"Shark Tank" investor Kevin O’Leary has a message for corporate America: hiring dyslexics can pay dividends for your business. He should know. The hard charging, say-it-like-it-is business mogul has struggled with the learning disability since he was a child.
In an emotional interview, O’Leary opened up to Yahoo Finance about overcoming his Dyslexia and why he views it as a “super power” that has helped him succeed in business. “It's the out of the box thinkers that make companies competitive, the crazy ones, the dyslexic ones,” he said.
O’Leary considers Dyslexia a “competitive weapon” for companies. “I would hire lots of dyslexics, because I know they can excel in certain things in a remarkable way above the average,” he said. “What [employers] want are functional employees, and my attitude about people that have Dyslexia is, they are super functional. They're myopically focused on it, because that's what gives them their own identity. And that's the thing that many employers have figured out.”
Growing up in Montreal in the 1960s, O’Leary said his learning disability shattered his confidence. “One of the things that happened to me, I'd be walking down the street, and all of a sudden, the universe would shift 90 degrees. And I was lost. I didn't know where I was," he said.
O’Leary, aka, “Mr Wonderful,” said he is grateful to his mother for enrolling him in an experimental class taught by child psychologists Dr. Marjorie Golic and Dr. Sam Rabinovich at McGill University.
“Professor Rabinovich used to say to me, ‘Look, you're the only person in your class that can read a book upside down in the mirror, you have superpowers, no one else can do that,” he said. O'Leary credits the educational therapists with making him a “ferocious” reader who also learned to excel in math.
O’Leary’s personal experience with Dyslexia is what inspired him to launch the educational software company Softkey Software Products in 1983.
“I was fascinated by what I went through,” he said. Starting the company “was me working on trying to solve this for parents, so they could do remedial work at home, just like I did in the clinic.”
O’Leary went on to rename the business The Learning Company and sold it to Mattel (MAT) in 1999 for a staggering $3.7 billion.
“Life is not just about math and reading. It's actually cognitive skills that matter in the workplace,” he said.
O’Leary’s not the only Shark on the ABC show with Dyslexia. Both Barbara Corcoran and Daymond John have also been diagnosed with the learning disability.
He also pointed to David Neeleman, the founder and former CEO of JetBlue airlines (JBLU) as an example of someone with Dyslexia who turned what many view as an obstacle into an opportunity.
“What worked for me was the never ending support my mother gave me," said O'Leary "but also that Sam Rabinovich would tell me every day, ‘oh, the Superman's back, the guy that carried a book upside down in a mirror.'"
His advice to parents with dyslexic children is to "work with them at a young age to make them understand that they're gifted. That's what they have, they have a super power."
Alexis Christoforous is an anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AlexisTVNews.