You are currently browsing the daily archive for February 17, 2011.

Innovation Blog

The Entrepreneur Who Could Not Spell His Own Name:

How Jeff Pearce Overcame Dyslexia

By Shlomo Maital


Young Jeff (James) Pearce


Over my 43 years as an educator, I have taught many students who  had dyslexia, a learning disability that makes it hard to read and write, afflicting from 5 – 10 percent of the population.  For a few, it was severe.  They used many self-invented tricks to overcome it and many went on to achieve great success—the discipline and persistence required to overcome dyslexia served them well later, as start-up innovators.

Here, from the BBC World Service’s Outlook program (recounted by journalist Jo Fidgen), is the story of James (Jeff) Pearce, in his own words.  Jeff is literally someone who could not spell his own name for 54 years, nor read or write – yet he was voted Retailer of the Year in the U.K. and twice built business empires.   If Pearce could succeed, despite the odds, surely any of us can.

   “Three letter words, cat, dog.   I’d spell them backward.   Teachers thought I was disruptive, kids laughed at me, teachers put me in the corner with a dunce cap, made me face the wall, they did not know what dyslexia was then, and the punishment made me worse,  I lived with shame.  In promotion from junior to senior high, the day before I went in, my mum knew I would get laughed at, because I could not write my own name, James, I couldn’t spell it,  mum sat me down and said from now on, you are JEFF  “J” “E” “F”, then add another ’f’ on , I could just about handle that. I lived with that all my life. I became Jeff Pearce.”

  “My mom brought us up on the ‘markets’, she had to find money to feed five children, dad drank every penny he earned;   in the morning, she told me, on you go on, go earn some money. I was 14.   I went to the ‘markets’, asked the business people there if I could do errands, deliver messages? I became an entrepreneur…that put me in good stead for when I went into the world.     I set up own business at 17.  I’ve always worked for myself, for the simple reason I was unemployable, who would employ someone who couldn’t write their own name?”

  “How did I manage?  I lived two lives.  As entrepreneur/businessman,  I employed over 40 staff.  They didn’t know I lived another life of torture, as a man that couldn’t write his own name. I hid things.  Gina, my wife – she came with me to the bank, gave me a form to fill out, she’d say, I’ll do that so you can keep talking.  I couldn’t fill it out.  She’d say, Jeff, just sign there.  And it got worse.  We lived a millionaire life style. We mixed with doctors, accountants, lawyers, we’d go for dinner.   I couldn’t read the menu. Gina would say, Jeff,  the steak, you like that, “Yes, I’ll have that”, I’d say, pretending I read the menu.  Wine list?   Gina:  Jeff’s bad at wine, let me pick.    Gina and I have been together, for 35 years…she’s with me here today, she goes with me everywhere.”

“I hid my dyslexia from our daughters for many years.  “I was living millionaire life style, house, car, horses, you name it, big cars… I’d come home,  our daughters Katie, 7, Fay, 5,  would say, daddy read us a story.  They passed me a book.  I went to pieces. I started to make a story up with the pictures.  ”Daddy you’re being silly, you can’t read”.  I can! I can! I said.  Lights out!   I cried my eyes out.  Please don’t let that happen again, I told Gina,  I can’t handle that.  I would have given all my wealth up just to be able to read my girls a story.  I felt I was living a live of a con man, trickster,  once in school the teacher said to me, no good will come of you, you were a waste of time…   those words were in my mind, but I always felt, nobody who can’t spell their name should be an entrepreneur nor live this life style. “

“When I lost my business, in 1992, when the recession came, bank called me in, called the loan, I lost everything,  I sat there, close to suicide…at that time, I thought, that was my punishment for being a fraud.  I should not have succeeded in the first place.  I lost my family home.  My daughters were privileged,  all of a sudden I took it away from them. But  I started again, on the markets,  10 hard years later, I built up another empire, my own dept. store in Liverpool,  I felt then I wasn’t a fraudster I was named most outstanding retailer of the year…in the taxi on the way back to the hotel that night, with 2 awards, I felt as equal as the person next to me..I told my daughters, I can’t read and write!  It was very emotional.    It was a relief to tell them, best moment in my life, a  beautiful feeling, 54 years of hell, it all came out.   After retirement, I learned to read and write.  Why not before?  The shame and embarrassment was with me all my life.  I want to go to schools now and tell those who have dyslexia, do not hide it, I did it for 54 years!”  


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
February 2011
« Jan   Mar »