Dean Furness sits in his wheelchair in front of red letters spelling 'TED' and delivers his TED@WellsFargo Talk to Wells Fargo employees in Knight Theater.
With more than 630,000 views since the May 18 video release of his TED@WellsFargo Talk in Charlotte, North Carolina, Dean Furness continues to inspire.
Photo: Ryan Lash/TED
Diversity & Inclusion
May 27, 2020

‘Move forward to what is next’

A TED Talk is the latest milestone for Iowan Dean Furness, who credits his Wells Fargo career and other achievements for moving past a 2011 farm accident.

Dean Furness, an analytic consultant with Wells Fargo Technology, never saw the danger as he backed up his tractor on the family farm. The tractor wheels were slipping in the grass below, jamming the machine’s hydraulics and lifting the hay bale on the front higher and higher until it suddenly crashed down on him. The blow instantly severed Furness’ spine, and the former wide receiver at Central College in Pella, Iowa, couldn’t feel his legs. He knew he’d never run again and, with six months left on his contracting work for Wells Fargo Home Lending, he wondered about his job, too.

Dean Furness sits in the cab of his Bobcat tractor in workout attire.
Dean Furness, an analytic consultant with Wells Fargo Technology, still enjoys working on his 10-acre farm in Martensdale, Iowa.

George Strickland, a data engineer and Furness’ manager at the time, addressed that concern as soon as Furness returned from a rehabilitation hospital in Colorado. “How would you like to work for Wells Fargo full time?” he asked. Furness accepted and started June 2012.

“What you bring to the table for Wells Fargo,” Strickland told Furness, “is not impacted by this in any way, shape, or form. It’s your mind and ability to engage people in the work. That’s what’s important!”

Strickland found Furness a first-floor office at Wells Fargo Home Lending’s headquarters in West Des Moines, Iowa, after the accident. According to Furness, Strickland demonstrated the commitment to diversity and inclusion that was recently recognized by DiversityInc, which named Wells Fargo the “Top Company for People with Disabilities.” The publication also included Wells Fargo in other rankings of diversity and inclusion leadership.

“I remember George saying, ‘Just give us the hours you can work, and when your body says you can handle a 40-hour week, then go after that goal next,’” Furness said. “The accident happened in December 2011, and it wasn’t until late July 2012 that I was back to more of a normal work schedule. I have never once been made to feel ‘less than’ since the accident.”

Furness’ wife, Deonne, said she and their three daughters appreciate Wells Fargo’s support. One of them, Taylar Shepherd, 25, began her own Wells Fargo career in May 2018 as a Wells Fargo Home Lending account resolution specialist in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Furness family takes a family portrait in front of a Christmas tree.
The Furness family: Dean and daughters Raigen and Angelina are in the front row. His wife, Deonne, is in the back row with their son-in-law Levi Shepherd and daughter, Taylar, who also works for Wells Fargo.

“In a time of uncertainty for our family, Dean had an entire Wells Fargo team willing to wait on his rehab and anxious to challenge his brain mentally,” Deonne Furness said. “To Dean, rehab wasn’t just about getting home: It was about learning to live an independent and full life, keeping him just as engaged at work as he was before the accident. He’s actually more active now than before he was hurt.”

In addition to the host of presentations he’s already made at developer conferences for Wells Fargo, a yearlong collaboration between Wells Fargo and the TED Institute has given Furness his biggest stage: a TED@WellsFargo Talk (12:15) about overcoming challenges and resetting your personal average.

The presentation draws on one of Furness’ lowest days, Strickland’s advice, and the results that followed, which included competing in seven marathons and more than 10 half-marathons as a wheelchair racer, serving on the school board of the Martensdale-St. Marys Community School District in Martensdale, Iowa, for eight years, and coaching high school girls basketball and boys football.

“George was instrumental in me getting back on my feet,” Furness said. “We were having one of our talks, and I told him I was having a hard time but didn’t feel depressed. He said, ‘You’re frustrated about what you want to do right now but can’t.’ He was very straightforward with me, and set me down a really good path.

“The frustration of things that take time that never used to take time really started to wear on me, but what George said helped me really come to terms with the fact that this is my new life and work and just the way things are going to be. I needed to learn to come to terms with it.”

After splitting time between home and company offices in West Des Moines, Furness now works remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic for Wells Fargo Technology. He’s ready for whatever changes the post-pandemic world brings to life and business, and he’s thankful for the opportunities Wells Fargo has provided.

“Having the freedom to collaborate with my team and come up with creative solutions is hugely important,” he said. “I have always had that here, and I’m just excited for what’s next.”

Raigen Furness, 21, said a sign on the dining room wall reminds her of her dad and the way he’s turned bad into good.

“The sign reads, ‘Stronger than yesterday,’” she said. “I believe this saying is a staple, not just for Dad, but our family. There is no such thing as a bad day unless you let it be a bad day — it’s your choice. You are stronger than the day before, and you can move forward to what is next.”

On a taupe wall a chalkboard sign next to a tin windmill reads: Stronger than yesterday.
This sign in the dining room reminds Raigen Furness of her dad and family’s resilience.