In one of the most stunning keynote sessions I have attended over the past five Net Impact Conferences, Keen Healthcare CEO Vail Horton, who was born without legs or proper bone growth in his arms, closed yesterday morning’s “speed keynote” session to a thunderous standing ovation at the Portland Convention Center.
Horton told the more than 2,500 in attendance that his challenges had nothing to do with his physical birth defects, which in his words amounted to excuses or “handicrap.” Instead, Horton joked that his disabilities of consequence were rooted in his management style: impatience, a controlling nature and a tendency to push his people and his kids too hard.
The story of Vail Horton captures the preservation, imagination and plain dogged pursuit of a better world that Net Impact is all about. He started Keen Healthcare at 23 when doctors told him the crutches he was using would lead to additional handicaps caused by carpal tunnel syndrome and other maladies related to their use. Horton decided that was unacceptable and there was market demand for healthcare products that added value and sustained mobility to the world’s disabled. He started Keen Healthcare with the objective of manufacturing world-class medical products focused on safety, mobility and comfort. Keen has been ranked within the top 50 companies on the Portland Business Journal 100 Fastest Growing Private Companies List for five consecutive years.
In addition to running a growing company and raising a family of four children, Keen has also found time to raise $5 million with his Incight Foundation that provides education, employment, networking and independence opportunities for people with disabilities across the US.
Anyone short on optimism these days–President Obama, Occupy Wall Street–should consider the ethos of “handicrap” before they succumb to cynicism or complacency.