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,