Mar 07, 2015 at 09:48 AM

Franchising World Article - José Cofiño & ALS

By José Cofiño

Reprinted from The International Franchise Association's Franchise World Magazine, February 2015

FROM ADVERSITY TO REWARDS

Facing Adversity Head-on and Finding Opportunities

Adversity and subsequent opportunities led to executive positions, but something was missing.

BY JOSÉ COFIÑO

Franchise executives face challenges daily. Looking for the opportunities that arise from adversity will lead to achieving more than perhaps we think is possible. Such is the story of my life.

Franchising World Article - José Cofiño & ALS
José Speaking at Augie's Quest Gala

Born in Cuba a few weeks before Fidel Castro entered Havana, the first 45 days of my life were already affected by adversity. Eighteen months later, while my family was visiting my grandparents in Mexico, we learned that we had been denounced to the government and were not to return to Cuba. We had, in essence, lost everything but the clothes on our backs.

While in Mexico, my father died and, a year to the day later, my older brother was killed by a truck while riding his bike home from school. I was seven.


RESILIENCE FINDS OPPORTUNITIES

In each instance, my mother’s resilience found opportunities. When dad died, she went to work teaching secretarial skills. When my older brother died, she saw that the future for a widow with a young child would be much better in the United States than in Mexico. So, for a second time, she migrated, with me in tow and $200 in her pocket.

Franchising World Article - José Cofiño & ALS
José & His Mom c.1969

Mom understood that opportunities would arise through education, so she asked the parish priest for help in attending the parochial school, though she could not afford it. High school repeated that pattern. When college came around, I took over by working full time while getting my degree from Georgetown University, also on a full-time basis. Two of the best years of my life were invested at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

With everything that had happened early in life, there was sense of needing to do something which mattered. Perhaps it would be through business, but I was wrong. 

Franchising World Article - José Cofiño & ALS

The adversity, and subsequent opportunities, had led to executive positions with Holiday Corporation, PepsiCo Restaurants and The Walt Disney Company, and a seat on the board of directors of the International Franchise Association (2008-2009) and the board of directors of the IFA Diversity Institute (2005-2010). There were fancy cars, access to private planes, first-class living all around, but still something was missing.


ADVERSITY ON STEROIDS

In 2012, strange things began to happen: twitching, cramping and weakness in one foot. A battery of tests confirmed our fears — Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the nervous system with neither treatment nor cure. It attacks people differently and, on average, patients have a life expectancy of three to five years: Adversity on steroids.

My partner, Ben Trust, and I committed to take the power away from the disease, and make sense of it all, by seeking opportunities to help find a cure — if not for me, then for those who would come after us. We knew little about ALS, other than I could be dead in a few years. We knew less about the who, what and where of clinical trials, but we had to do something. It gave us comfort and strength. We went off to look for the opportunity.

We decided to support the ALS Therapy Development Institute, a non-profit biotech focused on leading-edge research. When the institute announced its Precision Medicine Program, I knew that was the opportunity we were looking for. This is work that utilizes stem cell research and genome mapping to find any medicine that may slow, stop or reverse ALS, one person at a time.


MAKING A MARK

Frankly, I am a very fortunate person. Most people go through their entire lives without having a clear sense of purpose — no way to make a real mark. I was right that I was destined to be a part of something important, and now I am. If our efforts with ALS-TDI and PMP research lead to even a small step in ridding the world of ALS, then I will die a happy man, not that I am planning on dying any time soon, you understand. There is still much to do: raising funds for ALS research through my website, BeyondALS.org, and speaking to groups about the power of facing adversity head-on, seeking the opportunities that certainly arise from it, and achieving more in a way that makes a real difference. The story of my life continues.

José Cofiño is founder of BeyondALS.org, which is dedicated to increasing awareness of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and in generating funds to help find a treatment solution. He was the recipient of the Augie's Quest Courage Award in 2014.

Posted in Overcoming Adversity.