Failure:Lab speakers let loose at Hanson Theatre


Steve Upton, right, former Whirpool vice president of Consumer Affairs, talks about some of his early work at the Whirlpool Corp., with his son, Jeff Upton, during Failure:Lab on Thursday inside the Hanson Theatre at Lake Michigan College. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Andrea Wilamowski stood on stage inside Hanson Theatre and told a roomful of strangers a rundown of her failures.

This was something new for Wilamowski, who by day is a success as president of The Biggest Loser Race Series.

Wilamowski was one of six speakers who spilled their guts on how they’ve failed in life, despite finding success in their industry.

The night was part of Failure:Lab Southwest Michigan, an event meant to fight the fear of failure by allowing speakers to share a personal failure of what went wrong with no lessons learned. Between each speaker, a performance follows to sort of “clear the air” and allow the audience to recharge.

Wilamowski explained how she’s had many failures. When she was given full-ride scholarship to Michigan State University, Wilamowski left college four classes shy of her degree. She pursued a career in music in Nashville, but made another mistake, which promptly ended things there.

She decided to elope and marry a soldier, who is now her ex-husband. However, there were politics she soon discovered in the entertainment industry.

“My agent said in the fine print of my contract, it says I can’t be married,” Wilamowski recalled. “He said, ‘you can’t be married because you’re a female and you’re 21 years old, and guys who buy your albums want to know that you’re available.’”

Upon discovering her career was over, Wilamowski had to tell her parents that she was now married and pregnant. Through years of abuse from the man she was married to, she gained 130 pounds. Fast forward to 2015, and Wilamowski said she made her biggest mistake.

With her new husband in a more happy setting, Wilamowski was asked to go on the hit show “The Biggest Loser.” With her on stage was the shirt she wore on the show, which had her weight listed on the front.

In her first week, she lost 14 pounds. Wilamowski seemed to be on the right track until her team lost during competition. As a result, they had to collectively vote someone home.

Wilamowski said she knew there were other people who deserved to be there, so she volunteered to be voted off the show.

“It was the hardest thing I ever did,” she said. “I wanted to do this for me and my family. But I got sent home. The most ultimate feeling of failure is when you let your entire team down and your world comes to a close.”

Fortuitous failures

The two-hour event was made possible through a class.

Michigan’s Great Southwest Strategic Leadership Council created an initiative known as the Leadership Accelerator class. Failure:Lab became a project from the class.

Lisa Borre, chairwoman of Failure:Lab Southwest Michigan, said she and others attended a Failure:Lab session in Grand Rapids earlier in the year. Through that experience, they felt it would be a good thing to bring to Southwest Michigan.

“I think it was powerful to have people on stage and to be truly vulnerable with the audience,” Borre said. “You always hear the good things, but never get to peak behind the curtain to see what somebody’s darkest moments were.”

Steve Upton was the first to speak and hit upon a few times when he was met with failure during his time at Whirlpool.

The former Whirlpool vice president of Consumer Affairs talked about his tenure as a sales manager for the refrigeration division. The 92-year-old recalled a time when he felt the salesmen working with him didn’t know how durable the shelves inside the refrigerators were.

So, he decided to give them a demonstration.

“I took the shelving and threw it on the ground,” said Upton, motioning the action. “That turned out to be a failure because it shattered.”

While Upton and everyone else has a laugh, he said it served as a reminder that they didn’t have everything figured out.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 28, 2016)


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