If there are three themes running through Charles Schwab's life, they are: hard work, persistence and vision--in that order. Pursuing these ideals helped him to make San Francisco-based Charles Schwab & Co. Inc., the world's largest and most innovative discount brokerage house. Fortune magazine dubbed Schwab, 59, "the king of discounting." With 235 branch offices worldwide employing nearly 10,000 employees, the company chalked up 1995 revenues of $1.42 billion, a 33 percent gain over 1994. That's not bad for someone who, as a child, could barely read a simple sentence.
The keys to Schwab's extraordinary success can be traced to his childhood in California's San Joaquin Valley. From the moment he entered school, Schwab had great difficulty learning. He didn't understand the reason for his academic struggles until the mid-1970s, when his son Michael, then 10 years old, was diagnosed as having dyslexia, a learning disability that makes reading painfully difficult. Only at that time did Schwab discover that he, too, was dyslexic.
Rather than seeing things sequentially, the way most of us do, Schwab's world was more like a huge, three-dimensional crossword puzzle. He could easily absorb visual symbols, such as illustrations, drawings or cartoons, but deciphering straight text threw him. "If it weren't for the Classics Illustrated comics series, I don't know how I would have gotten through school," he chuckles.
Schwab laughs about the problem now, but for him, learning has been a lifelong struggle. "I remember spending a lot of time at the blackboard running through the multiplication tables," he says. "The teachers were hard on me. They drilled me until I got it."
His teachers assumed he was slow. So did Schwab. "I didn't know I had a learning impediment," he says. "All I knew was that I had to work harder than everyone else."
Schwab's disability turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because it allowed him to see the world differently. "There were people who were a lot brighter than I was, or at least seemed to be, because they got much higher marks," he explains. "But I could see the bigger picture, whereas they could only see what was right in front of them."