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Business Icons Who Overcame Addiction

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Learning from business icons who overcame addiction can give you the hope to reach for sobriety.  Addiction doesn’t mean you can’t achieve financial success. If you struggle with addiction, treatment programs and recovery can get you on the right path. We will examine some great business people to learn from their struggles and successes. You aren’t alone and you can take the first step of your recovery journey by entering addiction treatment.

People who struggle with addiction aren’t always the ones you see physically struggling. According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 19.5% of all alcoholics in the United States are high-functioning, with stable jobs, families, and a good education. Just because a person hasn’t hit rock bottom from the outside doesn’t mean they do not feel like they have on the inside. And just because a person has struggled with addiction in the past, doesn’t mean they can’t succeed in the future.

Business Icons Who Overcame Addiction to Help Other Businesses

Audrey Gelman

The Wing provides co-working spaces for women which seeks to provide a safe, affirming professional network and workspaces with community-building at its core. Audrey Gelman conceived the idea while traveling back and forth between New York City and Washington D.C. for work without a workspace in either city.

Audrey Gelman publicly shared her struggles with alcohol addiction in 2019 when she posted a photo of her three-year sobriety chip.1 This isn’t the first time that Gelman has made headlines. The CEO was the first visibly pregnant woman to appear on the cover of a business leader magazine. Through her business leadership, she became one of the top business icons for women.

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Larry Kudlow

Larry Kudlow has many high-profile jobs on his resume, including as an economist for Wall Street and now he provides business leadership as the White House Economic Advisor.1 However, Kudlow wasn’t without his struggles starting out. In 1994, when he was working for investment firm Bear Stearns, he realized the years of drug and alcohol addiction were mounting. He decided to enter rehab, and he even lost his job over it.

While he did lose that job, he didn’t lose his desire to succeed. He achieved his sobriety, and this business icon celebrated 23 years of sobriety in 2019.1

Overcoming Addiction to Become Great Leaders in Tech and Media

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Oprah Winfrey

Few people are so famous they just require one-name for recognition. Oprah is one of them. This television host and media mogul has admitted to struggling with addiction. She disclosed that in the 1970s, she used to abuse crack cocaine with her boyfriend while she was working as an anchorwoman.1

In a “Today” show interview, Winfrey shared that it was a difficult private secret to share.1 However, she didn’t let her past drug abuse slow her journey to becoming a one of the greatest business icons in history.

Austin Geidt

Austin Geidt was Uber’s fourth employee and provided business leadership to help build Uber up to the large company it is now. Although she’s an executive in the company and helped it to become a publicly-traded organization, few business people would know that she struggled with drug addiction at an early age.1

Before joining her select group of business icons, Geidt started experimenting with drugs at age 19, and her addiction caused her to have to drop out of college and seek drug rehabilitation. She didn’t let the challenges and delays slow her down. She returned to college and graduated at age 25. In 2015, she proudly stated that she had been sober for 10 years.1

Business Icons Who Overcame Addiction to Provide Healthy Food to Others

Sam Polk

Sam Polk admitted he struggled with an addiction to everything – particularly addiction to money.1 However, he also was addicted to alcohol, cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana, and Ritalin when he started provided business leadership at major financial organizations, such as Credit Suisse and Bank of America.

It took time, but when Polk realized his addictions were getting the better of him he sought treatment. After his recovery he left Wall Street and became a business icon by founding Everytable.1 Everytable is a fast-food company that serves healthy foods at lower prices in low-income communities.

Seth Leaf Pruzansky

Seth Leaf Pruzansky is a business icon whose company Tourmaline Spring distributes pure drinking water.2 But Pruzansky has overcome struggles in his life, including an addiction to heroin.

“Having been through severe drug addiction and the mental and emotional dysfunction that comes along with being an addict, I eventually realized that no one was going to do for me what I needed to do for myself,” Pruzansky told “The Fix.”2

Before achieving sobriety, Pruzansky said he felt like he was living with his mind in a prison where he felt a tremendous amount of fear about being present and living the life he was given. With time and recovery efforts, he says he has been able to achieve mental clarity that helped him join the ranks of business icons.

Business Icons Who Overcame Addiction and Focused on Sobriety and Mental Health

Akshay Nanavati

Akshay Nanavati is a former Marine who struggled with drug and alcohol addiction as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a tour in Iraq.3 In short, his life was in shambles not that many years ago. He admits to having suicidal thoughts and engaging in binge drinking to try and pushing them out of his mind.3

Nanavati felt what was at the heart of his personal addiction story was fear. And when he learned to conquer his fears and no longer be afraid of or reject the negative emotions he felt in his life, he started on his recovery journey. Today, Nanavati provides successful business leadership and is the author of “Fearvana: The Revolutionary Science of How to Turn Fear Into Health, Wealth, and Happiness.”3 Not many business icons have the Dalai Lama review their books favorably, but the Dalai Lama stated that Nanavati’s book “helps people find positives in even the most saddest and agonizing experiences in life.”3

Dr. Harold Jonas

Dr. Harold Jonas is a former heroin addict who used his unique knowledge about addiction and recovery to build technology that helps others struggling with addiction.4 After achieving sobriety, Dr. Jonas went on to become a licensed therapist and started several websites designed toward helping those addicted to drugs and alcohol find the help they need. Sober.com is an example of one of Dr. Jonas’ larger websites. Dr. Jonas has also helped create a FlexDek app that is designed to help former opioid users overcome their addictions.4 The app can be used along with medication-assisted treatments to monitor and encourage a person in recovery from opioid addiction.

Steve Abrams

Steve Abrams turned the unmet need he found during recovery into a service for those just like him.2 He’s part of the business leadership for a travel agency called Sober Vacations International that helps people in recovery find relaxing or adventurous vacations that don’t center around a party lifestyle.

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Brandon Stump

Brandon Stump is a business icon whose early days were marked by addiction and struggles. Stump started drinking when he was very young and started experimenting with other drugs, including OxyContin and heroin.5 Ultimately, he had overdosed 15 times and was virtually disowned by his family. In this low moment, he visited an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and found a place where he learned what it meant to be sober. Ten years later, Stump is a sober individual who now helps others like him. After completing a drug rehabilitation program, Stump opened up his house to others who were working on their sobriety. He then continued to expand his sober living homes and ultimately started an outpatient facility called the Buckeye Recovery Network.5 Stump has also expanded his business interests, allowing him to achieve millionaire status and be added to the rolls of business icons.

High Stress Can Lead Business Icons to Addiction

The business world places many demands on individuals. Long hours, the need to socialize and network with others, and the constant demands to perform at the highest levels can be difficult for any person to deal with. Some business leaders turn to drugs and alcohol as a means to achieve a few moments’ escape from these struggles. According to the National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance, an average of 8.7% of full-time workers reported using alcohol heavily in the past month.6 An estimated 8.6% admitted using illegal drugs in the past month and 9.5% said they were dependent on or had abused drugs or alcohol in the past year.6 According to the National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance, the industry with the highest rates of substance abuse is the accommodations and food services industry,  The following are some other industries affected by substance use:6
Construction - general, where 14.3% report a past-year substance use disorder
14.3%
Mining, where 11.8% report a past-year substance use disorder
11.8%
Finance and insurance, where 9.4% reported a past-year substance use disorder
9.4%
Professional, scientific, and technological, where 8.8% reported a past-year substance use disorder
8.8%

Addiction can affect workers across all industries and all levels of success. No one is immune to the strong pull that drugs and alcohol can have on a person’s life.

Michael Brody-Waite and Mask Addiction

Michael Brody-Waite’s Background

One of Nashville’s business icons, Michael Brody-Waite was born with an entrepreneurial spirit but had personal, private struggles.7 Addicted to drugs and alcohol, he didn’t know if there was a future for himself. “I assumed that my life was a dead end and that I had wasted all my potential,” Brody-Waite explained to Nashville newspaper The Tennessean. “I didn’t expect to live.” Brody-Waite sought drug and alcohol treatment in a small town outside Nashville and ultimately achieved sobriety. He admits it wasn’t easy. He spent five months in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, then moved to a halfway house in Nashville.7 When it was time to get a job, Brody-Waite hadn’t worked in three years. At his sponsor’s advice, he was honest at his job interviews that he had experienced struggles, but had overcome adversity.7 He started on his path to success through working in corporate sales at Dell and worked his way up the business ladder. He is now the CEO of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, which helps business people pursue their goals of owning a small business.

Wearing a Mask

Brody-Waite said that when he was struggling with addiction, he felt like he had been wearing “15 masks.”7 He’s not alone. Many business icons (and non-business people) who struggle with addiction say they feel like they’re wearing a mask.

Masks can feel like a way to disguise who a person truly is and what they’re struggling with. Those trying to succeed in business leadership may find they wear a variety of masks, including those of:8

Control

Martydom

Perfection

Resentment 

Wearing a “mask” when you struggle can eventually start to affect your mental and physical health.8 It is very exhausting to constantly pretend to be things that you’re not – even when you feel like it’s how people want you to feel or act. Seeking addiction treatment can help you take off that mask and start moving forward with your life.

Rehab for Business Icons

Because there are so many people at the executive and businessperson level who struggle with drugs and alcohol, many rehabilitation facilities offer programs specifically geared toward these individuals. Often, these programs are called “Executive” drug rehab programs.

These programs may offer different hours that allow business people to continue working while they also work toward their sobriety. Inpatient programs may continue to offer access to tools needed to continue their jobs, such as phones and computers.

Executive programs can also focus on the unique challenges that business people in recovery may need to navigate in their sobriety. This could include sober business dinners, engaging in self-care so a person doesn’t become emotionally and physically exhausted, and how to recognize and acknowledge the need for help and healing.

Key Takeaways for Business Icons Who Overcame Addiction

Some of the world’s smartest and most talented individuals have struggled with alcohol or drug addiction in the past. But these business icons found the motivation and strength to move forward in their lives. They pursued their sobriety and did not see their struggles as a life-long setback. Many used the strategies and tools they learned in rehabilitation to help them succeed in business leadership. If they can do it, so can you.


Resources

  1. https://www.businessinsider.com/business-leaders-who-openly-discuss-drug-and-alcohol-addiction
  2. https://www.thefix.com/10-entrepreneurs-recovery
  3. http://theinspiringtalk.com/akshay-nanavati/
  4. https://www.thesoberworld.com/2017/05/01/interview-kurt-angle/
  5. https://www.lorensworld.com/entrepreneurship/how-brandon-stump-went-from-heroin-addict-to-sober-ceo/
  6. https://www.ndwa.org/drug-free-workplace/industry-statistics/
  7. https://www.tennessean.com/story/money/2016/10/16/battling-addiction-leading-nashville-entrepreneur-center91282132/
  8. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/life-in-the-recovery-room/201710/beware-the-masks-addiction