The Flapper polypropylene cap his company invented is used on food-dispensing products sold by 150 companies.
At age 83, having made untold millions in plastics and having given away much of that to charitable, medical and educational foundations Albert Weatherhead III, the founder of Cleveland-based Weatherhead Industries, has a new incarnation: self-help guru.
The first 25,000 copies of Weatherhead's book, The Power of Adversity: Tough Times Can Make You Stronger, Wiser and Better, went on sale April 25.
The book, published by Hampton Roads Publishing Co. Inc. of Charlottesville, Va., documents Weatherhead's turbulent relationship with his father, as well as his and his two brothers' battles with depression and alcoholism; the 1979 death of his infant son; two failed marriages and ailments including rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease.
``For years I fought against the tide of all these obstacles in my life,'' Weatherhead said in a June 5 telephone interview. ``Eventually, I came to see adversities for what they were: blessings in disguise.''
With the aid of his third and current wife, Celia, plus 42 years of attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and 19 years of studying Eastern philosophies including Zen Buddhism and the Japanese samurai code, Weatherhead said he has learned to leverage difficulties to become a stronger, wiser, more loving and creative human being.
In The Power of Adversity, Weatherhead details 22 rules for mastering adversity and four techniques to achieve those goals: positive thinking, meditation, communicating with others and sharing rather than managing. He writes that he based those maxims on a core belief: ``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.''
After serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, the Cleveland native graduated from Harvard University and in 1950 prepared to follow his father into the presidency of the Weatherhead Co., which supplied parts to the automotive industry. But his father insisted Al enter the company as an apprentice toolmaker or leave. The younger Weatherhead chose the latter.
He went on to have a 60-year career in plastics and metalworking, culminating in his 1971 purchase of the Ankeny Co. of Twinsburg, Ohio, which he renamed Weatherchem Corp. It was Weatherchem's invention of the Flapper closure for the former Durkee Spice Co. (now Durkee Foodservice Products Inc.) that made Weatherhead's fortune.
Weatherhead relates some toe-curling stories about his own failings along the way, including his secret drinking: ``At one point in my life as a drunkard, I could get from my bedroom to the basement, remove the hinge pins from the locked liquor cabinet, make a very dry 20-ounce martini, replace the door, fly up the stairs, pausing at the kitchen fridge to throw ice in my oversize glass and be back in my bedroom in less than 90 seconds.''
``While the house slept I could get peacefully drunk. I disturbed no one and nobody disturbed me,'' he said.
Weatherhead credits Celia, whom he married in 1975, with keeping him on an even keel: ``For 10 years, in the face of my emotional frigidity, Celia was the entrepreneur of our union, creatively and at great emotional sacrifice standing by me, seeing to family matters and gambling that we would make it.''
But Weatherhead acknowledges the onset of rheumatoid arthritis which forced him to rely on Celia's care likely played the biggest role in saving their marriage. The disease also took a heavy toll on Weatherhead's favorite physical activities, curtailing his daily runs and limiting his swimming. He battles pain to this day.
``We went to Florida in January ,'' he said. ``I was in the most awful period of pain that you can imagine; you can't describe it. It was tortuous in that my body was wracked with this pain and it didn't know what was causing it.
``I went down to Houston and they discovered it was a compression fracture of my No. 1 vertebra. That had collapsed; it was pinching the spinal canal and pinching the nerves to the point of delirium.''
Weatherhead had two operations last spring, one to install a pair of titanium rods and four cross braces in his spine and a follow-up surgery to tighten the eight screws and nuts holding his spine in position.
``I can truthfully say I have got a screw loose in me,'' he said, laughing.
Although he has given up the day-to-day running of Weatherchem, Al and Celia Weatherhead are closely involved in the charitable Weatherhead Foundation, which he refers to as ``our child.'' The Weatherhead name adorns the management school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, the international affairs school at Harvard, the East Asian Institute at Columbia University and an imaging center dedicated to the prevention and reversal of heart disease at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
Fred Feldman, a Massachusetts-based novelist, self-help and business advice writer is credited as co-author of The Power of Adversity. In a June 23 telephone interview, he said he met for several days with Weatherhead in 2007 at his Cleveland home and at Weatherchem to edit the manuscript.
``I think it was important to Al that his book be relevant and accessible to a person in any station in life,'' Feldman said. ``This book makes sense to you if you're running a Fortune 500 company, running a newsstand or running a house.''
Weatherchem President Jennifer Altstadt has read The Power of Adversity and said it has lessons plastics executives can use, particularly in manufacturing. ``Every day is full of difficult problems,'' she said in a July 1 telephone interview. ``We did buy lots of copies [of the book], and they are circulating around.
``To me, it was mainly a love letter to Celia,'' she said.