Episode #43 of Shades of Success features Thomas D’Eri, Co-Founder and COO of a social enterprise that employs over 80 individuals with autism. I found out about the work Thomas has been doing through his Forbes 30 under 30 feature and was excited to dig more into his motivation. In the interview, he talks about starting the organization to help his younger brother, what it means to be on the autism spectrum, and how other companies can truly commit to inclusion. Listen to the episode here.
Thomas D’Eri is a Forbes 30 Under 30 social entrepreneur. He is the Co-Founder and COO of Rising Tide Car Wash, a social enterprise that employs over 80 individuals with autism in a successful car wash business.
Thomas is also the Co-Founder of Rising Tide U, an organization dedicated to teaching others how to harness the autism advantage. As of October 2019, Thomas’s students have created 130 jobs for people with autism in 18 businesses. Tom deeply believes that all people have the potential to contribute to society and that businesses can improve their market position by committing themselves to unleash this potential.
The primary mission of this scalable social enterprise is to employ adults with autism. They strive to meet their goal of providing people with autism with a chance to build a career and enjoy an independent lifestyle.
Thomas knows just how challenging it is for a person with autism to thrive in society – his brother, Andrew, is on the autism spectrum. According to Thomas, Andrew found it challenging to find a company to work for, despite being a capable young man. Thus, they founded the Rising Ride to help open doors for Andrew and people with autism.
Rising Tide Carwash works hard to inspire communities to shift their perspective on the capabilities of people with autism, all while delivering high-quality car wash services to consumers.
The enterprise sets its employees up for success by providing intensive training, team building, and other community activities.
“What we found as most important when you’re supporting individuals with autism is, one, things have to be really clear; consistent systems. People have to understand what they need to do when they need to do and how they need to do it. And then you have to be able to manage people with autism, again using clear communication, creating an atmosphere of psychological safety and belonging through creating trust.
Nothing that I’m saying right now, though, is unique to autism; it’s unique to running an inclusive organization. People with autism they come with their own unique set of strengths and weaknesses. They are a really wonderful ally in helping us design systems and culture that works for everybody because of a lot of ways.”
“I think it starts at the very fundamental with how we bring people into organizations. Traditionally we do interviews that are unfairly unstructured, that isn’t really data-driven in any meaningful way. It’s just an incredibly biased way of bringing people into the organization, and there’s so much research that suggests that we’re filtering what that person is saying based on a myriad of frankly erroneous things, from their height, their voice to their handshake to their eye contact. Unless it’s like a sales position where likeability like that really matters, it’s irrelevant. And we cast out a lot of really great talent.
Organizations that do state that they do inclusivity, they start with interview systems, scored interviews. There are multiple people from different backgrounds that are involved in those interviews. Hopefully, there are work tests that have actually quantifiable scores.”
“Every service business right there, the employees are really what makes the customer experience. So I think there are multiple levels of how our employees positively impact this business. First, they really care about their job. At the most fundamental level as possible, they take pride in their work, and they want to be here. That’s something that’s rare in entry-level retail work. I mean, it’s not something that you commonly see. So right away, that gives us a leg up and just assure the quality service that we provide.
And then are our customers, not only do they see people that are happy to be at work, but then they read a little bit about the mission. You’ve got some collateral site or even YouTube videos and now they feel part of that story.”
Updated October 16, 2019
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