A Quarter of CEOs are Dyslexic, Says Cisco’s John Chambers

The computer giant's executive chairman shares how dealing with the disability helped him become a successful leader.

John Chambers, alongside Richard Branson and Charles Schwab, count as some the most well-known business people who suffer from dyslexia. But they’re not particularly special cases.

“Twenty-five percent of CEOs are dyslexic, but many don’t want to talk about it,” Chambers, who was Cisco’s CEO between 1995 and 2005, told students at MIT last Thursday.

It’s not clear where Chambers sourced his claim, but the proportion appears to gel with various pieces of research conducted on the topic. A study published in 2007 by London’s Cass Business School, for instance, found 35% of entrepreneurs in the U.S. showed signs of dyslexia, compared to 20% in Britain.

Dyslexia is a learning disability understood to be caused by wayward wiring in the brain. Sufferers experience difficulty reading and writing, but also can be brilliant in some other areas, possibly due to overcoming the hardships they faced in school.


Qualities can include the ability to delegate, speak clearly, solve problems and persevere, according to the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity.

“I learned to read backward,” Chambers said. “I give no speeches: I just do an outline in my head.”

He also recounted having a teacher who helped him understand how to make his weaknesses a strength. “You can out-execute if you combine raw IQ with emotional IQ,” Chambers said.

His experiences are encouraging for the 19% of Americans who identify as having a disability. Here are some other business leaders who manage the affliction:

—Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad: Much of the innovative design that makes the Swedish ready-to-assemble furniture giant so special has been attributed to Kamprad’s dyslexia.

—Corcoran Group founder Barbara Corcoran: The New York real estate mogul and “Shark Tank” star claims her dyslexia made her more creative, more sociable and more competitive.

—Kinko’s founder Paul Ofalia: Also an ADHD sufferer, the copying king said always getting Cs in school taught him to assess risk and reward faster than his A-grade peers.

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