Tomorrow Is Better Than Yesterday
An Interview with Sean Maloney
One afternoon in February 2010 everything changed for Sean Maloney. Then, Intel’s former Executive Vice President and General Manager who many considered to be next in line as CEO thought he was invincible. Despite his healthy and active lifestyle, a blocked carotid artery led to a stroke that wiped out virtually all of his abilities – to write, to speak (aphasia), and paralyzed the right side of his body. Sean was determined to recover and regain his abilities and to do whatever he could to help save others from the trauma of stroke and heart disease.
Sean’s new mission is Heart Across America and on March 22nd he leaves for a 5000-mile cross-country bicycle ride, stopping for events in 14 cities to get people talking about health, heart disease and stroke prevention. Everywhere Sean goes, he is encouraging others to lead a healthy, active lifestyle, know how to spot a stroke F.A.S.T.(Facial drooping, Arm Weakness, Speech difficulties and Time) and for adults over forty to get essential blood pressure and 3D carotid artery ultrasound screenings. We met up with Sean in the back patio of the Alpine Inn in Portola Valley, CA to talk about his experience, what drives him and then head out to ride Old La Honda Road. Where at 58 years old, Sean is an animal on the bike! Support Sean's YouCaring campaign below.
What motivates and drives you everyday?
SM: Tomorrow is better than yesterday”. Years and years before I had my stroke, “only the paranoid survived” was a phrase from Andy Grove who I worked for as his technical assistant. “Only the paranoid survive” –that was Intel 24x7x365. That was the Intel I knew. It was a lot different then with Craig Barrett and Paul Otellini but in my mind “only the paranoid survive” was spot on. After I had my stroke it became, “tomorrow is better than yesterday…I mean there was a time when every time I went into a room, I couldn’t speak and now I’m reminded that tomorrow is better than yesterday. Next week is better than last week. Next month is better than last month. Next year is better than last year.
If you do that then you are constantly reaching out to move forward, making progress. If you don’t do that, then you are doomed. If you say tomorrow won’t be as good as yesterday than you are in trouble. Post stroke, I believe that.
So clearly you’re a big believer in looking forward and not dwelling on the past?
SM: Absolutely. I nearly died. When I collapsed, I thought I was dying. My son George came in to rescue me and saved me [Sean clearly getting choked up when describing this]. But as I have said I believe tomorrow is better than yesterday and next week is better than last week. The only dwelling I do is the work I’m doing on stroke prevention.
It’s so important people know you don’t need to have a stroke. 80% of strokes are caused by atherosclerosis, where the veins and arteries get blocked by the build up of fats, cholesterol, and other substances. In my case, the carotid artery was blocked. When you look at the heart, atherosclerosis shuts down all the arteries and veins in your heart.
Atherosclerosis is by far the most common form of death in the world and it doesn’t need to happen. If your blood pressure is high then fix it. If you are anxious, then fix it. I don’t want anyone to have a stroke and that drives me now.
What role did Intel and your Intel relationships play in your recovery?
SM: Intel played a very good and helpful role in my recovery. Paul Otellini and so many others were really kind to me. That was then and this is now and we’re moving forward. Intel is a great company and now I am focused on my next chapter. I really miss all the people from Intel and of course now my focus is to help prevent people from getting a stroke. So I want to help people understand the importance of getting annual ultrasounds starting around the age of 40. If you don’t get annual ultrasounds, you are taking an unnecessary risk.
“I want to help people understand the importance of getting annual ultrasounds starting around the age of 40.”
We understand you are interested in pursuing new technologies to improve stroke prevention, and to make it more affordable and accessible?
SM: That’s right. Today, if you go get an ultrasound, there will be a cable and a wand and that’s it and these technologies have been developed around 10 years ago – I mean come on. What I am looking at are ways to cut the price of 3D ultrasounds by 10x, which I think is something that would be easy to do.
So people could someday go into their local CVS or Walgreens Healthcenters to get an ultrasound done?
SM: Yes, people ought to be able to go in and say, “Could I please have a 3D image of my body?” It’s simple to do but it’s too complex today on a large scale. In five years time, I believe you should be able to go in and get 3D images of your body in a matter of minutes. If people could do that once a year, it could help save a lot of lives.
“If people could do that once a year, it could help save a lot of lives.”
Your ride across America starts in 8 days. Where do you think you will pull the strength from to keep peddling on your ride across America?
SM: …well, I don’t think that’s the question. I’ve always got strength. For 40 years, every morning, I get up and row. It’s been for the whole of my life, it’s what I love to do and I really can’t figure it out. I just go to bed and get up and I row. It’s just what I do.
So clearly it is a daily discipline for you?
SM: Totally. No other way to put it.
A driving force behind ZIDILIFE and ZIDIWORK is that it’s essential to have a passion and discipline that drives you outside of the office. The “corporate grind” can be challenging and if you don’t enjoy life along the way, you are missing out.
SM: Oh yeah, completely. People can get too lost in their jobs.
What advice do you have on the importance of work life balance and having a daily discipline?
SM: Either you’re in or you’re not. I’m in. Every morning I get up, I take the kids off to school and get my day going.
Ok, need to set this one up for you a bit…one of our ZIDI Mentors and ex-Intel employee Charles Scott, recently lead the first blind runner, Dan Berlin, across the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim nonstop-consisting of 46 miles and 25,000 feet of climbing in 28 hours. Dan went blind in his 30s and then decided to become a marathoner and ultra distance athlete. However it was after Dan went blind that he decided to start doing things that intimidate the healthiest of athletes.
You had a stroke, but instead of letting that hold you back, you used the experience as a reason to do something insanely hard – cycling 5,000 miles across the U.S. in order to raise awareness and money to prevent strokes. You took a devastating experience and managed to turn it into something positive. What is the secret to developing the resilient mindset that allowed you to do that?
SM: Wow, I don’t know really. I mean I wake up in the morning and I think hey…see that hill? Let’s go climb that hill or ride that mountain. Ever since I can remember I think, let’s go to that mountain or that mountain, it’s really great and I love it!
So being adventurous, pushing yourself and challenging yourself has been engrained in you since you can remember? Did you get it from your parents?
SM: Yes, since I was around 10 or so. My mother was awesome. She came from a humble Irish background from County Mayo in the western region of Ireland. She was top notch and she died in 2002 on my birthday. She wanted to say Happy Birthday to me, then she died, [Sean clearly emotional sharing this experience] I got a lot of my determination from her.
What do you want your legacy to be?
SM: I don’t know that yet. One is to never ever, ever have a stroke! If I can persuade you to understand that and do whatever is necessary to prevent it, then great. If I don’t persuade you, then I have got to keep on.
[Both laughing] well you are good at being persistent – no problem there! Sean, thank you so much for your time. We are very excited to cheer you on during your ride across America, and we look forward to tracking and sharing your progress along the way.
Sean’s interview was conducted by Christian Sommer a former 12-year Intel employee who in 2013 left to start ZIDILIFE with the mission to inspire people everyday to achieve great things in their personal and professional lives. Visit ZIDIWORK to learn how we inspire workforce success.