A leader in special education for students with learning differences, the school drew 800 guests to dinner at the National Building Museum, including Ambassador Michael Oren of Israel, a former honoree. BlackRock and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) were among the sponsors.
Fisher has come a long way from the special reading groups and what he called the “misery” of homework that he endured before he realized in his teens he had dyslexia.
The Harvard Law graduate spent 16 years at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, became undersecretary of the U.S. Treasury in 2001, and now is senior managing director at BlackRock and head of its fixed-income portfolio-management group.
Dyslexia has taught him to “slow it down,” an important lesson in his fast-paced, number-crunching profession. Fisher said that many times the “intuitive answer” in business is not the best approach, citing the premise of Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow.”
“I always had to think backwards, to reverse engineer myself,” Fisher said.
The Lab School educates grade 1 through 12 and stresses the value of art in its approach. Paintings, sculptures and other artwork designed by students adorn the school’s halls.
Kate Fulton, who is in BlackRock’s government-affairs group in Washington, has a daughter at the school. During a company dinner last year, she learned of Fisher’s dyslexia and suggested him as an honoree for the annual gala.
The school has been highlighting the success of people with learning disabilities since the 1980s. Cher, Tom Cruise and business and political leaders are among the former honorees.
Earlier in the day, Fulton and Fisher took a tour of the school guided by student-council members with the other 2012 honorees, British artist Willard Wigan, and Ben Foss, president and chief executive officer of Headstrong Nation, a national nonprofit for dyslexics.
Looking like a teacher, in sweater vest and glasses, Fisher meandered through the school’s library, computer lab, science room, theater and the “renaissance room,” where students learn about early influential painters.
The school focuses on what the students can do best, whether it is music or athletics or, in Fisher’s case, a great memory and love of history. He is fond of using a historical, as opposed to a numerical, data-based model for forecasting economic trends.
“I think it’s about confidence,” Fisher said.
(Stephanie Green is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)
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