ADHD Assets: Making a Difference

November 15, 2010

Some very successful people think of their ADHD as a tremendous asset. David Neeleman, CEO of JetBlue Airways, for example, credits ADHD with giving him the creativity that helped him develop an electronic ticketing system and pioneer several discount airlines.

So, when I read a recent Boston Globe article on Billy Starr, the founder of the Pan Mass Challenge, I instantly thought of many of my compellingly interesting, non-cookie cutter clients and their strengths.

 You might also find it interesting, so I’ve attached it. (For those of you want to scan, I bolded the parts that made me wonder about ADHD, and took a few sentences out for brevity.)

 Pedalers of Hope  Boston Globe, November 12, 2010

The older I get, the more I realize how little I know, which is exactly what I was thinking as a guy named Billy Starr described the annual event he founded and runs known as the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge.

I had heard of it. Everyone’s heard of it. It’s a bike ride, a big one, in which cyclists in Spandex solicit money from friends to pedal unimaginable distances over a couple of days.

And then these maddeningly cheerful people give the proceeds to a worthy cause.

For the record, he looks like his name, with a mop of sandy hair parted Pete Rose-style in the middle and an athlete’s build that makes him look a decade younger than his 58 years. He is in constant motion, arms flailing, head bobbing, even when he thinks he’s sitting still. The guy rides his bike up Mount Washington on a Sunday with less effort than another man might lug a bowl of Brigham’s ice cream to the couch to watch the Patriots on TV.

His Pan-Mass Challenge headquarters is located in an utterly charmless single-story building in a generic Needham office park.

Things get worse inside. There were cords everywhere. The staff apparently collects trash for a hobby. There’s neither reason nor rhythm to how desks are scattered. The place makes the Globe newsroom seem like the Four Seasons Dorchester.

Billy Starr is proud of this, too. In his separate cinderblock office, I ask him how the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC, in the lingo of those around it) compares to, say, the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, or the Walk for Hunger.

He looks stunned.

“We raise more money in Massachusetts than all of them combined,’’ he said.

Where do you rank in terms of the biggest events like this in the country?

Now he looks hurt. “We’re the biggest in the world.’’

… tonight, at Fenway Park, he will present a check for $33 million to the Jimmy Fund and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the entire proceeds from the August ride.

… the PMC’s total contribution to Dana-Farber to a mind-boggling $303 million in cold, hard, lovable cash over 31 years. Dana-Farber is the exclusive recipient of PMC money.

To put this in perspective, you would basically need a charity with $650 million in assets — nearly the size of the Boston Foundation — to reliably spin off $33 million a year in grants. And that charity is going to have a lot more than the half-dozen staffers that the PMC does — and a more expensive office.

Dana-Farber’s chief executive, Edward J. Benz Jr., is unequivocal in the importance of the PMC to his institution. “We couldn’t give the care we want to give, or have the cutting-edge research we want to conduct, if it wasn’t for the PMC,’’ he told me.

What began in 1980 with a group of 36 friends raising $10,000 has turned into 5,000 cyclists raising money from 230,000 contributors to ride as many as 190 miles over two days, all of it staffed by 3,100 volunteers. Starr founded the ride after his mother, cousin, and uncle died of cancer in the 1970s.…

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com

 P.S. If you have ADHD, I hope this story helps you recognize and appreciate the gifts of your biology.  And, for spouses and partners, please take a moment to recall what attracted you to the high-intensity, creative, different-minded man or woman you are with. Wouldn’t it be great if Billy Starr’s partner (if he has one, I didn’t research that!) was able to recognize how much his temperament (maybe ADHD, I don’t know) fueled the success of this amazing project.

Szifra@BirkeConsulting.com

www.BirkeConsulting.com

www.SzifraBirke.com

978-446-9600

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