The following article is one of a series on Ability Partners from MDI, a grantee partner of Johnson Scholarship Foundation, It is shared with permission.
During National Disability Employment Awareness Month, MDI is saluting people who’ve stepped ahead, above and beyond in the name of equitable opportunity and employment for people with disabilities.
Meet Dave, CEO, Arrowhead Medical
I’m an entrepreneur, and Arrowhead is a small business with just 11 employees—but it’s a complex company that competes against billion-dollar organizations. And we come out on top—even during the pandemic. Our advantage is that we have people who get it done, whatever the job is—and then our growth comes about naturally. We’re able to be honest with our customers, and put heart into creating an ethical path in doing business.
I’ve learned a lot running my own companies. I know now that with perseverance, you can get through anything. And that the small stuff in a business is really critical to success. You can’t ever overlook anything that could be done better. I’ve learned to have empathy for both my employees and my customers. When a leader doesn’t have empathy, that’s a bad path for your business. And also how important it is to hire people with heart, who want to learn and get it done—that’s critical for growth.
I was there when my goddaughter was born. I’ve watched her mature over her life, dealing with life with a disability, and now she’s 34, works independently, lives in assisted living, joined the Y. It’s made me look at people very differently than most, because I can see who they are as an individual. I always look for the heart in them.
So because of my relationships with my goddaughter and friends with kids with disabilities, I realized I could use my business to do some good and hire people who were truly seeking an opportunity to work—and for reasons bigger than a paycheck. If you can become more open in how you can help individuals who just need a smidge more patience or support, your business can benefit greatly, and in ways you wouldn’t expect.
Hiring people with disabilities requires thinking ahead a bit. You look at an individual and see where their talents are. You sort out how to help them develop the skillsets that will fit their duties. And after that, they can develop into roles that lead to more responsibility, setting goals for when they’re looking for more. It benefits everyone at my business, helping all of us feel like we’re growing in everything we do—not just building the bottom line but doing something more.
When I met Tovino, I thought, he’s got a big man’s body, and a big heart that goes with it. When you think about your own career and your path from a first job, we all had a little help from a wonderful manager. And that’s what I wanted for Tovino: someone who works together with him, helps him hone in on his duties and get better at those—and I think it’s worked out really well.
His ability to grow and develop has certainly been seen in his time at Arrowhead. Now when I put Tovino on a project, it’s not just that I want him to be successful as an employee. I want him to be a successful man, and have the abilities he develops help him move forward with his life.
Meet Tovino, Operations 1, Arrowhead Medical
My choices have lead me to where I am today. I learned about a company called MDI through school. I heard they employed people with disabilities. So, I applied for a job at MDI – and got hired! I gained experience folding boxes and keeping things organized. After a while I was ready for a new challenge. MDI helped me get a job at Arrowhead Medical. When I started working at Arrowhead, I was excited to start something new, but I was worried people would look down on me, or not be good enough for the job. But Arrowhead’s the best.
I [at Arrowhead] put stuff together, I deliver to customers, and I get to meet new people. I’m learning a lot about tools, which is exciting because down the road, I want to go to college and be a mechanic—that’s my goal. I don’t have a favorite thing about working there or a favorite person—everything is my favorite. Thanks to these opportunities, I now have hope and the support to make my dreams happen.
Read the entire series on Ability Partners at this link.
MDI is a non-profit social enterprise manufacturer that provides inclusive employment to individuals with diverse abilities.