When a 23-year-old John Cronin became the first person with Down syndrome to be named an EY Entrepreneur of the Year, he wanted to share the accomplishment with his dad, who celebrated his 61st birthday as they received their prize.
At the end of his acceptance speech, John led the audience in singing "Happy Birthday" to his beloved dad, Mark Cronin.
“I did, I gave a huge shoutout to my dad,” John, of John’s Crazy Socks, told InsideEdition.com. “He’s the one who made it possible, gave me a chance. Gave me a chance and show what’s possible that I can do.”
John said the wild journey to becoming an Entrepreneur of the Year began when he was finishing up high school and started considering what his next step was.
He and his dad discussed several different ideas and eventually settled on designing socks with colorful designs and fun themes.
“It’s fun, it’s colorful, it’s creative and always really be me,” John explained. “I’ve worn crazy socks my entire life.”
Building their own father-son run business was also partially Mark’s idea, who explained that the issue of Americans with Down syndrome having a hard time in the job market was always at the forefront of his mind.
“There aren’t great choices for people with differing abilities. We know this is true for us and it’s true for others,” said Mark, president of John’s Crazy Socks. “John’s a natural entrepreneur. If he doesn’t see something, he can go and create it.”
The Melville, New York, family began building their business in 2017, and they now have 39 employees, 23 of them with differing abilities.
“We want to show that if you give someone a chance that they’re going to be able to produce,” Mark said. “It’s not about charity. Everybody here who has a job has earned it at our entry-level job.”
One of their employees, Thomas, is on the autism spectrum and was depressed and largely nonverbal before he began working at John’s Crazy Socks, Mark said.
“His mom called us up and said, ‘Please hire our son, he’s in a bad way,’” Mark recalled. “Thomas was depressed, wouldn’t come out of his room, they were having trouble getting him to shower and shave. He had stopped talking to his father and they couldn’t get him to join any program.”
Instead of offering Thomas a job, Mark invited him to their offices for a try out at their entry-level position, and Thomas thrived.
Today, Thomas loves chatting with his colleagues and looks forward to his dad taking him to work.
“He does great,” John said.
The company also gives back, donating 5% of their earnings to the Special Olympics and partnering with different charities like the National Down Syndrome Society.
Other than limiting hours on some of their employees so they can still collect their Social Security benefits, Mark said having employees with differing abilities is no different than running any other company.
“There’s a labor shortage going on. Employers can’t find enough good workers and yet 80% of people with a disability are unemployed and these are folks that are ready, able and willing to work,” Mark said. “It’s a good business decision and we want other businesses to see it too.”
For John, he said he attributes his success to three key pieces of advice.
“Follow your heart, follow your dreams – dreams come true – and if you can’t do [something,] someone that knows will show you,” he said.