Alum Spotlight: Ryan Mack

Back to the Money Basics

Ryan Mack (Mich. '99) left a job on Wall Street to teach financial literacy to everyone - including public housing residents, South African youth and ex-prisoners.

Mack teaches finance to a group
of students interested in business.

In the five years he spent as a Wall Street trader, Ryan Mack knew something was missing. "I was making a lot of money behind the computer," he says. "But I wasn’t helping anyone."

His aunt, meanwhile, had asked for his advice on money and investing. It hit him that his own family didn’t really know what he did for a living, and it was a concept he couldn’t shake. "I really wanted to see if I could help individuals like my family members learn about financial planning," he says.

So that’s what he did. In 2004, he quit his trading job, putting all the money he had been saving for a house into creating a business that aimed to teach people from all walks of life the basics of finances. Today, he’s president of New York-based Optimum Capital Management, a sought-after speaker on money matters and a regular financial contributor on CNN.

Mack learned his own lessons in money early on. Growing up in the Detroit suburbs, his family was on subsidized living, and his mother talked often with him and his brother about careful spending. "As a single parent, you have to make money go as far as it can," says his mom, Carol Mack Wells, who now is the vice president of Wayne County Community College District’s Corporate College. "Many of the decisions we made, the three of us made together. I know those discussions affected how they looked at money."

Caddying at Detroit Golf Club taught him many of the lessons he still utilizes today, he says, such as "how to play the game, the game of golf and of networking and communicating with professionals."

From the start, Mack wanted his company’s main focus to be education and community outreach. The early years were tough, he says, and he literally was "wearing holes in my shoes" from walking around all day presenting money workshops in schools and public housing. He’d walk through snow or rain, sometimes to only an audience of two or three people. And he wasn’t getting paid. Mack recalls eating plenty of canned tuna and ramen noodles. Once, he fell behind on electric payments, and the lights were shut off. But he knew he finally was doing something he believed in, passionately and wholeheartedly. "We teach," he says. "We never promote services. All we do is teach."

His first client signed on Aug. 28, 2005, paying him $300. Mack spent two years doing community outreach, while also working as an adjunct college professor. While there, he constantly networked and slowly built up a database containing about 10,000 e-mails. Slowly, his workshops began to grow. Then he was written about in the local press, and one thing led to another.

In 2008, he was asked to appear on CNN, where he now is a financial contributor several times a month. Today, his firm still focuses on community outreach and teaching financial literacy to varying demographics, rather than reaching out to new clients. His firm has trained Fortune 500 company employees, church-goers, union members, former prisoners and South African youth.

His days are diverse: One morning, Mack may appear on CNN; that afternoon, he’ll be teaching money lessons in public housing. He is in the fifth year of his after-school youth mentoring program that teaches financial planning. He has created and taught numerous personal finance courses with various universities and schools in the New York area, and he has traveled to South Africa to create economic empowerment program initiatives. In January, his book "Living in the Village," which discusses financial strategy and empowerment, comes out.

He was awarded the Tom Joyner "Hardest Working Financial Advisor" National Award in 2007, and was honored in 2009 with one of The Network Journals’ "Forty Under Forty" for business achievement awards.

Mack says his ultimate goal is having everyone learn about effective money management. "I’m not trying to make everyone millionaires," he says. "Money obviously was not the driver. It was a bigger calling."


-First printed in the Winter 2010 Mac Report