Eight years ago, Ryan Cameron Courson was sizing up a cap and gown as he prepared to receive his Olin business administration degree after only three years.
“Travel each path with conviction while being cognizant of the impact you have on others,” Courson urged his fellow graduates in his commencement speech. “For one day, you may be the greatness that inspires someone to walk across this stage.”
Now, Courson is doing just that. He’s funded a scholarship in the name of his mother, Danna Courson. He appears by video conference regularly to teach a finance course for undergraduates. He mentors students.
“He’s also a really good person,” said Glenn MacDonald, John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and Strategy and one of Courson’s mentors. “He just helps everyone.”
All this, while rocketing to the C-suite for a major global shipping company. Courson became CFO for Seaspan Corp., the world’s largest containership lessor, on May 5.
The Wall Street Journal feature about him dwelled on Courson’s youth—he earned the post at age 29—but the focus doesn’t concern him. He’s comfortable in his own skin and grateful for the guidance, mentorship, and experience he gained through the help of many mentors—most especially, his mother.
“My mother is a critical component of what success I’ve had,” Courson said. “She has been an advocate of education since I was very young.” In fact, he considers the Danna Courson Annual Scholarship, awarded to one Olin student each year “with high need,” an extension of his mother’s work.
“I don’t think of this scholarship as my doing, but rather as a continuation of my mother’s efforts,” he said. “This is the effect of her efforts 15 years ago, and this is the next evolution of that.”
If He’s Not Doing, He’s Teaching
Courson credits his mother—a school teacher—for his love of education and admits that if he weren’t an investor, he’d want to teach full-time. He lobbied hard for the public equity investing class he now teaches from a makeshift home studio—a challenging dive into thoroughly evaluating equity investments that requires a dozen or more hours of work outside class for as few as half a dozen students a year.
“I’m very fortunate to count him among one of my mentors,” said Colin McCune, ArtSci ’18, who worked this semester as a teaching assistant in Courson’s class. “He’s one of the brightest people I’ve ever met. When I found out he was offering a class, I just jumped on it.”
From his background in investment banking and finance, Courson taps into a network of colleagues who come to his video studio and serve as guest speakers, evaluating student presentations as if they were recommending investments for a private equity firm.
“The university gets great exposure from real investors speaking to students, the students get valuable experience, and I enjoy seeing some of my mentors and friends give their time and knowledge to these students,” Courson said.
Mentors and Mother
Courson’s success has come in spite of an important setback his mother and other mentors helped him navigate. Today—and eight years ago in his commencement address—Courson is quick to credit a high school football coach, a St. Louis businessman, a philanthropist he met at age 18, and others with providing the coaching and mentoring that led him to his career. He also counts MacDonald among the most influential people in his life.
“If he doesn’t understand something, he has to figure out how it works,” MacDonald said. “If he finds out he doesn’t understand something, that’s not a tolerable state for him.”
In the final analysis, however, for Courson, it’s all about mother. He notes that others shouldn’t gauge their success by his own rise to the upper echelons of corporate leadership.
“I am a big believer that success is something that is and should be personally defined,” he said. “One of the most successful people in the world is my mother. She raised three amazing kids and she did it in some difficult circumstances — but she wasn’t the one featured in The Wall Street Journal.”
Pictured above: Ryan with his mother, Danna Courson.