Beacon Stories

Sep 13, 2021

Telling His Story of Resilience

Chad has been working in the corporate world for the last 20 years. But after becoming the first blind executive to graduate from the Harvard Business School leadership program, he realized his purpose in life is to help others by sharing the lessons he learned while losing his eyesight. He can now add published author to his repertoire with his new book, Blind Ambition.

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Chad in high school holding a soccer ball.

Chad Foster is a successful corporate dealmaking executive, motivational speaker with worldwide invites, and the Atlanta Opera is commissioning an opera inspired by his life. With all these impressive achievements, Chad’s most important goal now is to use his story with blindness to help others live their most fulfilled life too.

Chad was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) at three years old after his parents noticed he was having trouble navigating in dim lighting. But growing up, Chad’s parents didn’t treat him any differently because of his RP, channeling his energy into playing sports such as soccer, football, basketball, and even wrestling.

Chad’s sight loss remained steady most of his childhood, but while attending college at the University of Tennessee, Chad noticed a severe drop-off in his eyesight. The first year after Chad’s rapid decline in vision, he recalls pretending to see well and feeling bad for himself. But eventually, Chad came to realize this was an opportunity to own his true self.

“My blindness really forced me to reexamine my focus and perspective on life,” says Chad. “I think I’m a better person today because of my blindness, not in spite of it. At only 23 years old, it forced me to be unapologetically authentic.”

Chad and his guide dog, Sarge in the snow at Snowmass

Chad and his guide dog, Sarge, in the snow at Snowmass.

The major turning point in Chad’s mindset was when he was training for his guide dog. At his Leader Dogs for the Blind month-long orientation, Chad met other people from all walks of life who inspired him and made him feel fortunate for what he had. From then on, Chad felt determined to show the world his resilience.

“I went there to get a guide dog but ended up learning lessons that have carried me through my entire life,” Chad recalls. “It’s natural to feel bad about the situation, but it’s up to you how long you’re going to give those feelings airtime. You’ve got to make a decision to be happy.”

Now living in the metropolitan area of Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife and children, 45-year-old Chad currently works for Red Hat, the world’s largest open-source software company that was purchased by IBM for $34 billion. After succeeding in the corporate world for the last 20 years, Chad now enjoys helping others through motivational speaking, which is why he’s working with Les Brown to bring his message to the world, and other avenues, like his new book, Blind Ambition.

Rowing on Charles River with his Harvard Business School classmates in 2016.

Rowing on Charles River with his Harvard Business School classmates.

Chad was inspired to write his own book after taking the “Authentic Leadership” course with Bill George at Harvard Business School. The Discover Your True North book and teachings of Bill George underscore that being a leader is more than management skills; it’s instead a question of who we are as human beings—connecting our core emotions, beliefs, and experiences to our purpose, passion, and profession. It was here that Chad had an epiphany that his purpose in life could be to empower others by sharing his journey of sight loss. Then, after being elected as the graduating speaker of his class and seeing firsthand how impactful sharing his story could be, it solidified his decision to write his book.

“It was on the flight back home from Boston when I realized that helping others in a meaningful way makes going blind worth it,” says Chad. “Now, I know that I lost my vision to help others find theirs.”

Through Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat at the time, who had recently written and published his own book, Chad was connected with a literary agent who soon linked him up with HarperCollins Publishers. Within a year, Blind Ambition was written and published in February 2021. Chad describes Blind Ambition as deeply personal, anecdotal, and overall, a memoir with a purpose.

Skiing in Aspen

Chad at the top of the mountain skiing with a group in Aspen.

“It’s terrifying to be so vulnerable with people you don’t know,” says Chad. “But then you see how much it can help, and that gave me the courage to step through the fear of sharing my story. By focusing on how you can impact others, you can move beyond yourself to reach your full potential.”

Clearly, Chad is no stranger to taking risks. Chad’s adventurous soul has taken him around the world to downhill ski, white water raft, and zipline, all of which push him outside of his comfort zone.

“I want to live my fullest life and not make decisions based on fear,” says Chad. “It’s natural to feel fear about some things, but at the end of the day, it’s not about how long we live, but it’s about the experiences we have and the steps we take to help other people.”

Currently, Chad keeps up with advances in technology to help with his day-to-day life, both personally and professionally, using iPhone accessibility features and the JAWS screen reader for computers. With so many new accessibility tools and innovative research being discovered in recent years, Chad feels optimistic for the future of finding treatments and cures for blinding diseases.

Chad ziplining through the trees in Belize.

“We’re at such an exciting time with advances in research and our vast understanding of genetics,” says Chad. “Very soon, I think we’re going to see blindness is a thing of the past.”

Chad’s ability to visualize greatness and reimagine the future is beneficial wisdom for anyone facing adversity at any stage of life.

“When I first lost my vision, I could have told myself I went blind because I have terrible luck, but all that does is frame me as a victim,” says Chad. “Instead, I told myself that I went blind because I’m someone that has the strength and toughness to overcome it. The stories we tell ourselves about our circumstances are way more important than the circumstances alone, and now my blindness is my greatest asset. It’s ironic that my loss of eyesight enabled me to see life more clearly, but the best way to improve your vision is to stop looking all around you and start looking deep inside you.”