Famous people

Successful Entrepreneurs With Learning and Attention Issues

By Amanda Morin

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Many successful business people say their learning and attention issues contributed to their success. Learn more about some of these creative entrepreneurs.

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Daymond John, entrepreneur
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Daymond John, investor and founder of FUBU

John is on a mission—beyond finding the most promising start-up companies on the hit show Shark Tank. The branding expert wants to build awareness and understanding of dyslexia, which both he and his daughter have. John sees his dyslexia as part of his success story: “Having dyslexia has been a gift. It taught me about adversity at an early age.”

Richard Branson
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Richard Branson, business mogul

Richard Branson had a hard time in school because of his dyslexia. But he actually credits dyslexia for the success of his company! The Virgin Group has succeeded in many areas from mobile phones to music to travel. Branson would look at and listen to ad materials rather than just read them. He says this made it easier to decide if a campaign would make a connection with the public.

Portrait of Reyn Guyer
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Reyn Guyer, inventor

Reyn Guyer is a game whiz and creator of the Nerf ball. Guyer didn’t know until well into adulthood that dyslexia was causing his struggles with reading. It was only when his daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia that Guyer realized he had it, too. He was inspired to start Winsor Learning, an organization devoted to finding innovative ways to teach reading.

Barbara Corcoran, real estate mogul
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Barbara Corcoran, real-estate mogul

Barbara Corcoran has built a $5 billion empire in real estate. She’s also an investor in (and star of) Shark Tank. So where did all that ambition come from? Dyslexia was a driving force, according to Corcoran. “It made me more creative, more social and more competitive. There’s a great freedom to being dyslexic.” The key, she says, is to not let school struggles or grades define you.

Ingvar Kamprad
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Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA

Flärdfull. Smörboll. Did you ever shop at IKEA and wonder about those intriguing Swedish names? You may have thought it was just a quirky sales gimmick, but it’s not. Ingvar Kamprad, the company’s founder, says his dyslexia makes it hard for him to remember product codes. So he created a system to associate product names with a visual image. It’s worked well—both for Kamprad and the company.

Paul Orfalea
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Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s

Paul Orfalea says his ADHD and dyslexia were “learning opportunities.” And he credits both with his success in building a business empire. He says curiosity and distractibility helped him see what was going on in all different areas of Kinko’s (now FedEx Office). He feels that he was able to focus on the big picture instead of small details. Seeing the big picture allowed him to build the printing and copying business.

Charles Schwab
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Charles Schwab, businessman and investor

Charles Schwab, founder of the Charles Schwab Corp., credits his success to a learning issue. And he didn’t even know he had it until he was 40! When his teenage son was diagnosed with dyslexia, Schwab realized his own trouble with reading was caused by dyslexia, too. But dyslexia also gave him some amazing out-of-the box problem-solving skills. Now the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation support research on learning issues. The foundation also runs, an interactive website for kids with learning issues.

David Neeleman
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David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue

David Neeleman always struggled in school. He found it hard to read, did poorly on tests, and often felt “stupid.” But his parents encouraged him to focus on what truly interested him: planes. He went on to launch and lead several airlines, most notably JetBlue Airways. Neeleman says his ADHD has given him the creativity and focus he needs to think out of the box. He just makes sure he’s surrounded with good people who can help him stay organized and on task.

Diane Swonk
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Diane Swonk, economist and author

Diane Swonk is a top-level, go-to economist. She was the youngest president of the National Association for Business Economics. She also has dyslexia, which impacts her ability to do math. (She reverses and transposes numbers.) How does someone become a respected economist if she struggles with numbers? Swonk found ways to use her strengths. And along the way she proved that the teachers who called her “lazy” were wrong. Swonk is the author of The Passionate Economist: Finding the Power and Humanity Behind the Numbers.

Tommy Hilfiger
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Tommy Hilfiger, fashion designer

Tommy Hilfiger says that a big part of his success is the way he thinks. And the differences in Hilfiger’s thinking are partly due to dyslexia. The fashion icon didn’t go to college. But he credits his creative mind for helping him stand out from the competition. He also says that he still has to concentrate hard to read.

Ben Foss
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Ben Foss, inventor of the Intel Reader

Dyslexia created challenges for Ben Foss in school. His mother read his textbooks to him. But dyslexia didn’t stop Foss from earning a dual degree—a JD/MBA—from Stanford University. The experience inspired Foss to create the Intel Reader, a mobile text reader that takes a photo of text and reads it aloud. Foss is also founder of Headstrong Nation, an organization serving kids and adults with dyslexia.

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Elected Officials With Dyslexia

These elected officials didn’t let reading issues get in the way of their political dreams. In fact, having dyslexia often played a role in their success. Learn more about their challenges and accomplishments.

10 Oscar Winners With Dyslexia

Cher, Whoopi Goldberg, Steven Spielberg and Brian Grazer are just a few of many Oscar winners with dyslexia. Joining them are these 10 other Academy Award winners. They prove that reading issues don’t have to get in the way of success. Learn about these Oscar-winning actors, directors and more.

About the Author

Portrait of Amanda Morin

Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

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