity, that many more people are learning how to be better communicators. And that’s a win for all of us. 

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