Today is the day in which I’m going to finally do something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time here on this blog: profile an interesting person with a disability each week. Without further ado, please meet my first guest, Rich Donovan.
Getting to Know You
- Your name:
Rich Donovan, CEO of Fifth Quadrant Analytics
- What’s your connection with disability?
I see disability as the single largest opportunity to create economic value facing the world today. Oh yeah…almost forgot….I happen to have CP.
- Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Wars…although Picard is certainly worthy of mention.
- If you could live in any other country for 2 years, where would you go?
I’d live on a sailboat large enough to visit all of countries with salty water.
- What dish would your bring to our community picnic potluck?
One that doesn’t break when dropped.
Now That We’ve Been Introduced…
- What do you do:
I create value for the economy by measuring value inherent in the disability market. Our company, Fifth Quadrant Analytics, assigns ratings to companies based on their actions in the disability market. We also marshal companies and governments to act with a focus on economic value, rather than just social value.
- How did you come to doing what you do? How has your career trajectory flowed?
I think my story begins with being silly enough to run for class president at Sacred Heart High School in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada…and actually winning. For me, that was a wake-up call in terms of what was possible. I attended the Shulich School of Business at York University where I studied finance and policy. I met some lifelong friends there, and got a rigorous education in understanding the fundamentals of accounting, something the school does very well. Got my first job at Citibank Canada in Credit Risk at 18 in my second summer at Schulich. I got that job through cold-calling, so yes, it does work.
Risk, as I learned then, is the basis for all finance and I tell people that if you want to understand money, understand risk. Our current financial crisis is based in a gross mis-handling of risk. I then ran for Federal Parliament prior to taking a job at the Ministry of Finance for the Province of Ontario assisting in managing the market risk tied to the $35B (at the time) provincial debt. Then something wonderful happened, I was admitted to the Class of 2002 at Columbia Business School.
My two years at CBS were incredible, especially the first 6 months. My colleagues, both students and professors, are the best at what they do in the world…and here was this ‘little guy from Newmarket’ trying to keep up. It was also my first time living alone…in Manhattan. Needless to say, it was intense. I still recall rolling into orientation introductions on my scooter thinking “Holy shit…I have no option here but to go full throttle and see what happens”. Of course; I didn’t know then that I would have lots of highly motivated friends around who had my back then…and still do today.
I was fortunate to have 6 offers of employment and chose to join Merrill Lynch as a trader on their Equities Portfolio desk. At Merrill, I managed a $6B Arbitrage book, helped manage the risk to the firm of capital commitment trades, and ended my career there in the internal hedge fund as a portfolio manager running $100mm in global macro strategies. While at Merrill, I founded an organization called Lime Connect, which is a vehicle for corporations to recruit people with disabilities at colleges and universities across North America.
Lime was a test to see if companies would embrace a market driven message and action around disability. The answer: YES. It got me thinking that recruiting was a small part of the value proposition for most companies acting in disability and it forced me to redefine disability as an emerging market of consumers with common demands and desires amongst those with disability and those who identify with them. I started to analyze the market as I would any other market as a portfolio manager and I was stunned by the size of the market – and the reality that NOBODY was looking at disability this way.
In March of 2008, I decided to leave Merrill to start what is now Fifth Quadrant Analytics. It started as a deep dive consulting firm with our anchor client- PepsiCo – joining on day 2 (still a client 5 years later). It has evolved into a rating agency and index provider that ties action in disability directly to share price through the Return on Disability analysis system. The public face of the system is here http://www.bloomberg.com/
- Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
Leading a team of professionals to spread the RoD system globally.
- Not to be morbid, but what do you want people to remember about you when you’ve gone?
He adjusted the conversation, such that others changed their actions to change their lives.
- Who or what inspires you?
Richard Branson – I’ve been using the line – “Create a new world of POSSIBLE, yet deliver on the PROBABLE”. This is essentially Branson’s bread and butter. He sells POSSIBLE in Virgin Galactic (I’m gonna haul your ass into space…someday), but he delivers a very commoditized product in airlines/mobile/bank – with a high PROBABILITY of satisfaction. I think the same can be applied to disability – paint a picture of a world where disability drives outsized value as the POSSIBLE goal, while delivering on the concrete steps taken today that have a high PROBABILITY of success. The key is to work your ass off to deliver on the POSSIBLE, while being comfortable with the fact that you aren’t certain of each step to get there.
The thousands of PwD I’ve met – These folks represent a new face for disability and 100% re-enforce that we are on the right track.
WD-40 – Yes, the lubricant. I keep a can on my desk. WD-40 stands for “Water Displacement, 40th Attempt” – meaning that there were 39 versions that failed before they got it right. Whenever I pause with second thought of failure or looking foolish, I think “WD-40” and trust my instinct to move forward. I’ve learned to enjoy looking foolish at first, because my instincts and process are usually right.
My father – I remember coming home one day in high school during student council elections feeling crushed when I quietly discovered the PTA President was overheard saying that no “cripple’ would be President of Student Council while she was PTA Head.
It was the first time I remember being ‘hated’ due to disability. My dad sat me down at the kitchen table and simply said “If you want to be on top, you must be prepared for others who will try to knock you off. The only way the prevent being knocked off, is to be the best”
Words I still live by, and am instilling in my 2.5 year-old son Oh, by the way, I won the election in a landslide and this is the first time I’ve told that story publicly. Curiously, I never met the PTA President…
- If you could say something to yourself in the past – that is, the you that was really struggling with something related to disability – what would you say?
I avoided all things disability prior to 2005. It represented low quality when I wanted to personify excellence. My good friends from Columbia convinced me that I had the skills, the experience and the moral obligation to change the brand of disability. I see 15 year old entrepreneurs today, and realize that I wish I started this earlier.
Oh, I would have been waaaaay more confident with women if I just let my disability be part of who I was…if you are 18 and just starting to date, my advice is…go get ‘em Tiger. To find the right partner takes finding lots of wrong partners (see WD-40 above)…but that can be fun too if you don’t tie your identity to rejection based on someone’s perception of your disability. My beautiful wife Jenn was the 54th woman I dated in 52 weeks in 2006. I wish my 18 year old self knew that…
- What do you like about your particular disability?
Everything. Man, if I could revel in it like a pig revels in mud, I would. I would not be who I am today without it. It’s taught me how to do almost everything differently, both physically and mentally. That brings new perspectives that most folks just don’t have, and those perspectives are valuable if properly packaged.
- Any one thing that you wish people would *get* about disability?
We’re not Jerry’s Kid’s anymore. Most of us have invisible disabilities that you would not know about unless we choose to bring you in. The ‘bell curve’ of disability is still publically dominated by a largely unorganized minority of condition-based orgs that are dinosaurs who do not represent the ‘average’ PWD. The biggest challenge facing PWD is dismantling that legacy by helping folks understand the PWD are currently your butcher, baker and candlestick maker or soon will be…you might even be sleeping with one, and not know it.
- What single piece of technology makes your life easier?
My King Keyboard, soon to be made obsolete when I can plug a chip into my brain and think to control any machine…then you guys are on my terms.
Connect with his company: Fifth Quadrant Analytics
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.