Gene Wade
By Andrew Tilin

(Business 2.0) – When he was in college, Gene Wade had visions of becoming the next Thurgood Marshall. "I wanted to be a lawyer because those were the people that changed society," he says. "I thought law would give me the right skill set."

It turned out that Wade was wrong—and right. The 35-year-old with a Harvard law degree has enormous influence on the lives of many, and he chalks up a lot of it to his experience as a bankruptcy attorney. But Wade is now in the business of education: He's CEO of Platform Learning, a tutoring service headquartered in Manhattan that will provide help for more than 50,000 underprivileged kids during the current school year.

You can't blame the guy for being temporarily wooed by big-bucks lawyering: Raised in a Boston housing project subject to gang shoot-outs, Wade was a marginal high school student who rebounded, courtesy of a youth leadership program (where he would later work). As a young attorney, he learned a lot by seeing his Fortune 1,000 clients retool themselves following bankruptcies. But his heart called on him to help the world instead of corporate America. "I wanted to be involved in altering education," he says. "And I knew I'd just gotten great training in watching how failing organizations can be put back together."

In 1999, Wade raised $4 million in venture capital for a school management startup. The company was so successful in overhauling 11 bad schools that it was purchased by a larger competitor in 2001 for more than $36 million.

Today, Wade has pulled together over $25 million in funding for 21-month-old Platform Learning. The firm provides tutoring in 18 states, and Wade now knows that lawyers aren't the only ones who can change the world while still making some change. "Hey, I would do this work for free," he says. "I think everyone can find something that they love and make a job out of it." — A.T.