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ADD in the corner office: Five top executives discovered that an LD can be a capitalist tool

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By Lois Gilman, ADDitude Magazine

Investing wisely

Charles Schwab

Founder and chair, Charles Schwab & Co.

Growing up in a family of modest means in a small town outside of Sacramento, Schwab had to struggle through Stanford before landing a job in a small brokerage house. It was a modest beginning for the man who would start the nation's fourth-largest brokerage firm.

As a child, he didn't know he had dyslexia — it was identified when the disability was spotted in his son 16 years ago. But he did know that he had to work much harder than other kids in school. He was good in math and science, but weak in reading and writing. "I eventually overcame dyslexia because I was a reasonably competent kid and had a pretty outgoing personality," said Schwab in Fortune Small Business. "I could communicate with my teachers, and I asked lots of questions in class. I think that's why I became favored among teachers. They'd say, 'Gee, Chuck really works hard at it. We gotta give him the B instead of the C minus.' "

His struggle with his learning disability shaped him as an entrepreneur. It taught him humility. "You're never quite certain you've accomplished what you wanted to do. It's wonderful fuel for motivation." It has helped him accomplish some things in his career that he wouldn't have believed possible.

"I was always aware of the fact that I excelled with numbers, even though I struggled with reading," he says. "I focused on my strengths and used my natural affinity for numbers and economics as the focus of my career."

Like economist Diane Swonk, he says, "I found something I was good at and became passionate about it. I also discovered that many skills and talents, in addition to reading ability, are as important in the making of a top executive. Character, ethics, communication skills, consistency, analytical and relationship skills. Those are important for leaders. I have some of those skills, and I work with a lot of great people who bring other strengths and talents to the table."

Add to that list of his assets, a spirit of generosity. After Schwab's son was diagnosed with dyslexia, the entrepreneur and his wife, Helen, decided to help other families who had learning-disabled children. They started to give parents the answers to the million-and-one questions they have when their child has learning problems. They also began, a Web site for learning-disabled children.

Like most executives, Schwab values teamwork. "I have strong people around me who focus on day-to-day planning and organization," he says. "They know how to streamline my paperwork and to minimize my reading. It's really no different from most people who run companies or large departments. It takes a team to make things work well."

What advice would Schwab give to others with AD/HD or dyslexia or another learning disability? "Find out what you can do well, focus on it, and work doubly hard," he says. "We all aspire to do the best we can with what we're dealt. Focus on your strengths. Don't be afraid to ask for help and to admit you need it." Look where that advice got Schwab.

Reprinted with permission from ADDitude Magazine. All rights reserved. See for more articles like this one.

Comments from readers

"I don't get why people think it's such a blessing. What's the point in having so many thoughts and ideas shooting at you if you frequently forget them due to yet ANOTHER mental tangent or almost inevitable lack of interest to follow through? This is cliche, but, if ADHD is a gift, I want to return it :p. Nonetheless, it's great to see what these people have done with themselves regardless of their issues :), BUT, and this is just my opinion that they would only be better versions of themselves without ADHD. Also, those ideas held by someone else without ADHD (or under treatment and/or medication) would might have done even more with them. Although being positive is important when diagnosing, accepting the problem, and researching it, ADHD needs to stop being looked at as a gift. It's not. It diminishes your quality of life, and should be taken seriously. That's just my view on it, more power to ya if you're content with it :), cause I'm sure not. "
"I had to laugh when I heard David Neeleman has a certain place for his wallet and keys. I honestly think I have the same condition as he does. I wouldn't trade it for the world. I am an idea machine. I take in experiences from all different aspects of my life and boom another idea and then boom another idea. I compare my brain to a computer with parellell processing. I am constantly juggling 3-4 different threads in my brain all at the same time. It wears me out sometimes. Anyways, if you have the same thing, I wouldn't medicate for it, but just learn to harness that God given ability to your advantage. Awesome article!"