Ryan Blair on being thankful

Nov 21, 2012 at 10:00 a.m. ET

Single dad Ryan Blair has a lot to be thankful for this year. The 35-year-old millionaire, philanthropist and New York Times best selling author overcame tremendous adversity to turn his life around.

But this year takes on an even greater meaning as his mother just awoke from an 18-month coma.

As Ryan Blair approaches Thanksgiving, he has much to be thankful for — a thriving business, the ability to give back, a beautiful son and even his mother. But Ryan didn't always have so many blessings.

Rough beginnings

In his teen years, Ryan Blair was in a gang. There was violence and crime all around. But when his mom, a single mother, started dating Bob Hunt, things turned around for Blair. He and his mother moved to a nicer neighborhood and eventually Hunt became Blair's stepfather — and mentor.

"Many kids who get into trouble do so because of the absence of one or both parents and low self-esteem. When my mother found a mentor for me, I took my 'one shot' seriously, and with his help began to learn and believe in myself," says Blair. "That gave me much needed self-esteem, and with self-belief you can do anything. Young children need to hear their parents, themselves and others say 'you can do anything you set your mind to.'"

Turning around

Hunt was crafty. He gave Blair an audio tape series called Lead the Field by Earl Nightingale, and offered the teen new clothes — something he wanted — in exchange for listening to the tapes and answering questions about them. "I wore dickies and white T-shirts at the time — a gang uniform where I'm from. I wanted new clothes to cover up my gang tattoos so I could get a job and start a new life," says Blair. "I listened to the tapes over and over, I went to sleep with them on and literally memorized every part. When he quizzed me a few days later he was in awe that I could recite each lesson from the tapes."

That was a pivotal moment for Blair.

"Bob said, 'You must be a genius,' — I had never been told that I was smart before. I was a high school drop-out with no hope. When he said that I was smart, I believed him and therefore I started believing in myself," says Blair.

Hunt worked with Blair, teaching him how to set and go after his goals, a technique he now uses when he's mentoring others. "Get them learning, believe in them, teach them to set their goals, rinse and repeat. Being a 'high-achieving individual' is a formula," says Blair.

Giving back

Blair, CEO of ViSalus Sciences, considers it his duty to give back to others. "My goal is to take our society's liabilities and turn them into assets. To see the young men and women who had lost hope, now have hope again, brought a smile to my soul," says Blair.

He created the Blair Foundation, a nonprofit that donates to programs in support of at-risk kids and families. "I created the Blair Foundation as my vehicle to give 90 percent of my assets away within 10 years of my death. We are specifically focused on causes that teach entrepreneurship to single mothers and at-risk youth," says Blair.

Through the Blair Foundation, Blair works closely with Urban Born, a foundation that helps at-risk youth and teens by promoting education and healthy living without drugs or gangs. He donated to support ex-gang members like himself. "They got together and presented me with a letter, thanking me for how my gift had given them a chance at life they thought was not possible," says Blair.

Being Dad

Blair has used everything he learned from Hunt to create successful businesses. And he'll use the tools and knowledge to encourage his son to do well in life too. Blair is Dad to Reagan, 3.

Though his son is still young, he has a plan for setting him up for success when he's older. He'll give his son, "the best education he can earn, and enough money to get started in life. I believe giving your children millions of dollars is giving them a curse, so I will only give my son Reagan what he earns," says Blair.

Being thankful

This Thanksgiving will be extra special for Blair. He plans to spend it with his mother who woke a few days ago from a coma. "Because of this miracle I get to tell my mom how grateful I am to her on this Thanksgiving. I suggest all children do the same because you never know if you will have another chance to do so," says Blair.

More on being thankful

Help your kids learn to be thankful
5 Ways to teach your kids thanks
A crash course in gratitude for busy families