Getting to Know You
- Your name: Rich Donovan
- What’s your connection with disability? Total + I Am PWD
- Star Trek or Star Wars? Star Wars
- If you could live in any other country for 2 years, where would you go?
China – so much opportunity for growth while avoiding western mistakes.
- What dish would your bring to our community picnic potluck?
Ribs – the process is messy, but the result is worth it.
Now That We’ve Been Introduced…
- What do you do: I run a research and investment company that Translates Different into Value for global businesses, governments and investors. Disability is our muse.
- How did you come to doing what you do? How has your career trajectory flowed?
I started my career with Citibank in Risk Management. I found my way to Columbia Business School and a job as a Portfolio Manager with Merrill Lynch where I managed $6B in various capacities. While at Merrill, I founded Lime – a non-profit recruiting firm connecting PWD to great firms – and realized that the world was massively ‘under-valuing’ disability as a market. Over the last 8 years under the Return on Disability brand, we built the data, process, and tools that our customers need to generate value in the disability market. We are now prepping to apply our model to women, race, LBGTQ and other non-traditional markets.
- Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
Having proven a model in business and investing where serving customers ‘outside the norm’ leads to out-performance for investors and better lives for people, our business is profitable, on every continent, and in the Inc. 5000.
- Not to be morbid, but what do you want people to remember about you when you’ve gone?
He influenced others to change their actions to change their lives.
- Who or what inspires you?
When there is clear value in someone (or a billion someones) that most cannot see, but strikes me as obvious. Opportunities like that are not supposed to exist, yet here we are. If that doesn’t excite you, check your pulse.
- 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 used to really struggle with the disability “community” – these groups that claim to represent PWD, mostly condition-based charities. Their messages, agendas, and results did not match (even a little bit) the data underlying PWD that our research was uncovering. After sitting on a few boards and trying to work with a few of them, I realized the total disconnect between the “community” and the market of PWD. The groups are stuck on a ‘funding treadmill’ where their survival does not allow them to take the risk required for change to occur. Ironically, the ones that avoid change are going to go away. Real change in disability (and we need/want it) will come from outside the “community” via intentional disruption. I wish I understood this more clearly 10 years ago. I’ve been trying to help the “Community” change, when I should have been disruptive from day 1. Ironically, most would say that I’ve been very disruptive – but this was me being ‘diplomatic’. Today, I’m 100% focused on market demand, not “community” agenda.
- What do you like about your particular disability?
I’m told that I have CP. It causes me to be very deliberate about most things I do and say. To compete and deliver at the highest levels as an Entrepreneur, a husband, and a dad I have to do things that 80% of the world just won’t consider, let alone act on. That gives me an incredible advantage over most folks. I do things better because my process is deeper and higher quality. I’m a brutal prioritizer – so I do fewer things, at a level of quality that few get to. That is driven by my membership card as PWD.
- Any one thing that you wish people would *get* about disability?
It’s large. It’s normally distributed like everything that is large. In that distribution are the same demands, hopes, and dreams as every person on the planet. If that was well understood by brands and governments – backed by data – PWD are re-valued in 3 years.
- What single piece of technology makes your life easier?
I’m picking 2 – 1 not AT, one AT:
My Bloomberg API – I can pull any financial data from anywhere in the world to our Excel models. I cannot imagine life without it.
My King Keyboard – Built in 1983, it’s a large keyboard with 1-inch diameter keys. Kinda pathetic that in 2016 I can’t find a better solution. I CANNOT WAIT FOR BRAIN TO COMPUTER INTERFACE – my productivity will explode. By the way, if you have a working King Keyboard lying around, I’ll pay you cash for it. I’m down to 2 working keyboards, and if they break, I’ll be forced to invent a working brain-to-computer interface, and that won’t be pretty.
Where else can we find you online?
- Website: www.rod-group.com
- Book of Face: https://www.facebook.com/returnondisability/
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/the-return-on-disability-group
- Twitter: @richdonovannyc
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.