Episode Flyer for #85: Uniting The Disability Community
Episode Flyer for #85: Uniting The Disability Community

Guest: Richard Schatzberg      Guest Title: Chief Commercial Officer

Date: December 6, 2017            Guest Company: NeST Technologies              

[Intro Music]

Debra Ruh:           Hello everyone, and welcome to Human Potential At Work. I’m excited today about my guest, because he’s been a friend of mine for a really long time. He’s also been a mentor to me for a long time, and very, very proud that he recently joined my team as the Chairman of my Board of Advisors. Today, our guest is Richard Schatzberg, and he’s joining us live from New Jersey. Welcome to the program, Richard.

Richard S:              Thanks so much, Deb. Looking forward to it.

Debra Ruh:           Richard, you and I have known each other a long time, and I’m blessed to know your family and your lovely wife Jen, who is a health professional and I’m looking forward to having her on the program I believe in September or October, so it’ll be a family affair. I still have to get your two boys and your dog … no, just kidding but thank you, seriously for joining.

Richard S:              The dog might be the most interesting one of all of us.

Debra Ruh:           That’s right, that’s right because she really is a cutie, that Gracie. But the reason why I wanted you to join us today is really to talk a little bit about what you and I feel is some needed disruption in our space. I know that you, like myself have been part of the disability community as parents, and as a business owner for many, many years. You also are part of many other very successful businesses and you’ve done a lot in this field. The first thing I want you to do, Rich, is I want you to tell the audience more about you and the different work that you’ve done, and why do you care about this community that you’re part of, and your son’s part of as well.

Richard S:              Well by way of background, I’ve been involved in business, mostly technology businesses, almost exclusively technology businesses, for a long time. That, and our family situation is what led me to initially come and look at the disabilities community, and the intersection of those two things was really my belief that this, and this goes back many, many years ago now, but continued even today, that these waves of technology innovation can significantly and positively impact the community of people with disabilities from a community standpoint, from an education standpoint, and from a workplace standpoint.

                                    I believe that more than ever today. In fact there are things that are going on today that I think will truthfully create the kind of change that we’ve all been forecasting, and all but hoping for, for a long time. The truth is that as long as you and I have been friends, there’s a lot about the disabilities community that has stayed the same, and I say that unpleasantly. I don’t mean that in a good way, in some cases. For sure the fragmentation of the market place is something that we as a community will have always dealt with, and just for those people out there, you have the four basic sectors and some will say there’s more, but in my mind you’ve got the blind and low vision community, you’ve got the deaf and hard of hearing community, those with the cognitive disabilities and those with physical and mobility disabilities.

                                    Within each of those you have incredible sub-fragmentation. Within cognitive you have the autistic spectrum and within the autistic spectrum you have this very wide spectrum of … along the autistic spectrum a wide spectrum of things. Within that you have this massive fragmentation, in many cases you have a long history of non-profits that are involved in sub-sections, or they maybe large non-profits geared towards the blind and low vision community, or much smaller sub-segments of the population. This fragmentation has always I think in my mind been something that has in many cases held back the community. Because when you look at the global population of people with disabilities and you include the aging [inaudible 00:04:35] population for that, and you include the family members and the care givers, you’re talking about anywhere between one out of every five, maybe one out of every six people on the planet.

                                    That is a massive global population, and the power of the community is in those numbers, yet there has always been the breakdown of that community through this fragmentation, and sub-fragmentation and I hope that some innovation here, some advances in technology, and you and I have talked about this many, many times, social media is so critical to breaking the barriers down and creating a community that is reachable. I say reachable because one of the things that I have always struggled with, and I say this in the best of lights, I don’t mean to say that the non-profits are not doing great work. They’re doing amazing work, but the view of this community from a charitable standpoint, or from a corporate social responsibility standpoint it’s all wonderful, but that doesn’t advance the community the way we really need it to.

                                    What we really need is for businesses and governments and corporations etc. to view this population of people on a global basis, as a population, a market segment that is reachable and that has incredibly powerful attributes. What’s amazing about the global community of people with disabilities, this one billion, 1.2 billion population is that it covers all age spectrums, it covers all ethnicities, it covers all geographic areas or age groups it-

Debra Ruh:           All religions, all genders … yeah we go across to everything, and yet … why don’t you talk just for a few minutes about when we reconnected?

Richard S:              About two years ago, three years ago we reconnected in a much more substantial way, and what lead to that was I was involved in a foundation called Runway Of Dreams. Runway Of Dreams was founded by an amazing woman by the name of Mindy Scheier, she’s from my hometown of Livingston, New Jersey. I read about her, and about what she was trying to accomplish in the fashion industry and we met for coffee one day and learned about what she was trying to do, and my wife and I decided to get involved. What she was trying to do was craft a … for lack of a better word an adaptive clothing line, in particular for kids with disabilities. Kids with disabilities, especially physical disabilities have challenges with clothing. In getting the clothing on, clothing that fits them correctly, clothing that can be manipulated around prosthetics or around braces, etc.

                                    I worked with Mindy and others in the area, and we actually connected with Tommy Hilfiger, and we’re sitting around the room with Gary Sheinbaum and his team. Gary is the CEO of Tommy Hilfiger and he said, “I love the idea, I just really want to be a part of this.” Had great vision and courage in doing that and saying that. The challenge was that his group really didn’t understand how to reach this community, what a shock given the conversation we just had right? I turned to Gary in that meeting and said … and John Kemp was with us in that meeting, a friend of everybody’s in this community and-

Debra Ruh:           He was recently on the program and boy the audience love John Kemp, just like we all do. He’s an amazing [inaudible 00:08:33].

Richard S:              Who doesn’t love John Kemp right?

Debra Ruh:           I know, I know.

Richard S:              Just the best of the best.

Debra Ruh:           I agree.

Richard S:              We were all in that room together and I turned to Gary Sheinbaum and said, “Why would your team know how to market? That’s our responsibility.” I was lucky enough that our friendship had stayed through the years, and I reached out to you and several other people, Joyce Bender and other great friends in this amazing community, and asked for help in promoting this line of adaptive clothing. That you were amazingly kind to offer your assistance for free, so although you say I’ve done a lot for you, you have likewise done for me. What was amazing about that initiative is I think, if I have the dates right, the entire line was sold in North America via Tommy.com, so it was all online. There were none of these clothing in the stores.

                                    That adds another layer of complexity, we have to educate the population not only about this new line of clothing, but about how to get it. You were great in helping us, and using your incredible social media prowess to help us get the word out, and that line launched on February … I think 22nd of 2016 and within almost a week, the line was completely sold-out. It was a credit to you and your great team, a credit and but mostly, and I don’t mean this in any way to diminish the efforts of your team because frankly-

Debra Ruh:           No it was just … It’s a village.

Richard S:              There just isn’t anybody that has anywhere near your presence in social media, and I think that’s documented and a very, very clear statement, but it just proves the power of social media as a mechanism to break down the barriers that have existed in this industry, well before the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. These barriers have been here forever, and what an amazing example of technology, innovation, social media in this case, opening the doors for us to be able to reach this community. I want to add to this because I think it’s critical to say, because I know there are people in the community that will say that Tommy Hilfiger shouldn’t be making a profit off of the community of people with disabilities, and I want to tell you that the manufacturing of this adaptive clothing line is very expensive.

                                    Much more expensive than the manufacturing of the traditional lines of Tommy Hilfiger clothing and to Gary and his teams’ great credit, and to the entire Tommy Hilfiger corporation, they did not increase the price of the product at all. So they’re actually making less money in selling these clothes than they are in others and it just shows, and I remember having a conversation with the team at Tommy Hilfiger, and what they were saying is this community of people with disabilities is a part of the community that we serve. They’re no different than any other consumer, and we don’t want to treat them that way, both in a positive and a negative light, meaning we don’t view it as charity. We’re not going to give away the clothing en masse for free, but at the same time we wanted to be respectful of the community and if we have to spend a little bit more money and make the contribution to create clothing for this section of the population, we want to be able to do it.

Debra Ruh:           I agree.

Richard S:              And just [inaudible 00:12:18], but mostly to go back to the-

Debra Ruh:           I would just say before you leave this topic, I think that to expect a brand, a corporation to do something and not make money is being a little naïve, because then it is all charity and so that’s great as long as you have the money for that specific part of that charity, but to me … and I talk about this a lot and I know you’ve talked about it, it’s the four P’s. It is purpose, profit, planet, people, or let’s use UN language, because I’m very engaged in the United Nations. SDG’s, Sustainable Development Goals and there’s 15 of them, and it’s talking about making sure that people are included, and of course there’s a lot of others. Let’s make sure that the planet survives and little things like that, but to … I think is very naïve and sends the wrong message when we say to corporate brands, “You shouldn’t be making money of this.”

Richard S:              Right and people that [crosstalk 00:13:27].

Debra Ruh:           And another comment that I heard that I was like, “Really?” Another criticism I heard was, “Well I can’t afford to buy Tommy clothes.” And it’s like, “Well that’s interesting because Tommy has clothes at every price point.” Every price point and my son found a really, really amazing pair of Tommy shoes at Goodwill, and he was like, “Wow, they’re brand new, they’re amazing.” So I thought the clothing line … they are affordable, and it is something that you want people to have access to it, but at the same time we often send the wrong message, or a confusing message to these corporate brands that are working really hard to include us. Don’t you agree Rich?

Richard S:              I think the community … You can’t have it both ways, you can’t say, “I want to be treated like everyone else.” But then say, “Well a company can’t make a profit on you.” I think we all want to just be treated as consumers, and what I feel so strongly about is that this community be viewed as consumers, and that makes the corporations stop viewing the activity within this community as charity. Nobody is looking for a handout, and I would say to that comment about, “Well I can’t afford Tommy Hilfiger clothes.” But I will tell you I agree with you, there are clothes along all ends of the spectrum.

                                    Every consumer, you have the choice to buy that line of clothing or not, and that’s the point. Corporations … and whether it be on the products or service sale side, or whether it be on the employment side, we want corporations to understand that this community has a powerful position, has great attributes to it. Then when you talk about on the employment side, we want corporations to employ people with disabilities not because of social responsibility. We want to employ people with disabilities because people with disabilities have great capabilities. End of the story.

Debra Ruh:           Right. They’re qualified to do your jobs. They want to do your jobs.

Richard S:              And if they don’t have those capabilities, just like an employee without disabilities won’t get the job, you won’t get it, but what we want is the corporation to view a perspective employee with a disability in the same light as every other perspective employee. That’s what I think can be accomplished in the new … and that’s this revolution, that’s what I hope is this revolution. There’s great examples of it, the work that Patrick is doing at Cisco with his efforts to recruit people with disabilities, and the story that he recently told us how his employees that have visual impairments after a few months on the job were twice as productive as employees without disabilities.

Debra Ruh:           And that’s just a case study. It’s not saying all employees with disabilities are … but they have proven analytics. He also is going to be on the show in the future.

Richard S:              I was at a luncheon at the UN, several months ago … I think towards the beginning of spring maybe, end of winter and SAP was up there talking about the amazing contributions that people with autism are having in their technical and in their product development teams, because of some of the neural differences that people on that spectrum face and possess. They were actually making improvements to the software product. Another great example of the incredible attributes of this community, and that’s what needs to change.

Debra Ruh:           The stories need to be changed, but I also want to talk a little bit more about … I’m just going to use Tommy Hilfiger because I’m going to say a couple of things, and I say this often in my speeches, but if you are part of this community, which so many of us are and more are joining this community every day because as we age, we acquire disabilities because we’re human. I think that the power of having brands like Tommy Hilfiger first of all, if I have a choice, which I do as a consumer to select Tommy Hilfiger or another brand that is not including us, I’m going to actually spend more money even if I have to, to do business with Tommy Hilfiger. And I now own multiple clothes and so I think we have to support the brands that are supporting us, and take the time to write letters to the CEO’s and get on social media and thank them for their efforts.

                                    But at the same time I would like you maybe to talk a little bit more about … Think about … Because to be honest with you I hadn’t thought about this until we had a conversation with Gary, the CEO of Tommy Hilfiger, and you and Mindy was in that conversation, but what I hadn’t thought about was the foot print that a brand like Tommy has. So yes it’s about the clothing, but it’s about as you said earlier, who’s making the clothing? Where is it being made? Where is it being distributed? There are so many moving parts when it comes to the fashion industry, and they have the ability to impact all of that which is …. We’ve never seen anything like this, this is big.

Richard S:              Very big. I think I’ve said this before but you can’t give Gary and his team enough credit for … I mean just an intuitive leap, they took on without really overly understand … I mean I say of course he understood what he was getting himself into, but this was a “I know that this is the right thing to do” move.

Debra Ruh:           Yes I agree.

Richard S:              If we fail, it won’t be because we didn’t make every effort to accomplish the task, and thankfully they haven’t failed. What was shown is that this community is reachable, that they have purchasing power, in fact I can tell you when I first spoke to Mindy after that first week or two that the line got sold I said, “How’s it going?” And she said, “I think the Tommy Hilfiger people are running all over the world looking for more fabric.”

Debra Ruh:           Yeah because … and I don’t know if you can speak to how that line sold against maybe some of their previous lines, but I heard some really good information about that.

Richard S:              I think on Tommy.com at least, I think it was one of the fastest moving lines that they had seen, and that is incredible, and Deb I will say tons of credit to the Tommy Hilfiger team.

Debra Ruh:           Oh I agree.

Richard S:              Tons of credit to your team at Ruh Global for helping us get the word out, because I don’t think that without you and Joyce and John and other leaders who stepped up here, that that outcome would have been achieved. You in particular, and your team at Ruh Global in particular, because you’ve spent eight, nine years building this social media following, and part of it is AXSCHAT, your Twitter chat group that I know is massive with Neil and with Cartland and with-

Debra Ruh:           And Tony, yeah.

Richard S:              Antonio Santos right and just the ability to get the word out, that’s what’s different. Before, you had to go into the fragments and get the message through each fragment and often times the non-profits were the gatekeepers.

Debra Ruh:           Right and they get afraid that maybe somehow, somebody will take money away from them and I understand that’s a tough life to be in but …

Richard S:              The other thing about social media that’s so important is sometimes I don’t think the community knows which corporations are and are not doing the right thing.

Debra Ruh:           I agree.

Richard S:              And in fact in some cases the companies that are trying to do the right thing, because they’re stepping forward a little bit, get hit because they’ve stepped forward. You and I have talked about that, that’s incredibly confusing to the brands right? In the case of Disney they got an amazing award from NFB, and two weeks later were sued by the blind and low vision community. That’s very confusing and part of it is the community doesn’t know who the corporations are that are trying hard, and that’s our job.

Debra Ruh:           I agree, I agree.

Richard S:              We have to educate them and let them know, and that’s another great mechanism where social media and the break down of these fragments can aid us all. It’s an exciting time, and you’re by far the leader in it Debra, so thank you for everything you’re doing.

Debra Ruh:           Well you know it was exciting last week, I think I mentioned it last week too, but Doug Forrester the producer of the program had told me that this show is now being listened to in 73 countries.

Richard S:              Amazing.

Debra Ruh:           I know and there is something here and you’re right, sometimes these corporate brands step up and they really try to do the right thing and then the community, or some voices in the community slap them down and say, “You haven’t done enough.” And, “By the way you didn’t do it good enough.” And, “You use the wrong language too.” It really, really discourages the corporate brands and when I was writing my second book, the one on tapping into hidden human capital, about employing people with disabilities, some of the corporate brands especially in the United States they said, “Debra we’d love to tell our story, but first of all we haven’t done enough.”

                                    Every time I meet a corporate brand the first thing they do is apologize to me, and tell me they haven’t done enough, and I think that’s so sad because it’s like, “But wait a minute, let’s talk about what you have done, how you are trying, and how we get it not only to the community of people with disabilities, but all the rest of the world that cares about social impact.” Are you humanizing your brand? Are you a good brand? Are you making a difference to your employees, to your clients, to your community? The stuff we’ve already said.

Richard S:              Look, you can understand the sentiment. You and I have been involved in this community for … I don’t even want to age us, but let’s just say were old.

Debra Ruh:           Yes, yes, I am.

Richard S:              And I feel that way, I feel like I haven’t done enough right, because the truth is in the last two decades or let’s push it forward, largely since the signing of the ABA in 1990, not much has changed. Have improvements been made? Yes. Have the statistics for employment of people with disabilities changed in any measurable way? Not really, so it’s understandable that people feel like they haven’t done enough because we’re not seeing the impact of it.

Debra Ruh:           I agree.

Richard S:              We haven’t until recently, and now you’re starting to see that this community is being viewed in a very positive light, by many people, and in a positive light because of the strengths that they bring. Not because we have to help them.

Debra Ruh:           Right, right well said, well said.

Richard S:              I can tell you that when my son was very, very young, he just starting talking, he was very interested in the clock and you could say, “It’s 1:51.” And we would say, “69 minutes until 3:00.” He had figured out how to calculate the full 360 degrees of the clock and how many … and he was way too young to have been able to do that. It’s an unusual strength and ability.

Debra Ruh:           I’m not sure I can do it though.

Richard S:              Well I’m not sure I can add two nickles together [inaudible 00:25:43], but I think that there are many people with disabilities, and by the way it’s not just the cognitive disabilities, people with a wide spectrum of disabilities are amazing problem solvers.

Debra Ruh:           Yup, they have no choice.

Richard S:              And they are great contributors to a culture, and to a community because they have an incredible great sense of humor and create a positive attitude, the knowledge that they can overcome obstacles. These are the kinds of employees I want in my company, and I think people are starting to recognize that. Right so, forget the specialties that some people with disabilities have, in general across a wide spectrum there are these strengths within the community and the ability to problem solve, to think out of the box and find solutions to things that other people have not found. If we can find a way as civilization, tap into that, we’ll be better off.

Debra Ruh:           I agree, I agree and the loyalty factor …. And I’ll say this, before I became an entrepreneur I was in the banking industry and at one point I was in charge of the training and technology, and we were doing training classes for the bank that I worked for, and we would put the new customer service representatives through a six week training course. It’s just a lot to know, and they would get on the job and they would leave at lunch and never come back. We were really struggling to find really good employees, and then somebody suggested, “Why don’t we hire people with disabilities?” As a parent at the time I was like, “Oh what a great idea!”

                                    The quality we got, the innovation, the really, really appreciating this job and just really being thankful and very loyal to the employer. Which as I have been an employer for a long time but boy that was just really valuable, and we would even see sometimes our employees with disabilities counseling our employees without disabilities and saying, “I know it’s hard sometimes but you know these people are nervous about their mortgage.” And really helping them … more empathetic, which by the way is what Pat saw with Cisco and you’ll hear that story in another program but the empathy that these individuals that were blind, had for the customers. Customers loved it.

Richard S:              I think it’s important to stress here, that those employees were not working in just a customer service center, they were working at a technical help desk.

Debra Ruh:           Yes I know it’s amazing.

Richard S:              They’re not easy jobs.

Debra Ruh:           No.

Richard S:              Yet Pat still is reporting on this incredible outcome that his program, and Cisco’s program has accomplished. So boy oh boy, I mean what an innovator, he is amazing.

Debra Ruh:           Yes right, and thank goodness for Gary Sheinbaum, the CEO of Tommy that just got it, and he gets how important it is to humanize a brand and to disrupt the normal way of doing things. I’m very hopeful about the brands and I’m very thankful for you Rich. I know that I want to be careful with your time, you’re a busy man and you’ve got to head to another business meeting, but thank you for everything you’re doing to contribute to our community and our society. You are definitely making the world a better place, and I’m very thankful for you, so thanks for being on the program today.

Richard S:              I appreciate that greatly Deb, but the truth is the work that you’ve done and have contributed to for so many years, and the breakthrough that your hard effort and labor is about to lead to, we all owe you an incredible debt of gratitude, so thank you.

Debra Ruh:           Thank you Rich. Thanks everybody for listening to Human Potential At Work, and I’m going to have Rich on again because as you can see he’s a brilliant guy, so thanks everyone bye-bye.

Richard S:              Thank you.


[Outro Music]


You’ve been listening to Human Potential At Work with Debra Ruh. To learn more about Debra and how she can help your organization, visit ruhglobal.com. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode and you want to make sure that you don’t miss any future episodes go to iTunes and subscribe to the podcast Human Potential At Work. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll be back next week with a new episode.