Photo: Tameka Jacobs
Two decades ago, Ryan Blair was the product of a broken family.At the age of 13, he was already heavily “involved in stuff” after his father succumbed to drug addiction, he tells us.
Without anyone to turn to for his Attention Deficit Disorder and dyslexia, Blair dropped out of school in the 9th grade and quickly turned to the close-knit “familia” gang life.
In his book “Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain,” Blair writes:
“I quickly saw how the system worked, how the street lords kept themselves in power through influence and manipulation. I observed how the older people used bribery and fear to get the younger kids to do their crimes, and I saw how the young people willingly went along with it because it seemed like the only power structure that had any kind of respect in the neighbourhood.”
His story was meant for a tragic end, but Blair is no longer even a shadow of his former self — except for the tattoos you see when he wears short-sleeved shirts.
At 21, Blair started his first company and today, is a serial entrepreneur who also happens to be a multimillionaire.
“Long before I became a millionaire entrepreneur, I was a kid with a criminal record, street gang experience, and a lot of emotional scarring from years of abuse from my father. My teenage years were hardly the typical starting point for a normal, productive life, let alone a successful business career. Turns out, that didn’t matter.”
While dabbling in the criminal lifestyle, Blair was arrested close to a dozen times. He was 16 years old the last time he was arrested and facing a four-year jail sentence.
Luckily, at the age of 18, Blair’s mother “sobered up” and “started dating a guy in real estate,” which, he says, allowed him to “see how the legal people do it.”
When he realised legal business tactics weren’t so different from “street smarts,” Blair decided to apply the survival blueprints he learned from his former life into the corporate world.
“There’s a hierarchy in gangs, a hierarchy of positions and power,” he says. “A gang is an economic system, and there’s a lot of similarities between gangs and some legal companies.”
“I know that it’s not always the most powerful organisation that’s going to make it, it’s the one that’s most adaptable with the changing times, the one that understands how to manage their politics.”
Three years later, the former problem child launched his first company — 24/7 Tech — and his spotty past has made him the business man he is now.
Today, he’s the CEO of ViSalus and won the DSN Global Turn Around Award in 2010 when he actually turned the company around from a $6 million debt in early 2008 to $150 million in revenue 16 months later.
“I learned my business skills living in poverty and having had a family that was heavily involved in illegal businesses.”
In the beginning, Blair tells us he was nervous about “taking his skeletons out of his closet,” because people are always “looking for a reason to see why they are better than you. People look at people who don’t have pedigree upbringings differently.”
But “if you avoid it, or hide it, others might feel as though there’s a dishonesty there, and hiding something is a very expensive emotional thing for you.”
It was something Blair decided he didn’t want weighing him down, and tells us he applies this same belief when hiring his own employees.
“I am 100 per cent open to [hiring someone with a criminal record], but only if the person is honest about it.”
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