Jeff Keller, Chief Auditor for TD Bank, America's Most Convenient Bank, recently completed the Virtual Achilles Hope & Possibility 5K in one day by walking on the beach. It was not a casual feat as Jeff has no sensation in his left foot. Jeff's journey to participate in this event was one that took many years.
Achilles is among the world's largest road races to bring together athletes both with and without disabilities. It would've been nearly impossible for Jeff to walk those miles in the past, not only for the physical reasons. The feat happened because Jeff was open to talking at work about his physical struggles, which allowed him to soar above them.
TD is the title sponsor of both the Achilles Hope & Possibility® 4M in New York City and the Virtual Achilles Hope & Possibility® 5K held on July 10-18th. Like TD Bank, Achilles International is committed to building a better society that enables everyone access to the opportunities we all deserve to improve our lives, our world and our future.
Jeff's journey to Achilles started as a young man early in his career. He had an image of the leader in the business that he wanted to be, and it didn't include letting people know about his disability and battle with severe and chronic pain.
Jeff was diagnosed in his twenties with Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis (SCFE). The ailment causes the head of the femur to slip off the neck of the bone at the growth plate. It resulted in Jeff's legs being different lengths and significant limitations in his range of motion and rotation.
"I had this fear that if I disclosed this limitation, I could somehow be perceived as less of a leader or maybe incapable of being a complete leader," said Jeff, who is based in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. "I can look at it with a different lens today, but when you're in the throes of it, you think about how people perceive you."
Jeff also felt his disability didn't compare with others who had more visible disabilities and that they should be the focus of efforts rather than him.
He joined Commerce Bank in 1997 as an Audit Supervisor, and his upward career track continued when Commerce was acquired by TD a little over a decade later. Jeff was promoted in June to Chief Auditor, AMCB. There was one area where he felt lacking, he couldn't participate in company events if they involved any physical activity, such as team-building softball games and charitable fundraisers involving walking or running.
One event over the years particularly stuck out was a fundraiser for Juvenile Diabetes, where participants logged in miles riding a stationary bike.
"I couldn't tell them that I can't ride a bike, my leg doesn't move that way. So, I signed up and made an excuse that day," he said. "Looking back now, it was silly of me because quite frankly, nobody would've noticed. The toll it takes on your mental health, I didn't realize it at the time, but there is no question it had a big impact that weighed on me emotionally for decades."
The day the world changed
After many years of coping with SCFE, Jeff was advised to get surgery. He had knots in his stomach before he met with his manager to explain the situation which would require him to be out for a few months. But he found "incredible relief" as his manager at the time, TD Bank's current Head of Enterprise Finance Kelvin Tran, totally understood when Jeff decided to self-disclose about his disability.
"He was the first person in my life to get me to see how this had no impact on my career," Jeff said. "Kelvin was so blunt about it and just said, 'listen, this in no way impacts what you're capable of doing as an internal audit leader.'"
The surgery itself helped relieve Jeff's pain greatly, but it left Jeff with no feeling in his left foot, so he can't tell whether a surface is hot, cold, soft or hard. He must make sure not to injure or tire out his foot too much because he wouldn't be able to tell by physical sensation or pain.
Today, as a member of the bank's Management Committee reporting to TD Bank CEO Greg Braca, Jeff feels an obligation to be open about his disability, so he decided to share his story in the hopes to help others.
Jeff is the most senior level executive to self-disclose, and during a year when an unprecedented number of colleagues have come forward to share their personal narratives – stories that define disability not as a weakness, but as a mark of enduring strength and resilience. This helps TD, as an employer, support its disability community by encouraging everyone to bring their whole selves to work. It also helps colleagues appreciate the unique challenges that individuals with diverse abilities confront in their daily lives.
"I was worried about the impact on my career, but this makes me a better leader," he said. "I'm focused now on being more inclusive in every aspect. If just one person decided to self-identify because I was open about my situation, that would make me feel like I have really accomplished a great thing."