The Other Paul Ryan: Banker Welcomes a Bernie Sanders Revolution

A former hedge fund executive, Ryan believes the Democratic presidential hopeful would level the playing field for smaller businesses.

As the U.S. presidential race heats up, investment banker Paul Ryan is playing against type. He supports Democrat Bernie Sanders, the junior senator from Vermont, a socialist with an aggressive plan to impose new taxes on Wall Street and break up large financial institutions.

“I’m doing a Weberian critique of modern capitalism by voting for Bernie Sanders,” Ryan, 51, says in the boardroom of TriPoint Global Equities, a New York–based investment bank where he serves as a managing director. Referring to the “iron cage of rationality,” a term coined by German sociologist Max Weber, he argues that the current system has outlived its usefulness and that the only kind and ethical thing to do is to put it out of its misery.

He’s also biting the hand that’s fed him for almost 30 years. “Of course it is funny,” Ryan says. “I catch endless amounts of crap around here for it.”

At TriPoint, Ryan and his team provide third-party marketing for hedge fund firms. He’s also founder and managing partner of New York–headquartered Hayfield Financial, where he advises lower-middle-market companies and assists entrepreneurs with fundraising and strategy. Although Ryan says he’s devoted to his work, he expresses frustration at how tough it can be to help smaller businesses and funds that don’t catch the eye of venture capitalists and other wealthy investors: “Am I flailing at a system that’s just so tilted against me right now to help the clients I know and love?”

Ryan didn’t start out that way. After earning an economics degree from Harvard University in 1987, the Buffalo, New York, native began his career in a London training program at Barclays, where he worked in credit analysis. That job gave him a vantage point on the banking culture of the late 1980s, he says — notably, leveraged buyouts and lavish lifestyles.

He went back to school for a JD from Fordham University, choosing law school over the typical MBA route for financial professionals because he thought it would give him an advantage among his peers. Ryan got his first taste of the hedge fund industry in 1996, when his former Harvard roommate Alphonse (Buddy) Fletcher Jr. asked him to join then-blossoming Fletcher Asset Management. With no real understanding of hedge funds, he learned how to raise money, becoming a member of the New York–based firm’s senior management team. But he started to see what he calls a dark side to the industry, “schemes and scams” that could be used to “move money around in structures that are arguably acceptable.”

Ryan describes his departure from Fletcher in 2000 as “getting out early” because he “smelled the bomb.” (Today the firm is embroiled in an ongoing legal battle with three Louisiana public pension funds over losses from a combined $100 million investment.) In 2007, six years after launching Hayfield, he became COO of New York–based Vision Capital Advisors, where he raised some $300 million before leaving after less than 12 months.

Ryan, who tutors middle school students in math on the weekends, thinks Sanders would create a more level playing field for Hayfield’s clients. He credits Elizabeth Warren, the senior Massachusetts senator who became an outspoken advocate for Wall Street reform and regulation following the 2008–’09 recession, with turning him on to progressive politics. Whereas Warren has yet to endorse a presidential candidate, Ryan has given about $750 to the Sanders campaign, “25 bucks every time I get pissed off,” he says.