"You are never going to walk again."
No one wants to hear those words, especially a fit entrepreneur in his prime who loves being outside on his bike. But this man is an enthusiast. An optimist. A man of irrepressable spirit. "Well, I'll show you." And he is.
John Ruffolo, the founder and former CEO of the OMERS venture capital business, was on the road blowing off stress on a beautiful September afternoon early in the pandemic when he was blindsided by an errant semi. He was tossed out of his old walk of life and into a new chair, paralyzed from the waist down.
Recovering from something like this would be a massive challenge for most of us. It would be easy to lose heart and light. But some people rally in the face of this kind of adversity. I don't know what I would do, but I do know what John did.
Long before the accident, I had the honor of accompanying John through his transition into a new growth equity business of his own. We share a passion for culture and organizational design and we had many deep conversations of core ideas like authenticity, adaptability and resilience. He wanted his Maverix to be different. Innovation seemed to be the driving force behind his ambition to make a big dent in the world.
John is a larger-than-life character. A big energy and presence in any room he's in. When I first heard of the tragic accident that came close to ending his life, and after a moment of profound empathy, I turned to the thought that if anyone could hack his way back onto his feet it would surely be him.
Indeed, he is genuinely grateful for being spared a massive head injury and for the support of his family, friends and partners. As sharp as ever, and with the humility given anyone surviving a near death experience, he set about the work of launching his new business, ever on the path of personal and business innovation.
Many organizations pay lip service to the idea of culture and values, pasting saccharine motherhood statements on a wall somewhere in the office where everyone can see them. It's a box to tick. Maverix posted theirs there too. While there is no doubt an aspirational quality to some of it, it would be easy to miss the spine of what's pasted there.
I don't think it's an accident that John survived this epic crash. I think it's character. John is piecing together the movements and tapping his tech roots to find a way back to vertical. It's not pretty. It's painful. But he is getting on his feet. Not figuratively. He's already done that, but literally. Footstep after wobbly footstep. Deep cellular memories are propelling his forward momentum.
I looked at the vision of the culture of Maverix on that wall this fall. The concepts expressed there he's expressing in real life. It's not another branding statement that's full of shit. Like everyone, he doesn't always live up to what's on his own wall. He has taken scars and given them. But the concepts capture the true spirit of the man and the true spirit of his firm. That's where integrity lives and grows.
At the end of the day mindset determines much of how we respond to the world around us. It's not always pretty and it doesn't always work, but optimism and enthusiasm are often the difference between tragedy and comedy, threat and opportunity, status quo and innovation. John decided he's living in a comedy. He's rewriting his story with a happy ending. He found opportunity in what would crush most of us.
Great cultures reflect the real values and character of the real people who lead them.