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Tuesday, Apr 22, 2014

Gang member turned entrepreneur shares success secrets

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Published:   |   Updated: May 2, 2013 at 11:47 AM
BRANDON -

Ryan Blair has spent the better part of this year on the road meeting fans and showing at-risk kids how they can replicate his improbable success story.

Blair is the author of New York Times best-selling book “Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain”, where he recounts his early life as a gang member in Los Angeles and his transformation into a successful entrepreneur.

“When I was a kid, I had a judge tell me that I should be writing in college, not prison,” said Blair, who dropped out of high school in the 9th grade and wound up in a juvenile detention center following multiple arrests. “It really planted a seed with me, but sharing my story was also very liberating.”

Blair, 35, was in the Tampa Bay area Thursday to promote two of his current passions.

The paperback edition of his book hit bookstands on March 26, and Blair signed copies of “Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain” at the Books-A-Million in Brandon from noon to 1 p.m.

Blair is the CEO of ViSalus, a company that markets weight management and nutritional products. He acquired ViSalus in 2008, when it was $6 million in debt. The company recently surpassed the billion-dollar mark in terms of revenue.

“It’s always amazing to meet people who have altered their lives in a drastic way for the better,” he said.

After the book signing, he traveled to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay to visit with children facing some of the same obstacles Blair overcame. Blair grew up in an abusive home with a father who was addicted to crystal methamphetamine. He credits Robert Hunt, a real-estate entrepreneur who began dating Blair’s mother when he was 18, for mentoring him and ushering in his professional success.

“I’m basically there to talk to them about the untaught subject of entrepreneurship,” he said. “A lot of people think education ends when you finish high school or college, but that’s when it begins.”

Stephen Koch, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay, said the children weren’t the only ones to benefit from Blair’s visit.

“It means a lot, not just for the kids, but for the staff and our volunteer mentors,” Koch said. “We can all learn from each other.”

Koch added that Blair’s visit represented a world of possibilities some of the kids don’t even realize exist.

“It’s about showing kids a different perspective and letting them know there are different avenues for their lives,” he said. “Some kids have never gone much farther beyond their own neighborhood.”

Blair is a regular contributor for business-related matters on MSNBC, CNBC and Fox. He has pledged to donate 100 percent of the book’s profits to charity.

“Every time I’ve been tired or I have a flight that gets delayed, the visits to places like Big Brothers Big Sisters makes up for it,” Blair said. “If I can just plant a seed in those kids’ heads, I’ve done my job.”


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