In a Brooklyn, New York, church, more than 50 adults attentively take notes as a 15-year-old authoritatively spouts off tips on financial empowerment. Without the mentorship of former Wall Street trader Ryan Mack, the young man leading this workshop would not have recognized his ability to influence lives in his community. Since 2005, through a program dubbed All About Business, Mack has transformed the thoughts, habits, and aspirations of dozens of young people in New York City.
The 30-year-old former securities trader, now a financial planner and entrepreneur, works with local schools to teach students how to create a legacy of wealth in their family. The All About Business program began as an effort for Mack’s firm, Optimum Capital Management, to help build wealth in the black community. “If you want to cause a paradigm shift in the economic structure of society,” says Mack, “you really have to do it with the youth.” Starting with a group of students at Brooklyn’s Benjamin Banneker Academy high school, the University of Michigan graduate began teaching his “Seven Steps to Financial Freedom.” During the school year, his protégés spend one day a week after school learning principles of financial literacy and entrepreneurship.
After a few months in the program, Mack’s kids are charged with showing a firm grasp of the principles, which include concepts such as eliminating high-risk debt and setting up a company retirement plan. During their inaugural “Walk for Economic Empowerment” this past June, the students walked through local business districts to offer assistance to small-business owners–providing marketing suggestions to help them grow their business. What’s more, in an effort to create a more permanent multigenerational impact, students teach financial seminars with as many as a few hundred attendees.
Several students also participate in a summer internship with Mack’s firm. On Saturdays the teenagers further enhance their financial fluency by presenting synopses of the week’s stock market activity and analyses of financial markets. Mack’s protégés also compose articles discussing principles of finance and business, which Mack integrates into newsletters.
The seed for starting his own business was planted in 2002 when, after attending a financial empowerment seminar, Mack began to fully appreciate the stark difference in financial understanding in the black community. Then in 2004, after several years as a trader for Knight Equity Markets, he left Wall Street to launch Optimum Capital Management.
Mack often continues to mentor students past their high school graduation. Among his success stories is Emmanuel Hector, now age 19. Two years ago he knew almost nothing about financial markets. While in the program, Hector wrote an assignment tackling the topic of how an inverted yield curve can signal an economic recession. His All About Business education helped him receive a Gates Millennium scholarship to attend Adelphi University, where he is currently a sophomore.
Another of Mack’s accomplished mentees is Akil King, now a sophomore at Hampton University. Orphaned at a young age and raised by family members, King was ill-prepared for his approaching transition to college and independent living. After