My Million Dollar Comeback

This businessman battled back from bankruptcy to train "the billionaires of tomorrow."
by Doug Trouten

This businessman battled back from bankruptcy to train "the billionaires of tomorrow."

Al Hollingsworth has achieved a level of success most men only dream about. He was a successful college athlete and succeeded in business as a young man. Today he owns Aldelano Packaging Corp., a multimillion-dollar company whose clients include Kellogg's, Procter & Gamble and General Mills.

Some 1,500 employees at plants in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and California make the boxes for a wide variety of products, from breakfast cereal to laundry soap. If you've ever binged on Pringles or Pop-Tarts, there's a good chance you've opened one of Hollingsworth's packages. And if you've ever grabbed a Nutri-Grain cereal bar in an effort to get back on your diet, well, that's probably one of his packages too.

He has been honored as the National Minority Businessman of the Year by the U.S. Department of Commerce. He has also received the Black Entrepreneur Award from the National Association of Market Developers and serves on the board of directors for Promise Keepers.

Hollingsworth's life seems to be the total package -literally and figuratively. Today he's driven to share his success with others. His book, Vertical Leap: How to Birth Your Dreams, Visions & Ideas Into Reality, is one result of that effort.

He also purchased the old Bananza ranch to build a Christian retreat center that hosts success seminars. (The resort is named Alhatti, a combination of his name and that of his wife, gospel singer Hattie Hollingsworth.) It is the first of 50 he has planned.

At age 59 with two heart attacks behind him, you might expect Hollingsworth to be enjoying his success on a beach somewhere, having people bring him fruity beverages with umbrellas in them. Why does he continue to push himself?

"I worked hard before I was saved, but it was for the wrong reasons," he explains. "Now I work hard and I have great joy?the joy of purpose."

Wake Up

Though Hollingsworth grew up in a Baptist culture, he says his religious awakening came during a college football game.

"I was knocked unconscious in a football game against Oklahoma," recalls Hollingsworth, who played guard and tackle for the University of Colorado-Boulder Buffaloes.

"God spoke into my life while I was unconscious for about 10 minutes that I would be a successful businessman. This was at a time when there weren't many African Americans who were in industry."

He points to a life changed from that moment on. "I stopped taking the 'dumbbell courses' and began to study psychology and speech pathology. I went from a 1.7 GPA to the honor roll."

Hollingsworth graduated in four years and brushed aside opportunities in the NFL to take a job as an epidemiologist in Seattle. "As a part of black culture in the '60s, to wear a white shirt and tie and carry a briefcase was very prestigious," he explains. "There were not many business success stories."

He began to pursue other opportunities after discovering that epidemiologist "was a glorified word for venereal disease investigator."

Affirmative action programs opened the door for him to enter the paper industry, and after learning the trade at two companies he started his own business.

"That's a very difficult industry to penetrate," Hollingsworth explains. "But the Lord had been leading me through His promise that I would be a successful businessman. He had said I would be a success, and I trusted His word."

Hollingsworth used his knowledge of the industry to build his company into a successful multimillion-dollar business, but there was a problem. "It was by [my] power and might, by being humanly creative," he admits. "My life with the Lord had become very sporadic."

He recalls the moment when he and his wife gave their lives back to the Lord, praying, "Lord, whatever You don't want in our lives, please take it away." That prayer was dramatically answered when his company went bankrupt.

"I was devastated," he admits. "I thought God was going to make things easier? certainly not take the business away."

Check Your Motives

Having lost the business that had given him so much of his identity, Hollingsworth began to seek for a new dream. "I was dedicated to find God or die, so for months I would go out on the hills seeking the Lord for a dream, a vision, an idea of where He would want me to go next."

It was then, he remembers, that God taught him a crucial lesson about how proper motivation breeds success.

"I began to recognize that when my heart was pure I could trust what I wanted, because it wasn't for my own personal needs and glory. It would be to build His kingdom," he says. "That began the training program that He put in my heart, to touch a generation with kingdom economics."

Hollingsworth came back to build a new company, more successful that he first, but he emphasizes his use of the desire for success to reach others for God. He's created Christian Business Ministries ( which, he points out, is working to win America for Jesus by teaching how relevant God and the Bible are the one's desire for success.

For adults, he offers "life-changing seminars" through his Vertical Leap University. Young people are taught the same principles through the "BOSS" program "Building On Spiritual Substance), which includes a component designed to help young people use the Internet to generate revenue.

"Technology is not driven by money, it's driven by creativity," he explains. "And so the billionaires of tomorrow are going to be those with ideas and dreams and visions.

"That always has existed in the midst of poverty and ideas. All we needed to do was give a harness to that. And so as we began to train young people in understanding the power of an idea, their lives began to change."

And how do you harness an idea? The key, Hollingsworth explains, is to dare to dream big and to learn how to "turn hope to a material thing. We teach how to birth the invisible in the material. It's a process; it's not hocus-pocus."

Hollingsworth says that many Christians could benefit from understanding this principle: "Most of us don't achieve greatness because we don't see our purpose on the inside. Everything on the outside was first of all a vision, a dream. We're training people to be able to see it on the inside and birth their dreams."

Some of Hollingsworth's teachings might sound New Age, but he insists that New Agers have simply perverted God's clear teachings.

"The Word of God is so clear," he says. "The devil has always imitated God, and one of the problems with Christianity is oftentimes we back away from the truth because of the imitators.

"The devil doesn't create anything; he only imitates it; he perverts it. We're to walk by faith and not by sight. Is that New Age?"

Take Risks

Hollingsworth also says that Christians have been passive too long in the pursuit of their dreams because we worry too much about taking risks with our lives. He says that Christians need first to redefine risk.

"The reason the world is succeeding so aggressively above us in that they're taking more risks than we are. We are to be the major risk-takers," he explains.

"I see it on the inside, but it has yet to be manifested on the outside. The world calls that taking a risk. The body of Christ calls it faith."

Pass It On

Faith is leading Hollingsworth from the packaging business he's mastered to the brave new world of e-commerce-a fairly high-tech venture for a grandfather.

"Oh, I'm young!" he insists. "I'm only 59. I don't see that as old. I see that as an ability to straddle the past and the future."

He adds, "I'm right at a place where I'm at my greatest wisdom, and I think that is what has been lacking in many of our communities. We let men retire from their labors, and the wisdom is lost."

Hollingsworth says that his goal is "to bring back wise men to the village." In other words, he wants to help bring Christians with business experience to the church and help young people?especially in urban settings-achieve financial greatness.

Though many church programs concentrate on addressing the spiritual needs of young people, Hollingsworth says there's a need to address their material needs as well.

"There's a whole new mind-set, particularly among urban children right now," Hollingsworth notes.

"They've seen so much success in rap and drugs and the underground and so forth, they've found ways to succeed.

"The question today is how do you succeed? Do you succeed by dominating a devouring the environment around you from the outside in?

"You see that in gang warfare?the strong killing off the weaker and the perpetual warfare and taking advantage of a younger generation with drugs. Do you succeed by taking advantage of others, or is there another way of achieving success?"

He says that the church is losing ground with urban youth because we have not addressed the economic issue strongly enough. "We're telling them to 'have faith and hold on,'" he says. "But if you take a look where the young people are moving toward and running toward, they're attracted to economics."

He concludes with this challenge to the church: "In order to stay potent, we're going to have to be able to address that [desire for success] in the lives of our young people. The Mormons have begun to do something there, but the Christian body has been negligent.

"We need a program that is going to not only just get young people excited, we've got to also feed them and let them know that God is relevant in meeting their needs for success.

Reprinted with permission from New Man, May/June 2002. ? Strang Communications Co., USA. All rights reserved.

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