After a decade and a half in corporate America, David Aspinall was looking for something different and more entrepreneurial. And, maybe, something a little more meaningful to the community at large.
The Manchester, England, native had found his way to North Texas and Fort Worth in 2015 as a region president for Sprint. Part of what began changing his thought process was getting his master’s in business administration from TCU’s Neeley School of Business.
“Going to Neeley was one of the really amplifying factors of my journey from being a company executive into a more entrepreneurial way of thinking,” he said.
Aspinall, 49, spent 12 years at AT&T and also worked several years at Sprint before deciding he wanted a change.
Aspinall left the corporate world and began consulting and doing some other work. Meanwhile, he was looking for that perfect opportunity.
He joined the YPO, formerly the Young Presidents Organization, and began working as an adviser and became even more involved with the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, something he had started doing while at Neeley.
But he wasn’t sure where he wanted to focus until a fellow YPO member introduced him to Auticon, a company that helps members of the autistic community find work equivalent to their talents.
Autism refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, according to the organization Autism Speaks.
Auticon provides autistic professions to client companies, where they typically work as software developers, data analysts, quality assurance engineers, and other, typically, technology-related fields.
Auticon, based in Germany, was looking to expand in the U.S. and particularly in fast-growing Texas. He became CEO of Auticon U.S. in March of 2020. The company currently has 55 employees in the U.S. and about 300 worldwide.
“Fort Worth is perfect because of the growth we have here,” Aspinall said. “And the wide variety of types of jobs, it’s a great spot for us to grow.”
Auticon is not a nonprofit venture, Aspinall said, although it does have a positive social impact.
“We are a for-profit business, and we believe that the principles of business are needed in order to help solve some of society’s challenges,” Aspinall said. “The challenge that we focused on is that of employment in the autistic community.”
Auticon’s success has drawn plenty of high-profile investors, including Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Group Ltd., Felix and Susanne Porsche, Ananda Impact Ventures, Ferd AS, Ferst Capital Partners and the Autism Impact Fund.
“It’s an impressive group and that was attractive to me as well,” said Aspinall.
Research from Autism Speaks says that between 50% and 75% of the 5.6 million autistic adults in the U.S. are either unemployed or underemployed.
Autistic individuals often are underemployed, working in fast food or as night managers, when they have the abilities to be high-level coders or top flight data analysts, Aspinall said.
“Our job is to find an organization where that person can put their talents to the best use,” he said. “It’s rewarding for everyone.”
Many people with autism can find support systems in the educational environment, but then have trouble in the workplace because those support systems often don’t exist, Aspinall said.
Auticon’s mission is to provide that missing support system gap and also to help companies find highly productive employees.
Some companies have their own programs to bring members of the autistic community into their workforce.
Round Rock, Texas-based Dell Technologies, for instance, has a neurodiversity hiring program.
Birthplace: Manchester, England (still a Manchester United fan)
Moved to Fort Worth: 2015
Family: Laurie Yesley, wife, assistant director, Center for Supply Chain Innovation at Neeley School of Business; son, Thomas, 16, at the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, New Mexico, daughter, Olivia, 12.
Education: University of Sheffield, England, B.A. in business. MBA from Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University.
“I take advantage of the educational opportunities that are offered by YPO on a weekly basis. I just try to make education part of my everyday rhythm.”
Work experience: Executive at AT&T, Sprint.
Volunteer experience: Executive volunteer for the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.
First job: “I was a bid manager for an IT company in France. And I didn’t know what a bid manager was, but it sounded pretty cool. And it taught me a lot of discipline around documentation and creating really large proposals for multi-million dollar contracts.”
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: Advice for someone looking to be a leader: “Seek opportunities. Seek leadership opportunities to grow confidence. Seek opportunities in your community and your school. Even just opportunities to understand what it means when somebody’s looking to you to set a direction.
“And be sure about those opportunities. Because a lot of people will take everything. But, if you are not sure about what you’re doing, it means you won’t follow through. If you take too many, if you spread yourself too thin and then you get the reputation of someone who doesn’t follow through, then that will serve you negatively. Get a reputation for somebody who does what they say they’re going to do.”
Best advice ever received: “Be genuine. I think at the point where somebody can have a balance of self-confidence. Knowing who they are and be genuine and self-assured with who they are, even though they’re not the finished product. To me that was a lesson that I learned. I spent the first half of my career pretending to be the finished product. And then I’ve spent the second half of my career knowing who I am and be genuine about that. And understanding that I’ve got to surround myself with a super high-functioning team for us to drive to an outcome.”
“Some companies have figured it out, but a lot haven’t and our job is to help them do that,” Aspinall said.
Auticon’s clients include Disney, Warner Bros., IBM, Salesforce and Merck.
“The Salesforce partnership with Auticon is already yielding tremendous results within our own business technology organization,” said Eric Berridge, executive vice president at Salesforce, in a statement.
Auticon is not asking companies to do the right thing because they are nice people, said Aspinall.
“What we are doing is actually bringing the performance advantage into their workplace because we’ve got a very clear connection between our mission and the performance advantage that our constituents, the employees, can bring,” he said.
The company measures its success by getting market-rate salaries for those autistic individuals seeking new employment, Aspinall said.
“For a lot of the time, it might be the first time they have a 401(k) with their job, or healthcare and other blue-chip benefits,” he said.
The company is private, but Aspinal said in 2022 it delivered a 65% year-over-year revenue increase.
“That indicates we’re doing something right,” he said.
Along with his job as CEO, Aspinall believes in being involved in the community. He does a lot of mentoring to other young executives and tends to focus on people who are in a career transition.
“Those people that have that late blooming entrepreneurial curiosity, like I had,” he said. “I work with a lot of those.”
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.
At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.