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For week ended August 08, 1999 Posted 29 Aug 1999

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(LDS) Exec Credits his Genius to ADD

Summarized by Kent Larsen

(LDS) Exec Credits his Genius to ADD
New York NY Post 3Aug99 L4
By Jennifer Tung

LDS Businessman David Neeleman, 39, may seem rude, but its just the way he is. He says he has Attention Deficit Disorder, but he won't treat it. "I have this fear that if I take it [Ritalin], my creativity will be out of the way," says Neeleman. And given his level of success, why should he?

Neeleman's story is remarkable. Neeleman was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil where his father was bureau chief for UPI. His family moved to Salt Lake City when Neeleman was five, and there he struggled in school. "Every teacher would say, 'Let's hold this kid back.'" he recalls. "I was a daydreamer. I'd look out the window, and next thing I knew, I'd missed a new [lesson]. I remember sitting at recess trying to figure out how to add and subtract on my own. But my third-grade teacher said to my mom, 'If this guy could grow up and hire himself an assistant, he could be tremendously successful. He has these flashes of brilliance, but he just doesn't get his work done.'" (according to Neeleman, this is a classic description of ADD).

While serving a mission for the LDS Church, Neeleman experienced a lot of success, converting many people and realizing for the first time that he could succeed in spite of the difficulties he had in school. "That's the first time in my life that I excelled and determined that I had leadership skills," he says.

After his mission, he dropped out of school and opened a travel agency before joining Utah-based Morris Air Corporation in 1984. He rose to become Morris' Chief Executive by 1988 and ended up selling the airline to Southwest in late 1993 for $129 million, of which he pocketed $20 million.

The sale included a 5-year non-complete clause, and Neeleman got an executive job with Southwest. He only lasted 5 months in the position. "I was on the highest level, and I'd be sitting in a meeting and blurt out, 'Why do you do it this way?' I'd just barge into someone's office to tell them [my ideas], and that was not company protocol. After that, I thought, What is wrong with me?"

It was at this point that his mother gave him a copy of "Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood," by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey. After reading it, Neeleman realized that he had ADD. "There was a self-exam listing 20 traits of people with ADD, and I had 19 that were acute," he says. While professionals suggest that Neeleman should see a specialist because so many other conditions have similar symptoms, he never has because he doesn't see the need. "I knew I had it. It was me to a T. Also, members of my family had been diagnosed."

So Neeleman and his staff have developed ways of coping with the disorder. He gives new employees a list of behaviors and says, "If I ever do this, don't be offended."

Now that the non-compete agreement with Southwest has expired, Neeleman is back in the airline business. He has raised $130 milion to start JetBlue Airways, a discount airline based at New York's JFK airport. The airline will start operations in January, aiming to charge 65% less than other airlines and serve 44 cities. And he and his family have moved to a 3-acre homestead in New Cannan, Connecticut.

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information