JetBlue founder speaks out about his ADD

June 12, 2008, 10:19 PM UTC

When I was in my mid-thirties, I diagnosed myself with ADD. My mom sent me a book called Driven to Distractionby Ed Hallowell. My little brother had been diagnosed and she said, “I think you might want to read this book because I think you may have the same thing.” So I didn’t read the book, obviously, because I couldn’t do that.

But eventually I did, and there were criteria for several different characteristics of someone with ADD. When I got through reading, it was this huge epiphany for me. I thought, wow, that’s it.

I struggled a lot in school. I really had a hard time with standardized tests, staying focused and absorbing information from a written page into my brain. It was tough. I thought I was stupid, that I didn’t have what the other kids had. In third grade, sitting inside at recess, not being able to go out, because I couldn’t get my work done. That was difficult.

But my parents were always positive. They always tried to get me to look on the bright side and tried to let me know that I had other talents that maybe would be better than just reading something on a page.

So I chose to speak about my ADD, especially when I got back to New York. We live in Connecticut, and the parents were so demanding of these kids. I came up with all these names of schools, Bucknell and Williams — all these schools I’d never even heard of before that were the end-all be-all for these parents. If these kids didn’t get into these schools, they were going to be failures. And I said, well, timeout. A lot of people dropped out of college because they had other talents and went on to be greater success.

After I started talking publicly, Dr. Hallowell heard about it and actually called me and said, “Do you want to be diagnosed?” I said, “Yes.” He came down and we had an interview for a few hours. On his way out the door I said, “Doctor?” He said, “Oh, yeah, big time.”

So I’ve been diagnosed. I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

David Neeleman founded JetBlue Airways (JBLU) in 1999 and built it into America’s eighth largest airline. He was pushed out by the JetBlue board in May 2007 after a Valentine’s Day ice storm exposed JetBlue’s management and customer service weaknesses. He’s now busy starting an airline, Azul, in Brazil.