Any entrepreneur who’s been in business for more than a few years knows that hardship and failure are part of the game.
But as they say, it’s not your setbacks that matter. It’s how you react to those setbacks that makes all the difference.
Adam Weitsman, CEO of Upstate Shredding-Weitsman Recycling in Owego, NY, knows this better than most. After losing his sister to cancer in the early 1990s, Weitsman left a prosperous career in New York City to return to his hometown and support his father in the family scrap metal business. He developed an interest in the processing side of scrap metal recycling, which led to the formation of his current business in 1996.
However, when the company that Weitsman hired to install the new shredder went bankrupt prior to install, Weitsman was faced with a difficult decision: lose everything, or try check kiting temporarily until he could get his shredder up and running. The risk proved unsuccessful, and cost him a sentence in federal prison in Otisville, New York during the 1990s.
After serving his time, Weitsman focused hard on rebuilding his personal and business life. He became not only a successful and widely recognized business owner, but a beloved philanthropist in his community.
He shares his story, as well as his business and charity work, on social media, and has been named a top Instagram influencer by HighKey agency.
I spoke with Weitsman recently about how he transformed his personal brand and started fresh, and how others can do the same.
Shama Hyder: How do you think your previous hardships have shaped the way you do business today?
Adam Weitsman: I think out of everything I’ve learned from my past, integrity and ethics have become a top focus of mine. After making peace with my past, I found the best way to move forward is to always be honest and ethical in the workplace. I strive to care about my employees and my customers, and treat them with the respect and courtesy that I was not always afforded.
Hyder: Why do you think struggle can be valuable for business owners?
Weitsman: Hardship and struggle are easy to consider as setbacks, but when I’ve encountered roadblocks in my professional or personal life, I realized that it’s always made me consider my long-term plans, instead of thinking just short-term.
Struggle serves the critical purpose of making you ask yourself the tough questions—things like, “What’s my contingency plan?” or “How can I plan to move forward from this?” In my experience, the most personal growth happens when you are forced to look in the mirror and re-evaluate your business practices and goals.
Hyder: What advice would you give someone who’s just coming out of a hard time, and wants to make a new start?
Weitsman: I would argue that “hard times” are the best time to make a new start.
After recovering from a struggle, as we all are trying to do in the wake of COVID-19, people often have a newfound hunger and drive for success, as it seems more important than ever. Harness that drive in an organized and methodical way, and you’ll see how much of what propels successful people is just good old-fashioned hard work. If you believe you have the skills or the talent to make your goals happen, commit to it and leverage your relationships to get trustworthy and hardworking people on your team.
Hyder: How have you used social media to create a strong personal brand and business presence?
Weitsman: To the casual observer, my social media presence functions as a diary of my life, but in reality, it’s a networking, communication, branding and marketing tool. The individuals behind brands are more visible than ever these days, and people expect to see the personality behind the companies they support. As a business person and a philanthropist, I like to use my social media both as a way to promote my work and as a way to introduce myself to the public, so they can be sure whether they’re a customer of Upstate Shredding or involved in any of my charity initiatives, that they’re dealing with someone authentic.
Hyder: How important is authenticity today, in a business sense?
Weitsman: Authenticity is a cornerstone upon which I’ve built my businesses, my personal brand, my social media following and my philanthropy, and I feel it’s paramount to operating in today’s business world. With the Internet and the age of information, people expect full transparency about both a business and its owners. Providing that transparency and authenticity is what is catapulting modern brands to success.
Hyder: What advice would you give a business owner around how to make a positive community impact?
Weitsman: I would tell any business owner looking to make an impact in their community to give back to the people and places that shaped you. I have business interests and contacts nationally and internationally, but I still am committed to giving back to my home region, the southern tier of upstate New York. I feel passionately about the community that has supported me, and I will always continue to give back to my friends and neighbors back home.
Hyder: There’s a lot of glamour associated with “growth hacking” and unbridled expansion in business—but that’s not the reality of growing a business for the majority of entrepreneurs. What are the benefits of slow, steady growth, in your opinion?
Weitsman: Of course, there are always going to be stories of young upstarts who magically take their startup from their mom’s basement to Fortune 500 status, but the truth is, it’s not realistic. Operating a successful business takes hard work, grit and lots of time and investment. Slow, steady growth is more sustainable, and allows businesses to scale up in a measurable way. There’s a reason why people say “don’t bite off more than you can chew,” and that sentiment definitely applies to the business world in a big way.
As Weitsman’s story illustrates, even the hardest of hard times can be turned into an opportunity for growth. By staying authentic to your story and placing integrity and transparency at the heart of your business, you’ll earn your customers’ trust and build a solid foundation for long-term sustainability.