Did ADD help Chris Burch in billion-dollar company success?

A friend of mine had me thinking lately about whether something he has "suffered with" since childhood might actually be a costly "gift."  His name is Chris Burch, and he is known for his almost incredible ability to create, identify, invest in and develop consumer products with huge brand appeal.  They include brands like C-Wonder, Tory Burch (which he started with his ex-wife), Voss Water, Powermat charging systems, Jawbone blue-tooth and audio equipment, Monika Chiang clothing and Poppin office supplies.

Any one of these businesses would have been a once-in-a-lifetime success for most people, but Chris seems to have an uncanny--really quite peculiar--knack for hitting grand slam home runs.  

This would be remarkable, in and of itself.  But it is even more extraordinary given the fact that Chris was diagnosed with severe attention deficit disorder and has needed treatment for it at various points in his life.  His parents were actually told that his wandering mind probably meant they should keep their hopes for his future limited.

"I felt pretty defeated," Chris has told me, about that time in his life.  "I was essentially being told I couldn't think straight, that there was something broken in my brain."

Chris muddled through school.  His self-esteem suffered, partly because his grades were low and partly because his teachers' expectations of him were low, too.  One of the only things that sustained him was that he was good at sports.

It wasn't until college that Chris let himself act on a thought about business.  This one seemed to hold his attention longer than the few seconds that most thoughts did.  He found that his mind kept wandering back, in fact, to the observation that college kids were falling in love with preppy sweaters.  And he decided to find a factory that would sell him lots of them, so he could peddle them door-to-door, for extra cash.

It worked.  Not only did the sweaters sell well on his college campus, they sold on other campuses he visited.  And the energy and momentum of the business seemed to steady him.

"It was as though my mind was working like radar, with that lighted line constantly circling the map, but glowing very brightly whenever it happened upon thoughts about preppy sweaters.  So I followed that light wherever it led," Chris said. 

Chris' "radar" led him to hire other reps to sell his sweaters on college campuses across the country and then to sell sweaters and other clothing items in bulk to retail stores (not just door-to-door).  Years later, with business booming, he sold his company--then called Eagle's Eye--for about $60 million.

"Once I learned to trust the fact that I should let my mind wander until it settled on something extraordinary to hold my usually very, very short attention span, I was home free," Burch has told me.  "I started to think of my attention deficit disorder as a gift, not an illness."

The rest is fast becoming the stuff of business lore.  Chris Burch's current holdings in clothing companies are easily worth more than $1 billion.  And his mind keeps "wandering" to new ideas that some of the wealthiest people in the world scramble to invest in.

I know that people suffer greatly from attention deficit disorder (ADD).  I know it has to be treated aggressively, in many cases, to control its debilitating symptoms.  And, yet, I think it’s worth it for anyone diagnosed with ADD to think about Chris Burch and wonder whether they might look for what in the world actually does hold their attention--then pursue that idea or dream like the North Star.

Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team. Dr. Ablow can be reached at info@keithablow.com