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Local Manhattan Boy Makes Good

Carson at the big firm where he works, nearly six miles from his childhood stomping grounds.
Carson at the big firm where he works, nearly six miles from his childhood stomping grounds.

NEW YORK—Despite his humble beginnings in a small three-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side, local Manhattan boy James Michael Carson has made a success of himself in the big city, sources reported.

Six years ago, Carson left his close-knit neighborhood in the affluent heart of New York City to pursue his dreams of becoming even more affluent in the city's financial district. Last week, he finally returned home.

"It makes me proud to see one of our own do so well for himself," said neighbor Janette Friedman, who remembers when Carson was just a small boy, waiting in the marble foyer of their apartment complex each morning for a livery car to take him all the way up to the Dalton School. "I always knew he was headed for big things."

In 2004, Carson, fresh out of business school and unsure what to do next, chose to leave the safe confines of home and try his luck in investment banking—a world in which he had no connections at all aside from one or two influential family friends.

With nothing in his pocket but the money his parents had put aside years ago specifically to cover all of his expenses, Carson set out to make his own separate personal fortune as a Wall Street trader.

Carson's humble childhood home: "It feels like a shoe box" compared to the 67th-floor penthouse where he now lives.

"He was the first member of our family ever to go below 14th Street," said Carson's sister, the novelist Karen Carson-Skyles. "We are so proud of what he's managed to accomplish. It just goes to show that dreams really do come true."

"Just as they have for pretty much every generation of our family since the mid-1800s," she added.

According to Carson, many people he meets are surprised to learn he is the product of a broken home, but his parents—Carolyn Layton, a psychiatrist, and Stephen Carson, a thoracic surgeon—divorced when he was only 18. Fortunately, they continued to provide him with unconditional support, as well as nearly unlimited financial resources.

Carson chose to enroll at Columbia University, a decision that took him across Central Park and into a scary new environment he had never experienced before, except on occasional visits to Lincoln Center.

"James really shone at Columbia," recalled Professor Craig W. Harmon, who served as the young man's undergraduate adviser. "It was obvious right from the beginning that he would be successful, largely due to his pedigree, but also because he showed a willingness to do whatever was required to finish a course with at least a passing grade."

Added Harmon, "Also his grandfather had made several large donations to Columbia and we couldn't in our right minds fail him."

After graduation, Carson took a year off to "see the real world" in Europe before returning to his studies and eventually earning an MBA. The big move downtown came when he took up residence in a vacant apartment owned by his uncle Charles, a choice that ruffled the feathers of relatives who found the place wholly unsuitable for entertaining.

Despite such obstacles, Carson never let his far-flung location limit his potential: In the past three years, he's married, made $10 million, and helped engineer the failure of a major Wall Street bank.

The proud family man said Friday that he moved back to the Upper East Side because he wanted to give back to the neighborhood that had given him so much, and to that end he has donated $75,000 to the Guggenheim Museum.

"I'm just a guy who applied himself and took advantage of the myriad financial, social, and familial opportunities available to him," Carson told reporters from his hometown newspaper, The New York Times. "Sure, when I was growing up, all four of us had to crowd into one tiny breakfast nook, and maid service was only three times a week, but I'll never forget the lessons my parents and nanny taught me about hard work and perseverance."

"Namely, that it doesn't matter very much," he added.

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