CEOs are a rare breed. They thrive on risk, when the rest of us would rather maintain the status quo.
So it makes sense that they process information differently. In fact, a number of them have learning disabilities — dyslexia is the most popular condition.
In spite of their difficulties, these businessmen have done quite well for themselves. We’ve gathered a list of 15 CEOs, many of whom you’ll recognise, who prove that perceived weaknesses can also be strengths.
The wildly wealthy head of Virgin used to routinely fail standardized tests in school due to his dyslexia. When he started an alternative newspaper at his high school and filled it with worthwhile content, the headmaster of the school said, 'Congratulations, Branson. I predict that you will either go to prison or become a millionaire.'
The CEO of Checkfree said, 'I would have had a great deal of difficulty if I had gotten into a staff job. I knew that. That's why I started a company. I was fearful to the point of being paranoid that I would end up working in a big company.'
Orfalea calls his learning disabilities 'learning opportunities.' In his case, his learning style helped him see the big picture and not worry about tiny details -- very good skills for a businessman who has lots of ideas.
For group projects in school, Orfalea would take care of photocopying the notes for everyone in order to get out of writing them. It makes sense that he would end up starting the largest copy shop in the world.
The CEO of Cisco said he wishes he had made his struggles with reading more public: 'You consider it a weakness and you don't share your weaknesses. And you don't realise that it helps others who have this issue, and also your family.'
While not necessarily a learning disability, Asperger's syndrome kept Bram Cohen firmly rooted in a world of patterns, puzzles, and computers. This was a big asset when he created BitTorrent, a disruptive technology that lets people transfer huge amounts of information over the Internet.
The CEO of JetBlue calls his ADHD an asset. He said, 'One of the weird things about the type of ADHD I have is, if you have something you are really, really passionate about, then you are really, really good about focusing on that thing.'
He says his ADHD led to him creating JetBlue's e-ticketing system.
Ikea is actually an acronym of founder Ingvar Kamprad's initials, Elmtaryd, the farm where he grew up, and the nearby village of Agunnyard. He picked Swedish-sounding names for all the products so that he wouldn't have to remember strings of letters and numbers.
Hilfiger said, 'I performed poorly at school, when I attended, that is, and was perceived as stupid because of my dyslexia. I still have trouble reading. I have to concentrate very hard at going left to right, left to right, otherwise my eye just wanders to the bottom of the page.'
Dyslexia might make it more difficult for Steve to read, but it certainly hasn't slowed down his desire to innovate.
He's credited with building the first practical automobile and he helped create a middle class in America. He had fierce ambition: 'Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal,' he once said.
The CEO of the Turner Broadcasting System surrounds himself with lots of talented people who specialize in different areas -- that way, he can tackle any problem. That strategy has worked well: he's worth roughly $2 billion.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.