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Chris Lehman – OTC Industrial Technologies

Chief HR officer finds his calling helping workers

Chris Lehman grew up watching his father, a Church of the Brethren pastor, following his calling. The younger Lehman, who launched his career as a stockbroker, took longer to find his path. But once he got into human resources, he knew it was special. 

“My mom and dad kind of thought I would get into the ministry,” Lehman recalls. “And that wasn’t really my calling. But, you know, I feel called to help people through the work that I do.” 

Chris Lehman | Chief Human Resources Officer | OTC Industrial Technologies

Chris Lehman | Chief Human Resources Officer | OTC Industrial Technologies

Lehman now serves as chief human resources officer for OTC Industrial Technologies, a Columbus-based distributor of industrial, pump, air supply and finishing products, as well as engineering services. It’s a role he landed because OTC’s CEO, Bill Canady, knew that Lehman would truly care about the company’s human capital and create HR programs that take care of OTC associates.  

Eighteen months after joining OTC, Lehman is doing all he can to honor that show of faith.  

Focusing on worker wellness 

On Jan. 1, 2023, two key HR changes within the company took effect—both of which Lehman had a hand in. One was the switch to Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance, which has implemented some client wellness initiatives in recent years.  

Specifically, Lehman signed OTC up for Anthem’s Total Health Total You program. The program provides more care management than OTC’s previous health insurer did. When Anthem care managers see a diagnosis come through, for example, they reach out to the associate involved to start a conversation about how to navigate their care—and how that plan will fit with the employee’s overall health.   

Chris Lehman | Chief Human Resources Officer | OTC Industrial Technologies

The second change is the rollout of the OWOW 360 app. Through it, Lehman and his team are requiring associates to actively engage with their mental and physical health. To get a discount on premiums, associates must watch a wellness video, take an online health assessment and receive a physical, colonoscopy or similar test from their healthcare provider. 

The app allows Lehman and his team to track what employees are doing to manage their health—and give out discounted premiums accordingly. 

“These changes demonstrate a more caring and proactive approach, and we are confident that they will be much better for our associates,” Lehman says.  

Fair pay 

In addition to bolstering OTC’s health benefits, Lehman has also appointed a new communications manager to oversee internal and external communications, moderate national town halls and keep associates informed. He also brought in Aspirant, a management consulting and recruiting company, to help OTC grow its workforce.   

Chris Lehman | Chief Human Resources Officer | OTC Industrial Technologies

With those changes now in the works, Lehman is shifting his focus to OTC’s annual “pay for performance” process. This year’s PFP will be only the second in OTC’s 60-year history. 

“We’re working hard to make sure that we are paying our associates accurately to the market,” Lehman says. “And that we’re paying them fairly for the internal market as well—those people who work harder, who have better success, should get paid more.”  

While Lehman has enacted these changes, he says they stem from company leadership. When hiring him, the company had sought to replace HR managers that were perceived by associates as uncaring and creating policies that were inflexible.   

“People want to do the right thing,” Lehman says of his approach. “That’s natural, right? And we want to empower and enable them to do the right thing.” 

Chris Lehman | Chief Human Resources Officer | OTC Industrial Technologies

It’s an approach Lehman has honed over his years in the corporate world—both in environmental health and safety and in HR. After graduating from Manchester University in 1993, Lehman spent two years as an HR manager for Overhead Door Corporation, followed by a stint at Belden before joining Federal Mogul in 2005.  

He became a senior manager of human resources with the transition to Hill-Rom, then became a group global HR executive at Hillenbrand, where he met Canady, whom he counts as one of his most important mentors. 

A people business 

Lehman received his MBA from Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business in 2010 and went on to serve on the board of directors for Allied Moulded Products Inc. before becoming HR director at Myers Industries. That was his last stop before OTC, which he joined as vice president of human resources before rising to chief human resources officer.  

That MBA has served Lehman well in his current role. His Notre Dame education was finance-driven, allowing Lehman to participate in financial and strategic discussions about the company’s future. As Lehman sees it, the decisions that result from profit and loss conversations will affect the company’s workers, just as human resources decisions contribute to the company’s bottom line.   

“I’m not the type of HR person that’s going to go, ‘Oh, I’m just going to sit on my hands until we get to an HR conversation,’” Lehman says. “Because it’s a people business and everything we do affects the people.” 

Chris Lehman | Chief Human Resources Officer | OTC Industrial Technologies

His Notre Dame education has also given Lehman an interesting perspective on his HR work. A Notre Dame football fan, Lehman was struck by a segment that aired during the team’s games: “What would you fight for?” 

Lehman, who credits his success to the support of his wife, says they are trying to impart to their four children the same gift he received all those years ago: a calling worth fighting for. 

“I always think of that in terms of my kids, and helping them find what would they fight for,” Lehman says. “What’s so important to them that they would fight for that? Because if they can find that, and they can do that, then life is going to be really good for them.” 

View this feature in the Vol. III 2023 Edition here.

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