2012 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"There is no limit to what a person can accomplish if they don't worry about who gets the credit."
John Weiland, third of four children, was born in 1955. He lived with his family in a row house in the inner city of Philadelphia. “My father was a child of the Great Depression,” says John. “He lost his father when he was seven and a short time later he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He recovered from that disease, but had a curvature of the spine that gave him a noticeable limp. He worked with his mother and brother in a small flower business for the rest of his life. The values he treasured the most were honesty and integrity. My father faced a lot of adversity in his life, but he always had a positive outlook.”
John’s father needed expensive custom-made shoes to compensate for his limp. “Money was always tight in our house,” says John. “My father had his shoes stitched and re-stitch instead of buying new ones. For 12 years they were his only pair of shoes.” Much later, a family member had the shoes dipped in pewter and sent them to John. He put his father’s shoes on display in his office so that he would never forget his past and the values he learned from his father.
John’s mother was a trained nurse. She was a loving woman who had high expectations for her children. She taught them to respect adults and demanded courteous behavior. “My mother was a spectacular woman,” says John. “She was devoted to the family. We didn’t have much, but she made our home life so comfortable we never realized how little we had.”
Unfortunately, when he was 10, John’s mother died suddenly from a cerebral aneurism. “She went into the hospital for a relatively routine procedure and passed away that night due to a complication from the procedure,” says John. “My father returned from the hospital a broken man. For all of us, my mother’s passing turned our lives upside down.”
After that, John’s father told his children they were going to have to grow up quickly. He needed their help with chores as well as expenses. The children split up the household responsibilities, including each night’s dinner. John explains, “We took turns cooking, washing dishes, and cleaning the house. We all still laugh at my creativity in the kitchen. I was convinced that if you bake pork chops for 30 minutes at 300 degrees, then you might as well do it in half the time at 600. I learned to cook the hard way—through trial and error.”
John began working in his father’s greenhouses at the age of eight, earning 25 cents an hour. Eventually, he worked his way up to $1 an hour, convinced by his father that it was a good deal since no taxes were deducted from of his pay. It was up to John to pay for his own school supplies and clothes, which made him a thrifty shopper. He usually bought his clothes at the Sears surplus store.
Religion and education were stressed in the Weiland household. They were devout Catholics and the children attended Catholic schools. John enjoyed school and was a good student. He also enjoyed sports. When he was a little older, he added a paper route to his greenhouse duties. On Saturdays he worked at the local supermarket using his wagon to deliver groceries. “That’s how I spent my childhood,” he says. “I went to school, played sports, and worked like crazy at home and on the weekends.”
By the time he was in high school, it was evident that John was adept at math and the sciences. He had a real desire to go to medical school. The physician for his high school football team told him about Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales (now DeSales University), saying that the school had a good rate of getting their students into medical school. John received a partial scholarship to DeSales, which was fortunate. At $1.00 an hour it took many hours to earn the remainder of his tuition.
“College was spectacular,” says John. “It was a mid-sized school and I really had a chance to be involved.” He majored in biology and minored in marketing as a back-up in case he didn’t get into medical school. But shortly after school started, John learned he owed $1,000 in tuition not covered by his scholarship. He made an appointment with the school’s treasurer, Father Guerin, who made John promise he would pay the debt before the end of his freshman year. From that point on, Father Guerin became a life-long mentor who taught John about the importance of setting and achieving goals. John worked overtime and paid the tuition on time. His jobs included dormitory maintenance, driving a school bus in the early morning hours before his classes started, and tending bar and caddying on weekends. While working these four jobs, he maintained his studies and played varsity soccer, baseball, and golf. Later, he was inducted into the DeSales University Sports Hall of Fame.
Shortly before his graduation in 1977, Father Guerin once again informed John he owed a $52 graduation fee. He had two days to pay the fee; otherwise he would not be able to participate in the graduation ceremony. That weekend he caddied for two groups of businessmen who learned about his graduation fee. They paid him caddie fees of $36 for the 36 holes and tipped him another $22 for $58 total. John paid his fee and contributed $6 to the senior party fund, thereby graduating without a dollar to his name. Later, in 1987, John earned an MBA from New York University.
John decided to focus on a business career versus applying to medical school. After his graduation, he joined American Hospital Supply Corporation/Baxter Healthcare as a sales representative. “I had some great mentors early in my career,” John says. “My first boss is still a motivational sales trainer and he gave me a great foundation. One piece of advice he offered was to save 10 percent of everything I made. He told me, ‘Pay yourself before you pay any of your bills.’ I did well in sales and so that advice helped me to start building my savings.”
Within three years, John was promoted to management and by 1983 he was an area vice president. In 1987, he shifted gears when he was selected as one of 10 White House Fellows (out of approximately 1,000 applicants). In this capacity, he served as a special assistant to two members of President Reagan’s cabinet (Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and the Secretary of the Interior). “It was the experience of a lifetime and helped me to grow tremendously,” says John.
After his one-year assignment ended at the White House, John returned to Baxter with a promotion as a vice president/general manager. Shortly thereafter, however, he left to become CEO of a smaller company called Pharmacia Diagnostics. “I could have stayed at Baxter and done very well,” says John. “I was slated to go places, but my experience in Washington opened my eyes to the breadth of the world. I decided that I was going to take a shot at this opportunity. It was 1989 and I was only 34 years old when I became Pharmacia’s president and CEO. It was a great experience.”
In 1991, John left Pharmacia to serve as a senior vice president of the North American division of a company called DENTSPLY, the largest dental company at that time. He was instrumental in helping the privately owned company go public. In 1996, he joined his present company, C.R. Bard, as a group vice president. He quickly rose in the company, becoming a group president. In 2003 he assumed the positions of president and chief operating officer. Today, C.R. Bard, which has 11,000 employees worldwide, is a leading multinational developer, manufacturer, and marketer of innovative, life-enhancing medical technologies in the fields of vascular, urology, oncology, and surgical specialty products. John Weiland became a director of the company in 2005.
Looking back over his years of success in business, John says he is thankful to several mentors who helped him at critical moments in his life. “One of my first mentors was Al Tegler. I was his designated caddy when I was young. He started out as a mail clerk and became chairman of Home Life Insurance Company. He taught me to always try to reach my full potential. Later, Bob Campbell, the chairman of Pennsylvania Power and Light, helped me to make the jump from a conservative, safe environment at Baxter to see what I could do on the outside. Another great mentor was William Dearden, the chairman of Hershey Foods, who was inducted into the Horatio Alger Association in 1976. I met him in 1981. He believed in a positive mental attitude, planning, and strategic thinking. His was the voice of great reason. I used to take copious notes when I met with him and I still remember the lessons he taught me in those meetings.”
When asked for the advice he would give to today’s young people, John remembers two things—one of which came from Mark Twain who said, “Always do the right thing—this will astonish some people and surprise the rest.” And another piece of advice he received and adhered to came from a friend who told him, “The truly happy people in life are those who concentrate on something other than themselves.” With those two thoughts in mind, John’s advice includes the following, “Work hard, have a sense of humility, treat others with dignity and respect, build a foundation of integrity and morals, develop a positive mental attitude, find mentors who can help you along the way, save 10 percent of everything you make, and set goals.”
Mr. Weiland says that his Horatio Alger Award is “without a doubt the greatest achievement of my career. I feel privileged that I was nominated. My wife, Kathy, and I focus much of our philanthropy on education. It is especially tragic if you have the capability to achieve, but because of a lack of funds you are unable to attend college. The only way any of us can achieve our full potential is to have a good education and I am happy to become part of an organization that is doing so much to make that a reality.”
John Weiland’s Activities and Philanthropy
John Weiland is a member of the board of the Meridian Health System and a director of West Pharmaceutical Services, Inc., and a member of the Advisory Board of Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital.
Mr. Weiland has participated in numerous organizations that help disadvantaged youth. The John H. and Katherine J. Weiland Foundation funds many worthwhile projects, including scholarships to children from Mr. Weiland’s high school alma mater.