Tommy Pelletier spent his childhood in Maine split between foster care and a single-parent welfare home, never imagining that he would attend MIT and become a successful currency trader. But he did, thanks to his gift for math and teachers who noticed.
"My teachers at Portland High School drove me to push my academics to another level," he says. And during a high-school writing assignment, he discovered MIT. "I didn’t want to be what I was seeing in my daily life," he says. "MIT piqued my interest in math and science. I think I saw education as a way out."
After Pelletier was accepted to MIT, someone from the Portland area—he’s still not sure who—contacted TV talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell, who named him a "Rosie’s SuperKid." Featured in her magazine and on her talk show, Pelletier received a $75,000 educational trust fund from the Kellogg Company.
"I have a hard time believing it sometimes," he says. "I would ask, ‘Do I really deserve this?’ But then I thought of the teachers who pushed me every day."
Pelletier’s undergraduate experience was atypical. His daughter, Ariana, was born during his sophomore year. "I didn’t party much or have a lot of time to do homework with friends," says Pelletier, who had married his high-school girlfriend. "I was home by early afternoon every day. I arranged my class schedule to spend time with my daughter."
Pelletier balanced family and coursework with internships at Goldman Sachs, Smith Barney, and Merrill Lynch, and he graduated with a 4.7 GPA. Shortly after graduation, his son, Camden, was born, and Pelletier began working as a currency trader at Barclays Capital in New York City. Within six months, he was managing the firm’s Canadian dollar trading during the New York session.
"As a trader, you have to assess risk and reward very quickly," he says. "It’s not patient, long-term investing. I could lose my entire week in 30 seconds."
In 2007, Pelletier’s life changed. He moved to the Gelber Group, a private firm in Greenwich, Connecticut. He divorced in 2008, and he obtained full custody of his children. Now he and his new wife, Jennifer, live in Norwalk, Connecticut, a short commute from work and his children’s school.
"My life is so blessed," he says. "I love what I do—managing my own trading book and picking my kids up from school every day. I thank God daily for what I have and for the journey that got me here."