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The Power of Adversity

The Power of Adversity

Tough times can you make you stronger, wiser and better.

Al Weatherhead has seen a lot in his career and in his life. He is the CEO of Weatherhead Industries, based in Twinsburg, Ohio, which manufactures plastic closures for the food, spice, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products. He is also the founder of the Weatherhead Foundation whose name graces the school of management at Case Western Reserve in Ohio and the Weatherhead School of International Affairs at Harvard. He has a hand in medicine too as the founder of the Weatherhead P.E.T. center for Preventing and Reversal of Heart Disease.

All of these collective, and on-going, experiences have caused him to conclude that adversity in any aspect of life is a gift that empowers us to achieve success. So strongly does he believe this that his book on the topic was recently published, The Power of Adversity. The book traces both his personal and professional trials and examines how he was able to overcome these challenges.

When he first purchased a small, two-customer plastics company with heavy financing and a tiny amount of cash the new company was doing well but needed further growth to reach its potential. Its first challenge was to create a plastic dispense top with dual flaps for Durkee Spice Company. Durkee has been unable to find someone who could create this product. While it took many months of frustration and dead-ends, his engineers persevered through every challenge and ended up inventing the Weatherchem Flapper which today is used by 150 companies including Kraft, P&G and Nature's Made. The company had taken great risks and came up against many ways, yet overcoming all adversity was what led to success, Weatherhead explains.

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"We are not meant, in the grand scheme of life, to be happy and comfortable. Rather we are meant to forge our characters on the anvil of adversity... Most of us experience monumental periods of adversity -- to burn away our self-deception. These devastating setbacks propel us in our quest to become fully and creatively human. Sometimes we get stuck that only great pain will impel us to move.

The walls of your adversity might seem too high to scale. Never mind. Don't look up and don't look down. Look straight ahead, find that first foothold, and climb. Soon that wall will become merely a stepping stone to the next phase of your life -- and (surprise!) your next adversity. At that time recall the concept of sweat equity and realize that when you leverage your learning from adversity past and present there is no failure and no wasted time.

This is a lesson I try to teach at my factory as I mentor the new generation of management that has taken over the day-to-day leadership of my business. I stress that the important thing is to have fun moving forward, addressing the inevitable mistakes as they arise but not obsessing about dead ends or what might go wrong in the future."

His views on management stem from the adversity he faced when the company his father founded failed after his father's death.

"As a child, dreaming in my father's factory, I saw the camaraderie, respect, love and energy shared by Weatherhead employees. I watched, too, as my parents poured their lives in the company. All this created the heartbeat of that factory.

Then, with the death of my father, the Weatherhead Company developed a diseased heart. Mismanagement crushed the human endeavor upon which the factory thrived, as you and I thrive on clean air, water, nourishing food, a healthy heart, and a happy soul.

Some would say the business simply failed. To me, the demise of my father's company was a death in the family. This adversity left me reeling.... Adversity empowered me to realize that was torn down, I could -- and needed -- to rebuild. And so I decided to start my own company."

Weatherhead has devised a list of 22 rules for mastering adversity. Here are just a few:

  • We're not meant to be happy... We're meant to grow
  • Instead of "Why me?"... "Why not me?"
  • Cultivate the self-ish virtues of modesty, gratitude, courtesy, self-control, compassion, perseverance, and indomitable spirit
  • Leverage sweat equity built up by surviving previous trouble to help master current adversity
  • Come to see problem solving as one of the great jobs in life.

The Power of Adversity is available at

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