How My Cleft Palate Prepared Me for Life on Wall Street

3 min read

By Dave Liu, as told to WebMD via Smile Train

Many would consider being born with a cleft lip and palate a setback that could have negative implications throughout one’s whole life. Looking back now, as a 30-year veteran of the finance and technology industry, I can see clearly that my cleft journey gave me the tools I needed to rise on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley, and succeed in business. 

I was born in the 1970s with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, and have undergone almost a dozen surgeries throughout my lifetime. At the time, before the age of the Internet and social media, I was unable to find role models, or foster connections with those in similar situations. It wasn’t until my twenties that I met another person with a cleft. I spent the majority of my childhood in Hong Kong, where I largely kept to myself, isolated by the social stigma associated with having a cleft.

Growing up can be difficult for anyone. And it can be especially hard for cleft-affected individuals; without representation, it is isolating and lonesome. After being bullied and ridiculed by others, I was taught an important life lesson by my parents at a young age: to focus on myself and ignore what others were saying about me. I channeled my energy into improving myself through my studies and outlets like drawing comic books and Chinese painting. It enabled me to ignore what others said and focus on improving myself.

Despite the peculiar looks and constant stares, I was always reminded of the words spoken to me by my parents. To this day, I still use them as my North Star. Focusing on my studies and self- improvement, I received a finance degree from the Wharton School and an engineering degree from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. Upon entering the workforce, my cleft prepared me well for a long career on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley by giving me what I called “rhino skin.” A mental  toughness to persevere. I learned to view it as a blessing rather than a curse, because it gave me the fortitude and determination that propelled me throughout my career.

Now that I have achieved many of my career goals, my hope is to serve as a source of inspiration for cleft-affected individuals and create a cleft council composed of the role models and representation that I wish I had as a child. If I could share a message with younger individuals who are facing adversity, I would say: remember you are not alone and to believe in yourself. With a bit of luck and perseverance, you can achieve anything you want.

To share my journey and the tactics I used to climb the corporate ladder, I wrote a book titled, The Way of the Wall Street Warrior: Conquer the Corporate Game Using Tips, Tricks and Smartcuts. A hundred percent of my net proceeds will benefit charities like Smile Train, the world's largest cleft-focused organization that transforms lives, and smiles, through the free cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care they offer worldwide.  

About Dave Liu

Dave is a 30-year veteran advisor, entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist, and author of The Way of the Wall Street Warrior. You can learn more about Dave by visiting his website at

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