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HOW I DID IT

Out of the Coma. Back to the Office.

Rob McGovern is the same driven entrepreneur he was before his horrific car accident. Except that now his brain works differently.

Jonathan Hanson

A Different Man Since his accident, Rob McGovern says, his brain has been rewired.

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Rob McGovern took his first business, CareerBuilder, public, then was part of a group that took it private, at a cost of $250 million, in 2000. Four years later, he founded the online job-search site Jobfox, which last year had revenue of $15 million to $20 million.

On June 26, 2009, I was on a business trip in Indianapolis, driving down a country road to get back to my plane. I had a head-on with a 17-year-old kid who was passing somebody illegally. We met at the top of the hill. I never saw him. I was on the cell phone with my VP of sales at the time. He heard the crash, and then the phone fell to the floor of the car and stayed live. So he heard the ambulance arrive, and he heard them using the Jaws of Life, and he heard the paramedics say there were no vital signs.

I suffered a severe brain injury and was in a coma for a few weeks. I had crushed both my hips and most of my ribs. The diagnostic tests predicted I would be vegetative. The doctors told my mother, "The best hope, realistically, is that he'll be able to feed himself someday." I know what Gabrielle Giffords is going through. I had to learn how to think again, remix the pathways in my brain. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. About six months after the accident, I asked my neurologist if I was ever going to be 100 percent. He said, "Yes, you will. But a different 100 percent." That will ring in my ears forever.

I went back to work in March 2010. At the time, I wasn't sure the business would survive. Before the accident, our revenue had fallen 90 percent because of the recession. My team had tried to keep the extent of my injuries secret from the venture capitalists, who had invested $40 million in us. Thank goodness, Peter Barris, managing partner of New Enterprise Associates, our largest investor, said he had faith I would recover and stuck with us.

I was worried about coming back. I knew my brain was working at about three-quarters speed, and as a pilot, I know you don't want to fly an airplane when you're at three-quarters of your potential. I had this dynamic young company, and I was moving around with a cane. At the time, my brain needed 18 hours of sleep a day, so I'd go in at 10 and leave at 2. But I had to give the employees reassurance. They had stuck with the company when they could have gone off and found better jobs. I was not going to scare them by walking into a meeting and slobbering.

Because my brain got rewired, I am now able to focus on things more obsessively. In June 2010, I came up with a big idea for our next-generation product. It's very complex. When I did that, I thought, OK, I'm fine with the new 100 percent.

I'm completely back now, although I can no longer go to a cocktail party and later recall the names of all 30 people I met there. I rode my bike 4,000 miles in the last year. I exercise an hour and a half a day. Our revenues have doubled. My VP of sales still tears up sometimes. I just say, "Stop crying, and go sell something."

Life is either a hell of a ride or a ride to hell. I'm done with the ride to hell.

Next: How to Raise $1.2 Million in Venture Capital

From the July/August 2011 issue of Inc. magazine

LEIGH BUCHANAN | Staff Writer | Editor-at-large, Inc. Magazine

Leigh Buchanan is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.




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