Posted by Carrie Condran LaBriola on Oct 22, 2016
Like many famous dyslexics (Albert Einstein, Agatha Christie, Tom Hanks, Steve Jobs, for example), President-Elect John Mathers overcame a learning disability to have a successful career. Born on Long Island, he grew up in the Boston area and at age 8 was sent to a special school in Newport, RI, because “they thought I was slow.” He lived with his grandparents and attended first and second grade in the morning and third grade in the afternoon.
“I learned very quickly and methodically to read without reading word for word and got to 700 words per minute,” he says. “I was also sent to secretarial school at 10 and learned to type.” He says he still reverses words and letters when he’s tired and “without spell-check, I would be awash in problems.”
John was accepted at Harvard, where his brother was a student, and Dartmouth, his father’s alma mater, but decided to forge his own path and accepted a partial hockey scholarship to Hobart in upstate New York, where he graduated in American history and English, but “mostly I traveled and had fun. I was not a serious student.”
After working in New York City for Benton & Bowles, the third largest ad agency in the world, on international brands including P&G, John earned a master’s degree in educational administration at the University of Vermont. A job with the Vermont Department of Education brought him to California to do a study of alternative schools, then he moved on to a job with a construction company building pre-fab houses.
A chance encounter at a cocktail party in Marin started John on his current career path when Margot Fraser, founder of Birkenstock, became his first consulting client. Other clients have included major banks, and John says he “helped Swenson’s Ice Cream out of Chapter 11.” He spent five years with Bank of America as vice president for strategy with the division doing human resourced payroll, then went back to consulting with big businesses.
 “I work with the executive team on issues of growth, how to expand faster and to build a more effective team,” he says, some of the same principles he’s using in his work with Rotary District 5150. After two years as youth services chair, John volunteered to work with the D5150 leadership team on organizational development, with an eye toward more effectively supporting clubs. A study last year identified some issues around membership and club leadership, particularly the challenge of consistency year-over-year rather than focusing on a single year.
 “It’s a 21st-century problem, not a problem Rotary grew up with, figuring out what holds a club together and builds commitment and, once that commitment is made, to stick to it,” John says. “We have to find a new way to build consistency year-over-year and get that commitment.”
To that end, John meets with President David Dye and Past President Stephanie Schmautz every Monday morning to address issues of managing the Club long-term. “Rather than looking at ‘my year,’ I’ve been given the opportunity to foster and support key outcomes and strategies that the Club, the Board members, have agreed upon,” he says. “What do we want to get to, what do we all want to achieve? It’s a wonderful problem to be dealing with.”
John joined the Club in 2011 and will serve as President in 2017-18.