Meet Jay Hack, 37: downtown Detroiter, professional mountain guide turned rock-solid financial planner, investment adviser, community activist, exec board member ADL and Orchard Children’s Services, natural leader, new president NEXTGen Detroit
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
July 1, 2014
First impression: he’s tall. At six-foot-four, Jay Hack easily stands out in a crowd, an outgoing confident young fellow with a ready smile. And yes, you might follow his lead up a mountain . . . if you were so inclined.
A professional mountain guide turned financial adviser and rising star with Raymond James & Associates, Jay has been both planful and bold in his career and volunteer choices. In his new role as President of Federation’s NEXTGen Detroit, Jay brings a wealth of experience and level of achievement that has earned him high regard and numerous honors in the community. Since his return to Detroit eight years ago, Jay has been active with numerous organizations including Cranbrook and Jewish Federations of North America. Beyond his passionate involvement with Federation, Jay currently serves on the Executive Boards of Orchard Children’s Services and the Anti-Defamation League.
A seventh generation Detroiter, Jay grew up in West Bloomfield and attended the Cranbrook Kingswood School before earning a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Emory University and a Master of Business Administration from American University’s Kogod School of Business. Upon graduating, Jay joined Hack Wealth Management – a partnership of Raymond James.
For a guy well acclimated to spending the nights horizontally pitched on a mountainside and who claims a favorite pastime is climbing frozen waterfalls in northern Michigan, Jay at last has found the comforts of home on the 17th and 18th floors of the Broderick Tower downtown where he enjoys stunning views overlooking Grand Circus Park. If he’s smiling even more than usual these days, no doubt it’s with thanks to Federation’s NEXTGen Associate, Tara Forman. Jay and Tara plan to be married next year.
On deep Michigan roots
myJewishDetroit: Jay, your family has a long history in Jewish Detroit. How so?
J: It’s a little known fact, but somewhere in the halls of Federation there exists a plaque with the name Esther Ruth Prussian. Esther was my great-aunt on my mother’s side of the family. In 1924, she was hired from Boston as assistant director of what was then conceived as a new “Federation” of social services. They used to call her “the face of Federation” and she remained a dynamic and masterful assistant to the director into the 1960’s.
Then there was my great-grandfather – Nathan Agree, who founded the Downtown Synagogue and named it after my great-great-grandfather, Isaac Agree. So you might say, Jewish Detroit is certainly in my DNA.
Growing up, I especially remember summers in Charlevoix with my family. I really enjoyed working there—waiting tables, working in a book store, working on a boat. I was always a hard worker, and worked hard in school at Cranbrook, graduated in ’94, then went off to college at Emory in Atlanta.
On educational background
J: At the time, I wanted to pursue a degree in race relations, and thought that the South was an ideal place to study civil rights. My dream was to be on the President’s Council of Race Relations. But when I learned that it was an appointed position, I changed my major to political science.
I went on to American University in Washington, D.C. to study business, with the hope that I might catch a little “Potomac fever” and get involved in politics as well. As it turned out, I really enjoyed business school and stuck with that.
Where did your mountain experience fit in?
Rock climbing and ice climbing were sports I picked up early as a kid. I always loved the challenge of climbing – the sheer beauty of it and the camaraderie of it. Between Emory and graduate school, I moved out west and worked for an internet marketing firm, and on the weekends and even at night, I spent my time climbing. I was climbing at every opportunity I could get until a spot opened up for me as a guide with the American Alpine Institute. That was a dream come true. My favorite pastime became my vocation. I’ve been a guide up Mt. McKinley in Alaska, the highest peak in North America. I’ve spent winters guiding in the Andes, living in the desert and working with clients. Mountain climbing is a lifestyle and I believe that experience has influenced the work I do today.
On community involvement
You have a long (incredible!) resume of community work, what got you started?
J: Actually, I was relatively late in the game. I grew up watching my parents volunteering. My father, Paul, was the President of Hebrew Free Loan. And my mom, Francine, was President of Hadassah. I started volunteer work in graduate school in D.C. when a friend encouraged me to work with an organization called Food and Friends, which was a local meals-on-wheels service for people with HIV living below the poverty line. That was my first entry into the volunteering world and I loved it.
By the time I moved back home, most of my friends had moved away. In classic “mom-fashion,” my mother suggested I call the Jewish Federation. One step led to another, and my volunteer activity just sort of cascaded.
And now that you’ve met Tara, the two of you are probably “sworn” to Federation for life. Tara, how did you and Jay meet?
T: Two years ago, I moved from New York to Detroit to take the job at Federation. I met Jay at the Board meeting during my first week on the job. I noticed him because, well, he was so tall. We were “just friends” . . . that is, until he moved downtown. As he started reaching out to people already living downtown, I took him to my favorite coffee shop — Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company. That’s where we started to learn about each other. . .through long conversations over a cup of coffee — or a glass of wine.
What brought you back to Detroit?
J: Honestly, I missed my family. My sister was married, I had a new nephew, and I thought it was time to move back. And when my dad said to me, “Why not work for me?” I stopped to think how cool that would be. Up until that time I had never even considered it, but then I thought, “Hey, why not?” And it has turned out to be the best career move I’ve ever made.
What’s it like to work for your dad?
J: We complement each other! Growing up, you tend to idolize your parents. As an adult, you realize your parents are human and have faults like everyone else. But, working with my dad has been a wonderful opportunity to put him back up on that pedestal and see him deal with his clients as he always has with kindness and integrity.
We can disagree on things, sure. The good thing is we can have it out and work it out, then go out for lunch together. We’re father and son and it’s awesome.
On Opportunity: The NEXT big thing
Jay, in the eight years you’ve been active with Federation, what changes have you seen? And what do you see as the focus of your term as President of NEXTGen?
J: When I joined YAD (Federation’s Young Adult Division), we weren’t as actively engaged as we are in NEXTGen today. It used to be difficult to fill seats on the board. Now people jump in at the chance. Certainly, we were doing good things back then, but over the last few years we’ve built momentum. First with the CommunityNEXT initiatives and some key programming to attract and retain young talent in Michigan – and, more currently with the resurgence in pride in Detroit, we’ve doubled and tripled the number of donors. Today NEXTGen is about 5,000 young people strong with nearly 3,000 donors per year.
Now that we’ve “opened the funnel,” my vision is to become more inclusive in reaching out and welcoming interfaith couples, the LGBT community, immigrant communities – all streams of Judaism. I would like this year to be a our “Year of Inclusion” – our most welcoming year ever.
In terms of the Annual Campaign, I would like to see NEXTGen reach past its $1 million mark. I think we’re capable of doing so much more.
And another big opportunity I see is to tap our strength for advocacy. This year we’re going to respond to the vehement anti-Semitism expressed in the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement. We’re going to do that through education, through advocacy and through activism on college campuses and in the community at large.
T: I came to Federation – compelled to move back Detroit and into the city – because there were people from all corners of my life encouraging me that this was an opportunity not to be missed, and because there was the support of our leadership in the community going to great lengths to encourage us to build what we wanted to see happen in the metro Detroit Jewish community.
J: Our social bonds are great, but we can leverage them and capitalize on them and start the real work of shaping our future.
J: I’ve heard Todd Sachse describe volunteerism this way, and I’ve adopted it as my own: I like to view community service in concentric circles: the core is my family, then I have my Jewish community and then I have the greater community.
For me, the ADL – working for social justice — is one part of the circle, and an essential piece. Another circle for me is the work at Orchard Family Services, which has opened my perspective so much further to the immediate needs within our city and safeguarding our future as a community.
Why Detroit, why now?
I’ve lived in a lot of places. But in my mind, Detroit always has been my Big City. The arts and culture, the restaurants, the sports and entertainment, the energy and opportunity, the entrepreneurial drive, and the spirit of reinvention – it’s all here. And to have friends moving downtown and meet them on the street – Detroit is exactly where I want to be right now at this point in my life.
T: It’s an amazing feeling to be a part of something bigger – right here. As that saying goes Detroit is big enough to matter in the world, and small enough that you matter in it.
What do you tell people considering moving back to Detroit or moving to the city for the first time?
J: Do it. Move in a heartbeat! In just a few short years, we’ve seen a remarkable change in the landscape of the city. There’s a positive energy here and it’s encouraging to see the momentum starting to build.
Restaurant: Craftworks – South Village. We go to Green Dot Stables entirely too much, but love it. Revolver, Rock City Eatery and El Zocalo in Mexicantown
Place to meet for coffee or drinks: Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company and 1515
Buildings in the Detroit skyline: Guardian and Penobscot
Place to take kids and visitors: Belle Isle; took my niece, and we had the best time ever downtown
Favorite vacation place in Michigan: Charlevoix; In the U.S: Yosemite. Spent many nights there sleeping on a port ledge
Sports: Mountaineering, ice climbing, whitewater kayaking
Toughest climb: A climb in the French Alps called the Supercouloir on Mt. Blanc du Tacul, 3,000 feet of pure ice and rock climbing!
Jewish Food: Anything from Star Bakery, but seven-layer cake, without a doubt.
Jewish Expression: Tikkun olam
Guilty pleasure: Watching the Outside Channel. And Emojis! (I use them a lot.)
Never leave home without: Sunglasses! My perspective, even on cloudy days.
The Tao of Wu by The RZA – a bit hip hop philosophy and really fun.