David Friedman has had a stellar marketing career. He’s a triple threat who succeeded as a strategy consultant at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), in an agency setting as North American president of Razorfish, and in a corporate environment as CMO for Sears Holdings Co. Now Friedman is a CEO, but he’s taken an unconventional path to the top job.
Three years ago, Friedman decided to become a social entrepreneur, launching AutonomyWorks, a firm that gives meaningful work to individuals with disabilities with the aim of doing social good and delivering profits. “I spent 25 years in large, complex business organizations,” Friedman says. “I focused all of my energy on business outcomes and growing those organizations. I spent very little time giving something back.”
He adds, “When I left Sears, I spent a period reflecting on what I was going to do next. I interviewed for an agency CEO job and for CMO jobs. I decided I was going to build something very personal to me. I have a 20-year-old son who has autism. About five years ago, my wife and I started looking at what our son was going to do after high school. He’s not a young man that’s going to go to a traditional college. We realized that professional job opportunities for adults with autism are almost non-existent. Unemployment rates for that population are 80% or 90%. Of those who are working, most are in low-skill jobs—clearing tables, stacking shelves—not doing things that take advantage of what they are great at.”