The Power of Dyslexia. Zero to $100m in 20 Year Rollercoaster.
Updated: Oct 20
Dyslexia has always been a huge part of my life, albeit I didn't realize this until I was 30 years of age. Growing up, school was tough, I always believed in myself and knew I had talent but my struggles with reading and spelling had a huge impact on my confidence and ultimately my success in the school system. I was a hard worker but there was no shaking the challenges I faced and this would have an impact in most of my classes where I would regularly receive learning support assistance. My English teacher suggested a scribe be used for my exams in 4th grade, which I politely rejected despite the advice of my parents. My struggles were never diagnosed as Dyslexia at school (secondary school between 1992 to 1998 in Scotland UK)
Despite my struggles during school, I remained ambitious and surprisingly confident in my own ability. Friends began to talk about going to University and I know that attending a good university would open doors for me later in life. My options were very limited because my expected grade for English was a 4 (on a scale of 1-7) in Standard Grade and I was unable to sit the Higher grade in English. I applied for 'clearing' places at local universities whereby you may get in if there are unfilled spaces and I eventually received a place on a new course titled Law and Management at the Robert Gordons University in Aberdeen. Following the successful completion of 2 years, Aberdeen University accepted my transfer request into Business Studies where I graduated in 2001 with an MA Hons Degree.
I started attending graduate job fairs and an advertisement for the Lidl's supermarket graduate programme caught my eye. This position was paying substantially more then others and this was very much to my liking. 4 x 20 hour trips on the train from Aberdeen to Weston Super Mare saw me being offered the position. It was this process that made me realize I was good under pressure and could read people well. I prepared well, but it was my delivery in the room which got me the job. Long story short, the job wasn't what I had hoped and I moved back to Aberdeen
Starting my own website selling clothing and ran this for 12 months would be my next venture, before selling and moving into a sales position for Crombie Office Supplies where I spent an enjoyable 2 years. An opening for a Business Graduate at Subsea 7, a large global offshore contracting business was advertised in the local paper and I managed to secure a place. I remember clearly parking my car outside on my first day and being physically sick in the car park through the fear of my reading or spelling challenges being exposed. I quickly adapted to life in Subsea 7 in the Tendering team and loved chasing large contract awards. The Gradate programme rotated me though the organization and gave me a fantastic foundation for my future career. I slowly overcame my fear of computes linked to TVs in meeting rooms (where others could see my poor spelling) and started to appreciate the differences in the way I thought, regularly making valuable contributions to the team through my ability to see the bigger picture.
Now 28 years old I was confident in my ability to add value, however I still did not know that my challenges, but more importantly many of my strengths were directly linked to being Dyslexic.
I married in 2007 and not long after, we were both offered opportunities to move to Dubai. Claire moved with her then current employer and I moved to a far smaller privately owned Company. It was during the next 5 years where I would grow and learn the most. This new smaller company added a lot of additional responsibility and a far wider job remit, and we were expanding fast. I spent a lot of time traveling the globe to negotiate large contract awards. During this period and on a flight to Bangkok, I bought a book in the airport, "The Gift of Dyslexia" and at the age of 30, after facing daily challenges all of my life, the penny dropped. I have dyslexia, It was like the book had been written about me. There was a massive feeling of relief, although nobody had ever said this to me, my challenges with reading and spelling had always been an indicator of a lack of intelligence and that disappeared overnight.
I found myself excelling in the organization, I thought differently to others, I was good with people, could negotiate well, close a deal and execute strategy and my reputation was growing in the industry. I had removed most of the fear and was harnessing the value I could create through the gifts of dyslexia. During this period, I was promoted from Tendering Manager through to The General Manager looking after vessels valued at over 1 billion USD and delivering $450m in annual revenues. I had gone from having a fear to enjoying the visual aspect of using whiteboards to explain my thinking with complete disregard for spelling errors.
It wasn't until my daughter was born in 2010 and began to show early signs of dyslexia that I started to do more research on the topic. Sophie is a phenomenal child, she gives her all at everything she turns her hand to. The biggest difference between her schooling and my experience is that we have diagnosed Dyslexia early and myself and Claire spend a lot of time ensuring she retains her bags of confidence and fully appreciates that yes, Dyslexia causes challenges but it delivers a lot more in the way of strengths. Sophie's confidence levels at this young age is one of our proudest achievements so far as parents.
Fast forward to 2007, and I was approached to join a smaller Technology company in Houston. The opportunity was to be the Vice President Commercial with a view to becoming the Managing Director within 2 years (where I remain today). The company had a revenue of $17m USD and the remit was to grow the company quickly and substantially to allow the private shareholders to exit the business. We successfully grew revenue to $95m and EBITDA to $15m within 3 years which allowed the previous owners to exit the business on very favorable terms.
So what are my key learnings along this eventful journey?
Fear is the biggest barrier to personnel growth for those with Dyslexia. I could have easily turned back round and drove home on that first day at Subsea7. It was hugely intimidating and the only reason I didn't turn round is because I knew that would be a missed opportunity and ultimately a future regret.
Dyslexia causes individuals huge challenges (particularly early in life and even more so if it hasn't been diagnosed) but presents far more gifts. Seeing the big picture, reading people, presentation skills, empathy, decision making, drive and determination are all key strengths that have helped me stand out from the crowd and achieve my goals in life.
Confidence at a young age. I am asked a lot about how we help Sophie and what advice I provide to others. Most parents want to discuss reading or spelling strategies but my advice is always the same, focus on their confidence, find things they are good at and educate them on the many different gifts of Dyslexia. Sophie excels at horse riding, swimming and golf and when she demonstrates any dyslexic qualities, we are always quick to highlight that gift. Sophie turns 11 next week and she is more confident today that ever before but we still have a long way to go.
The Skills of Dyslexia are in high demand. It is particularly pleasing to see how many large globally corporations now value the dyslexic way of thinking. I found this article by Ernest and Young (EY) of particular interest where they outline the importance of Dyslexic thinking in shaping the future of the global corporation.
The following 2 graphics summarize the strengths and future demand perfectly for me:
Being dyslexic can be a huge gift, but we must all overcome the fear to be able to embrace the benefits these gifts can provide. The reality is that I struggle with reading and spelling to this day but the strengths of dyslexia far outweigh the challenges and I certainty wouldn't want to change because these gifts have played a huge part in what I have achieved in life so far.
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