Why Rich Donovan puts “delight” ahead of “diversity”

Donovan, Rich portraitIt was 2008 and Rich Donovan had just crunched the numbers on how many people live with disabilities worldwide.

The United Nations at the time reported the number around 600 million. His analysis pegged that population at 1.2 billion.

“I actually had to do the analysis three times because I didn’t believe the numbers. They were just too big,” he said. “It’s a pretty ballsy statement to make that the UN’s wrong by a factor of two, right?”

But he was right – and that’s the moment Donovan, founder of Return on Disability, author and past winner of the Women’s Executive Network’s 2018 Inclusion Vanguard Award, knew there was a huge, untapped opportunity touching 53 per cent of the world and worth an estimated $8 trillion.

 

We are proud to partner with Accenture for the Inclusion Vanguard Award, a prestigious part of our annual Top 100 Awards! In 2018, we had the absolute pleasure of honouring Rich Donovan for his extraordinary and notable actions towards diversity and inclusion in Canada. At our 2019 Top 100 Awards on November 21, we will celebrate a new winner of the Inclusion Vanguard Award, recognizing a leader who has made a remarkable impact in driving real, lasting change. The Inclusion Vanguard Award symbolizes what we all strive to achieve: a stronger, more inclusive Canada!

 

Today, the number of people with disabilities has grown to 1.7 billion people, yet it’s an entire market that’s historically been overlooked. “From my perspective, this is the reason why every company that faces an end consumer, every government that faces an end citizen, should put [disability] at the core of their experience design,” he said.

That’s why he’s changing the conversation.

Building a new approach

In a world where companies talk about diversity and inclusion, Donovan is talking about something else entirely: markets and delighting customers.

Not surprising, given he used to manage about $6 billion in equity as a Wall Street trader. “The trader in me decided to treat disability as a market. I went about doing the analysis as I would for any other trade,” he said.

Trading is where his diversity journey starts, first through Merrill Lynch where he helped with on-campus recruitment efforts for women and visible minorities. “But we weren’t recruiting people with disabilities. In fact, nobody was. And so we decided as a group to add disabilities to that recruiting process.”

That led to Lime Connect, a third-party recruitment organization he founded in 2006 that grew out of those efforts. They connected with other big names like PepsiCo, Google and Goldman Sachs. It’s also where Donovan learned a key lesson: “It’s not about numbers and quotas; it’s about people. And people have desires to be the best that they can be.”

Therein lies the problem with a lot of diversity and inclusion programs, he said. “They haven’t taken the time or the effort, or made the investment, to really understand how those dimensions impact their revenue formula. They haven’t started to build these changes in demand into their product mix, their R&D mix, their customer experience.”

Now, with Return on Disability, he’s leading the charge on a new way of approaching the conversation. “This is more about, how can we best serve our customers? How can we best delight our customers?” he said.

“And the way you do that is you deliver to them what they want.”

Building momentum

Donovan’s decision to start a business focused on that premise was a huge risk, especially since no one else was having those conversations ten years ago.

“When you take a risk like we did, leaving a pretty good job and building something that was totally out of left field at the time, you realize that not many people do that,” he said.

Inclusion Vanguard Award
We have honoured deserving recipients with the Inclusion Vanguard award annually, at our Top 100 Awards, since 2016.

That made winning the Inclusion Vanguard Award that much more meaningful, he added. It honours Canadian leaders, both male and female, who champion change and outstanding commitment to a broader diversity agenda within their organizations, clients and communities.

“At the end of the day, professionals don’t do things for awards; they do things for rewards. They do things for profit. They do things to better their business. But between today and the realization of the market, which could be ten years, you need some steps along the way to say yeah, you’re headed in the right direction.”

The award also signals that the conversation he started is becoming mainstream and reduces risk for others who want to follow his lead.

“It’s helpful for other companies to see this is something that you too can be successful at,” he said.

Building the future

Today, Return on Disability has 15 clients globally, ranging from multi-national banks to governments that embrace people with disabilities as valuable customers who drive growth and revenue.

Donovan’s also become an author, publishing Unleash Different last year, which chronicles his journey to Columbia Business School and beyond as a person living with a disability himself.

When he looks back on his accomplishments over the past 13 years, he’s encouraged by the change he’s seen… even if it’s slow-going.

“Organizations and brands are incredibly complex. They’re full of people with different needs, they’re full of corporate mechanisms that we navigate,” he said. “Change on this scale is a very difficult thing to do.”

He’s seen change pick up pace for those 1.7 billion people with disabilities worldwide and the people in their lives, in products like Google’s autonomous car, Amazon’s Alexa and even Disney characters that put accessibility first. He’s seen it in his own work and the work of his clients, too.

“We’ve proven our model and our work…Our clients have put packaging and commercial machinery and technology on shelves globally,” he said.

But there’s still work to do in the market – and he’s ready to do it. “We’re still talking 15 companies out of 5,000, and that doesn’t even include government. So the opportunity’s still there.”


To learn more about the Accenture Inclusion Vanguard Award and our Top 100 Awards, visit our Top 100 page.

Scaling the Mountain

Mentoring younger women to help them make it to the top

When people ask me how I ended up working as Interim Executive Director of Lincoln Centre in New York City, or being the CEO of the Kimmel Centre in Philadelphia, or being the founding CEO of the Luminato Festival in Toronto, or now serving as the President and CEO of Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, I tell them it’s all about working hard, and believing your organization can reach greater heights.

While there are many women working in the arts in Canada today, there are very few who actually make it to the top. Since winning the WXN Top 100 Award I’ve felt a big responsibility to give back, and to mentor younger women in my organization.

Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is Canada’s largest postgraduate arts school which welcomes close to 4,000 artists and leaders to our beautiful campus in the Rockies. We are building a great team in Alberta, and many of the stars in our organization are young women.

Since winning the WXN Top 100 award I’ve created a CEO’s Circle at Banff Centre, where our group gets together every month to talk about how to become better leaders.

Leadership requires many different characteristics, you have to have clear vision, you need to know how to build an incredible team, you have to be a great listener, and you must be able to make very tough decisions.

I’ve sacrificed a lot over the years to run major arts organizations, the hours are long, and projects can be incredibly complex, but it’s worth it to me because the arts define who we are as a people, they delight us, inspire us, they challenge us and help us understand who we are.

It’s been the honour of a lifetime to help artists achieve their dreams, and to scale greater heights in their artistic practice—it’s what helps me walk up the mountain every day to my office at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

After 40 years in the arts, and now leading a $70M organization, I know that we can only be strong if we put the right teams together, and that they have the resources they need to ensure success.

But ultimately what I tell young women is that they need to love what they do, they need to work hard, all of the winners of the WXN award are in difficult jobs and they are very committed, that is my recipe for success.

Janice Price, a leader in the arts and entertainment sector in Canada and the United States, is a Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner in the Arts, Sports & Entertainment Category for 2018. She has been honoured because of how she has shaped Canadian thinking, communications and culture.

Do you know a female who deserves to be recognized for the difference she’s made in Canadian arts, sports, culture or entertainment? Click here to learn more about our Top 100 Nominations and how to nominate yourself or someone else. Nominating is free!

 


About Janice:

Janice Price is President and CEO of Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

Janice Price - portrait

2018 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner
BMO Arts, Sports & Entertainment
Diversity CEO and Champion for WXN/CBDC Diversity Council

Janice Price has over 30 years of experience as a senior executive in leadership roles in the arts and entertainment sector in Canada and the United States. She was appointed President and CEO of Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in March 2015. Prior to her appointment at Banff Centre, Ms. Price served as CEO of the Luminato Festival, Toronto’s annual multi-­‐arts festival, an organization she led since its inception in 2006. As the Festival’s Founding CEO, Janice helped Luminato become one of the world’s largest and most respected annual multi-­‐arts festivals. Previous to Luminato, Janice was President and CEO of The Kimmel Centre for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia from 2002-­‐2006, and prior to that position she was Vice President of Marketing and Communications and then Interim Executive Director at New York’s Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts. Prior to her professional engagements in the United States, Janice held senior positions at a number of Toronto arts organizations, including the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts and The Corporation of Roy Thomson Hall and Massey Hall. From 1992–1996, Janice was the Director of Marketing and Special Projects for the Stratford Festival.

Ms. Price has served on numerous national and international arts sector

Boards including ISPA (International Society for the Performing Arts), the National Board of Culture Days, the Toronto Arts Foundation, and the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. She served on the National Executive of the Governor General’s Leadership Conference and Chaired the national Festivals and Major Events board. Ms. Price currently serves on the board of Business for the Arts and on the Council of Post-­‐ Secondary Presidents of Alberta.