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Mentor turns around a teen gangbanger, Ryan Blair, now making millions legally

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In an exclusive Q&A with Renée Ward, Ryan Blair, co-founder and CEO, ViSalus, the company behind the Body by Vi™ 90-Day Challenge, a weight and fitness transformation platform, and New York Times best-selling author of Nothing To Lose, Everything To Gain: How I Went From Gang Member To Multimillionaire Entrepreneur shares how a mentor’s influence at the age of 17 was the turning point in his life.

This is the fifth in a series of articles about the “first paying jobs” of successful people, their advice for today’s teens, and the value of work early in life.

After being kicked out of high school, Blair joined a Los Angeles, CA street gang. After learning the ways of illegal entrepreneurship, a mentor showed him how to achieve his goals legally. His career as a serial entrepreneur took off when he founded his first company, 24/7 Tech at the age of 21.

Making his first million dollars by the age of 26, Blair quickly learned what was needed to build a company from the ground up. Blair, now 36 years old, has founded, sold, merged, and acquired numerous companies for hundreds of millions of dollars. He says ViSalus is valued at more than $600 million.

Ward: How old were you when you landed your first paying job?
Blair: I was 17 when I landed my first paying job as a “Boy Friday” for my stepfather, Robert Hunt.

Ward: What was the job and what did it entail?
Blair: My job included doing everything from cleaning my stepfather’s boat, running errands for him, to serving eviction notices to his rental tenants.

Ward: I know it might be obvious but how did this opportunity come about?
Blair: My mother met Robert Hunt, a self-made real-estate entrepreneur, while she was working at a deli. She asked if he would consider hiring me for a job and since he liked her, he gave me a shot.

Ward: What qualities did you bring to the job at that time? Why do you think you “earned” the job?
Blair: I told him I was willing to do anything and everything he asked of me. I took every task as a chance to learn and a chance to prove myself. I wanted to show him that I was better than his other employees because I took each task personally and did more than I was asked of.

Ward: So Robert Hunt was your mentor. What was it about him that made you respect and take his direction?
Blair: Yes, Robert Hunt was my mentor. I was poor and had respect for people who were self-made. I saw people who became so through the streets. Bob didn't have street smarts. I figured I could add that value to him. It turned out he needed my perspective and I needed his.

Ward: How did he help you?
Blair: He insisted I get my GED and go to a community college as one of his conditions of my employment. If I was late, he would explain to me that my behavior was unacceptable. He would correct me when I made mistakes. If I asked for a raise he would be honest with me about my performance and what he felt I needed to work on. Most importantly he would ask me my goals, personally, professionally and financially. He knew what I wanted and presented the work he asked me to do as a gateway for me to achieve.

I would not be where I am today if it were not for his mentorship early on. To this day I recite the words he gave me as though they are a gift, two years after he's passed.

Ward: Did anything go wrong on the job? If so, how did you overcome the challenges?
Blair: Yes, I would constantly make mistakes. I was also very insecure so each time I made a mistake it was amplified by my inner voice. He would tell me not to worry about a mistake I made, but rather to worry about what I was going to do to prevent it from happening again. He made each challenge a learning opportunity.

What: What did you learn from this job that has prepared you for what you are doing now?
Blair: By watching an entrepreneur in action, I learned how to be one myself. I applied the lessons he taught me almost daily. I now have a substantial real-estate portfolio and when I’m faced with a decision I often ask myself, “What would Bob do?”

Ward: What advice do you have for teens and young adults seeking their first job?
Blair: My advice is to take a job with a company where your primary objective is to learn, not earn.

The more you position yourself to learn, the more you’ll understand what you want to do later on.

If you end up doing something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.
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Additional tips for teens as a result of this interview:

Not sure what you want to do or what kind of job to pursue? Take a look at the Association for Career and Technical Education’s (ACTE) career clusters and take a Career Clusters Interest Survey. This may help give you focus and direction in your job hunting. The Career Clusters Interest Survey

For more job advice for teens visit—Teens4Hire.org.

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