2015 Youth Achievement Award

David Neeleman: High Flying Innovator with ADHD

Bookmark and Share


As the airline executive who founded JetBlue in 1998, David Neeleman is credited with turning the airline industry on its ear by providing quality service at a reasonable price. Today he is performing similar magic as the founder, chairman, and CEO of the South American start-up, Azul Brazilian Airlines.

Words of Wisdom

“Kids, you should just try your best and don’t ever be guilty of just not doing your work. People may think you need to go to an Ivy League school to be successful in life, but I’m living proof that you don’t.”

Why Neeleman Inspires Us

Known for his innovative ideas and legendary energy, Neeleman attributes a good part of his success to ADHD. Like many adults with learning disabilities, Neeleman remained undiagnosed until well into his 30s when his brother was diagnosed, raising awareness in the rest of the family.

Personal Facts

  • Born: Oct 16, 1959, Sao Paulo, Brazil; raised in the U.S.
  • Education: Attended the University of Utah for three years, but dropped out before graduating
  • Home: Lives in a Connecticut suburb with his wife, Vicki, and the youngest of their nine children
  • Interesting fact: Speaks fluent Portuguese and has dual citizenship in Brazil and the U.S.

“ADHD has really been to my advantage,” claims Neeleman. “I have a lot of academically smart people working for me that are good at certain things, but they just don’t have the creativity. I’m at the point now, where if someone came to me and said we have this magic pill that will get rid of this for good, I’d run as far and as fast as I could.”

Nor is Neeleman interested in “fixing” those of his nine children that have ADHD. Instead David and his wife, Vicki, provide the academic support their children need, minus the pressure to get good grades. “You need to chill out a bit,” says Neeleman. “Don’t make your kids miserable.”