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 Leadership Master Class 

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Michael Santos

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Course:  Self-Directed, Self-Help with Journaling 101


Title: Entrepreneur/Leadership MasterClass


  • How a highly successful entrepreneur, Ron overcame poverty and an unstable family life in his youth. He has enjoyed success in real estate, retail, and property development. In our interview, we explore how his drive, can-do spirit, and diligence led him to succeed. We also relate his journey to the ten modules in The Straight A Guide.


  • This lesson should teach students the significance of a strong work ethic, productive mindset, and perseverance in the face of adversity. Other lessons relate to having strong math, critical thinking, and communication skills.

Lesson Requirements:

  • Watch the video that accompanies the lesson
  • Write a definition of each word highlighted in bold and written in italics
  • Use ten of the vocabulary words in a sentence
  • Respond to a minimum of three open-ended questions by following instructions at the end of the lesson.

Lesson Outcome:

  • Participants will increase their vocabulary by at least ten words.
  • Participants will improve writing skills and their ability to contemplate how their responses to open-ended questions relate to their prospects for success upon release.
  • Participants will add to their journal, demonstrating a self-directed, self-improvement pathway to prepare for success upon release.

Our team at Prison Professors sincerely thanks Ron for sharing invaluable insight on his journey to success. Despite experiencing numerous hardships as a young man, including poverty and family-related instability,he became a successful business owner. He has provided livelihoods for several thousand people throughout his career. He has thrived in three business areas: commercial real estate, retail, and property development. In retail alone, Ron has led firms that generated more than $1 billion in revenue.

Our interview outlines the success principles that drove Ron to triumph over his disadvantages. Everyone in our audience can begin applying the life lessons described in this lesson plan as they prepare to transition into free society.


Hailing from an impoverished inner-city community, Ron endured severe family dysfunction and adversity as a child. His mother gave birth to him when she was only 16 years old and routinely abused alcohol and other harmful substances. Neither his mother nor any other adult he knew had completed secondary education. To make ends meet, they worked entry-level jobs. Regrettably, Ron had little to no contact with his biological father, who abandoned his family when Ron was an infant.

Because of his family’s austere conditions, Ron began working odd jobs at only ten years old. Often, Ron’s mother dated men involved in blue-collar industries, such as bricklaying, painting, and landscaping. These men often delegatedyoung Ron with chores, instilling in him a formidable work ethic that he has upheld ever since. 

A major life change prompted Ron to seek a better future when he was an adolescent in the 1970s. At the time, a movement to desegregate public schools swept across the country. Students like Ron, who came from underprivileged communities, began attending schools in more affluent districts to benefit from a higher-quality education. Before this initiative, Ron had never known anything other than poverty. He believed that he was destined for a life of deprivation and hardship. The transformational experience contradicted his belief.

Ron’s new school exposed him to the idea of a purpose-driven life. Such lessons motivated students and inspired Ron to invest in himself. He realized that by adopting a formidable work ethic and a productive outlook, he could attain prosperity. So, he began emulating the behavior of the most successful peers in his class to overcome the difficulties of his youth. The constructive habits that he adopted at the time included:

  • Prioritizing his schoolwork – Ron began striving to earn high scores, realizing that the hardest-working students were the most likely to thrive in their careers and enjoy fulfilling lives as adults. Once he applied himself, Ron excelled academically.
  • Avoiding alcohol, drugs, and destructive behavior – Ron sometimes dabbled in intoxicants, including narcotics, to cope with his struggles as a young man. Yet he later abstained from such vices as he realized that counterproductive habits would move him further from achieving his goals.
  • Creating positive support networks – Ron began spending time with students who earned exceptional grades and yearned to thrive professionally. By surrounding himself with hard-working, success-oriented people, Ron knew that he would benefit from an environment conducive to his personal growth.

Along with academic excellence, Ron became a star football and basketball athlete. At 6 feet, 2 inches tall, Ron was an imposing presence on the field and court. Coaches in the suburbs noticed Ron’s work ethic and tenacity and attempted to recruithim. Even though he did not pursue sports as a career in the long term, he credits his experience with keeping him on the pathway to success.

Around the same time, Ron found a surrogate family dedicated to his well-being. Soon after transferring to his new school, Ron befriended a young man from a well-to-do household. Living on the streets at the time, Ron often spent time at his friend’s home. Noticing Ron’s difficult plight, his friend’s father accepted Ron into his family and invited him to live at his home. By the time Ron turned 21, the family adopted him.

During our interview, Ron fondly reflected on the hospitality his adoptive family showed him. Like Ron, his friend’s father grew up in poverty and lacked access to a first-rate education. He also had dyslexia, a learning disability that causes people to struggle to read. The older man never let these difficulties stop him from fulfilling his dreams. Like Ron, he persevered despite his disadvantages and became a successful entrepreneur.

Quick takeaways:

  • In what ways was Ron’s adoptive father a role model?
  • How do you think the adoptive father’s shared experience of growing up in poverty led him to empathize with Ron?

With encouragement from his adoptive father, Ron attended college and began his professional career. He reports having “done very well” in college and aspired to work in commercial real estate and “make it on his own” rather than work in the family business. After completing his education, he initially faced copious rejections from employers, but he never let disappointment dissuade him from pursuing his goals. One employer noticed Ron’s grit and offered him a position after first declining to hire him.


As I spent 9,500 days incarcerated, I consistently looked for role models who achieved remarkable feats in their life through an unwavering work ethic and purpose-driven mindset. Leaders like Ron illustrate how anyone can overcome hardship. Had I listened to his story while in prison, I would have identified what aspects of his attitude and values system led him to prevail despite his disadvantages. I would have applied those success principles to overcome the myriad challenges stemming from a criminal conviction. 

As a young man, Ron began transforming his life through incremental steps analogous to the concepts we teach at Prison Professors. After transferring to the new school, he began fostering a rigorous work ethic, formed a dedicated support network, and eschewed counterproductive behavior like using alcohol or drugs. None of these habits required Ron to have money or extraordinary resources. Instead, Ron made a difference in his life through a purpose-driven attitude and an eagerness to work hard and deliver value to others. Ron’s story shows us that by adhering to proven success principles, all our listeners can achieve a favorable outcome as they return to free society.

We also observed how Ron aspired to be a better version of himself. At school, he wore secondhand clothes from thrift stores and ate subsidized meals because he couldn’t pay for his lunch. In contrast, many of his classmates came from wealthy households and couldn’t easily relate to Ron’s struggles. Yet Ron never felt out of place, and he did not succumb to low expectations that some of his well-off peers may have had. Rather, he proved that he was just as intelligent and talented as anyone else through his diligence.

In addition, Ron teaches us important lessons about resilience. Coming from a disadvantaged background led Ron to develop incredible mental fortitude. Even though he faced rejections while seeking a job after graduating from college, he never gave up or stopped believing in himself. His zeal led an employer to hire Ron even after at first rejecting him.

  • How does Ron’s story inspire you to adopt a productive attitude and strong work ethic?
  • How does this story illustrate the concept of overcoming adversity?
  • How can you resonate with the difficulties Ron faced as a young man?
  • What type of stigma do you believe Ron likely faced at his new school?
  • How does this story illustrate the positive impact of strong role models and support networks?


After graduating, Ron began a lucrative career in commercial real estate. Unlike residential real estate, which involves buying and selling homes, commercial real estate generally yields a higher profit marginbecause it involves larger properties, such as office buildings and box stores.

Although he enjoyed a high level of prosperity in his vocation, he began working at his adoptive family’s business a few years later. Ron’s foster dad experienced exponential growth in the retail industry. Some of the family stores expanded to up to 50,000 square feet, about half the size of a local Wal-Mart. Given this growth, Ron’s dad needed his son’s expertise so he could keep up with the heavily expanded business’ demands.

Eventually, the family acquired increasingly larger properties nationwide – from Illinois to Florida – to accommodate their operational needs. Often, the family would acquire large land parcels with surplus space. They rented the excess space to other business owners to increase their finances. As their fortunes improved, the family began investing in high-rise residential properties in southwestern Florida. Ron also delved into real estate development, which involves acquiring land and buildings and converting them into assets with higher market value.  

Throughout our dialogue, he offered solid tips for people interested in real estate. We discussed in detail several important business terms that any aspiring entrepreneur must understand proficiently:

  • Capitalization Rate – A real estate term used to compare the value of investments. Also referred to as a “cap rate,” the capitalization rate represents the ratio of annual rental income produced by a real estate asset to the asset’s market value. Higher-risk projects have higher capitalization rates. So, the higher the capitalization rate is, the lower the cost of the asset’s value.
  • Gross profit – The total amount of sales minus the costs of the goods sold. Ron’s family-owned electronics stores. If the store sold $1 million in electronics in a year, but originally bought those items for $600,000, the store generated $400,000 in gross profit.
  • Net profit – Like the gross profit, the net profit accounts for the total amount of sales minus the original costs of the goods but also factors in other operating costs, such as the salaries paid to employees, taxes, depreciation, interest, and other considerations.
  • Profit margin – Is a measure of how much profit is derived from a business’s revenue. In one example, we discuss the gross revenue of a highly successful business would be 30 percent.

The concepts listed above are crucial for financial literacy. Some of the information covered can help future business owners operate within their means. For example, Ron stated that an entrepreneur’s rent should never exceed six percent of gross sales. We also learn the reality of the high costs involved in operating a business. In one example, we discuss the operating costs of a company generating $2.5 million annually. After factoring in rent (in our example, $10 per square foot), operating costs, and other employees’ salaries, we determined that the owner could earn approximately $250,000.

Lastly, Ron uses his interpersonal skills to forge business relationships. Towards the end of our interview, he shares how he built rapport with a Corporate Senior Vice President of Staples office goods stores. He helped the business owner expand his stores’ locations at a competitive price point. Pleased with Ron’s work, the business owner partnered with Ron to acquire additional locations, resulting in both individuals making a substantial profit.


Ron’s story teaches us about the importance of a strong business acumen. Successful entrepreneurs rely on strong critical thinking skills to identify ventures with a high probability of success. Strong critical thinking skills and strong math skills can help anyone succeed as a business owner. Ron had to develop a knack for understanding the nuances of different facetsof real estate. As a retailer, he had to focus more on the revenue a store would generate, but as a property developer, he was more concerned about a property’s value.

Our students must develop strong math, communication, and critical thinking skills to emulate a successful leader like Ron. Even while incarcerated, our students can sharpen their storytelling skills. They can begin studying real estate, finance, and business ahead of their release to see what factors drive the market. Once they return to free society, they can use their skills to help other business owners acquire and develop properties. I suggested equity positions as possible venues for our listeners. Such positions involve obtaining finances from a third party in exchange for a return on investment.

Ron also taught us the importance of being a perpetual learner and seeking help from others. As he explored new career opportunities, he became more versed in subjects like real estate law, project utilities, construction, zoning, and financing. He realized being the best in his field required him to be the most knowledgeable practitioner in his industry. Yet he didn’t try to learn on his own; he routinely sought advice from other high performers to ensure the success of his

initiatives. By surrounding himself with the “best people,” Ron led himself and others to prosper.

  • How does our story about Ron’s business success inspire you to develop strong math skills?
  • How do you believe Ron depended on his communication skills when closing business deals?
  • How are strong communication skills similar to strong leadership skills?
  • What tools can you begin using to become a more persuasive communicator?
  • What books can you begin reading to learn more about finance and business?


We should all find hope in Ron’s story of triumph despite starting life with enormous disadvantages. He is a champion in our society who has provided livelihoodsto several thousand employees and contributed significant revenue to his community through tax dollars.

Even though he started life in poverty, he emulated successful people. A well-off father figure, impressed with young Ron’s tenacity, welcomed Ron into his family and helped the young man get into college. After enjoying success in business, Ron worked in his adoptive family’s business. He has since led companies that generated in excess of $1 billion in revenue and has provided thousands of employees with livelihoods.

All our students can follow his example and our coursework modules to achieve a similar level of success. At the end of our interview, I detailed how Ron’s life story reflects each of our ten modules, as summarized in the table below:

We must define success.As a young man, Ron defined success as escaping poverty. He wanted new clothes and decent food. After he defined a better lifestyle as his goal, he took incremental steps to achieve that outcome
We must set clear goals that align with our definition of success.Ron set clear goals to reach success once he transferred to a new school, such as becoming a better student, giving up unhealthy lifestyle habits, and adopting more self-discipline. He knew that fulfilling these goals was fundamental to achieving what he wanted in the long-term.
We must make a commitment with the right attitude.Ron made a 100 percent commitment to being successful. His constructive mindset was persuasive in making other people want to help him, including his adoptive father.
We must see ourselves as being something more than the challenges we currently face.Ron always aspired to improve himself. As a student, he strove to earn high grades and surround himself with like-minded people, because he knew that he could attain a better life. Once he graduated college, he worked hard to make a name for himself rather than solely rely on his adoptive family.
We must always take actionRon described himself as a “doer.” He knows that becoming successful requires more than empty words. Anytime he wanted to achieve something, he took tangible steps to fulfill his dream.
We must hold ourselves accountable.Ron always took responsibility for delivering high-quality results to his customers and business partners. He established a strong business relationship with a Senior Vice President of Staples because he helped the company expand business locations. He represents our module on accountability by never avoiding his duties.
We must stay aware of opportunities.Ron keeps his head in the game. He remains aware of opportunities by constantly educating himself and expanding his knowledge. In our interview, he demonstrated a high level of business acumen. By making himself aware of trends in the market, he increases his odds of finding new, lucrative business opportunities.
We must be authentic.Ron always worked hard to be the very best in his field. He never feigned competence. Rather, he invested heavily in himself to become a consummate professional dedicated to providing top-quality service to his business partners and clients.
We must celebrate small victories.People like Ron keep track of their small steps that help them reach their goals. Every huge victory he attained – from building high-rise apartments to closing on major business deals – came after years of incremental progress. As he took small steps toward fulfilling those huge goals, Ron celebrated his progress along the way. 
We must show appreciation for the blessings that come our way.Ron showed gratitude by sharing life lessons with our audience. His story of triumph can inspire incarcerated people across the country to transform their lives and contribute to society upon their release.

Our team shares stories of people like Ron to combat mass incarceration in the United States. People in prison or jail can apply the success principles from the most productive members of our society to lead law-abiding lives upon their release. We urge all our listeners to follow Ron’s example as they strive to earn their freedom.

Critical Thinking Questions:

Choose any of three questions below. Write a response for each of the three questions you choose. In your response, please write at least three paragraphs, with a minimum of three sentences each.

This exercise in personal development will help you develop better critical-thinking skills, and better writing skills. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. We’re striving to learn how to think differently, and how to communicate more efficiently. Try to use some of the vocabulary words from this lesson in your responses.

  1. How do you believe Ron’s early start in the workforce led him to develop a tenacious work ethic and become an exceptional leader?
  2. How do you think Ron’s can-do-it attitude and willingness to work hard inspires other members of his business teams?
  3. Other than those stated, in what ways do you believe Ron is an effective leader?
  4. Why are people who persevere like Ron most likely to achieve their dreams and lead successful lives?
  5. How do you think Ron’s decision to give up drugs, alcohol, and other harmful habits increased his odds of becoming successful?
  6. How do effective support groups and strong role models like Ron enable us to perform our best?
  7. How can you become a forceful communicator like Ron, skilled at persuading others?
  8. In what different ways do you believe Ron relies on his critical thinking skills to succeed in business?
  9. How can Ron’s example help you build a support network and gain trust from others ahead of your release?
  10. Does this story inspire you to become an entrepreneur? Why or why not?

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