As the saga of failed crypto exchange FTX continues to unfold, questions are swirling around the firm’s leaders. People are trying to piece together exactly what they did, and how they ended up being involved in one of the financial industry’s biggest scandals.
Several top executives previously spent time in Boston, either attending school in the area, growing up here, or working at local companies. It’s unclear how this will all shake out, but it’s interesting given the city’s emerging crypto scene.
Let’s start with SBF, as he is sometimes called, who founded FTX and its sister company, trading firm Alameda Research. The son of two Stanford law professors attended MIT as an undergraduate from 2010 to 2014.
He graduated with a major in physics and minor in mathematics. It’s been widely reported that Bankman-Fried was a member of Epsilon Theta, a coed fraternity at MIT based in Brookline.
It was at MIT that SBF met Gary Wang, the cofounder and chief technology officer of FTX, who was said to be his college roommate. Wang studied math and computer science and graduated in 2015, an MIT spokesperson confirmed.
According to a website affiliated with FTX, Wang worked as a software engineer at Google prior to FTX. It’s unclear which Google office he worked in.
The MIT connections run deeper when you include Caroline Ellison, who ran Alameda Research, the company that allegedly received billions of dollars funneled from FTX customer funds.
Ellison grew up in the Boston area and is the daughter of Glenn Ellison, the head of the MIT economics department, and Sara Fisher Ellison, a senior lecturer there. She attended Newton North High School.
Marissa MacDonald spent 14 years at Fidelity Investments before being hired in April as the chief compliance officer of FTX Trust Company, which was under regulatory review by the New York State Department of Financial Services. The Boston College grad was most recently the chief compliance officer of Fidelity Digital Assets, the Boston firm’s crypto arm.
FTX Trust Company was never approved, and it withdrew its application. It would have been a subsidiary of FTX US, the crypto exchange’s US division.
(A representative for Fidelity confirmed MacDonald’s former employment and clarified that the company has no stake or investment in FTX or its native token, FTT.)
The head of FTX Digital Markets, Ryan Salame, is a Sandisfield native who has invested about $6 million into the Lenox dining scene, according to the Berkshire Eagle. Through his firm Lenox Eats, Salame claims to own nearly half the commercial district’s full-service dining businesses.
Salame graduated from UMass Amherst in 2015 with a degree in economics and accounting. He worked at Boston crypto startup Circle Internet Financial from 2017 to 2019, according to LinkedIn. Prior to that, he was a tax accountant at Ernst & Young in Boston.
Do these connections in some way hurt the reputation of Boston’s crypto ecosystem, or of MIT? Probably not — at least, no more than the FTX debacle hurts the industry overall. (MIT’s Media Lab, though, canceled a new fellowship program that would have been funded by FTX executives.)
Bankman-Fried, for one, doesn’t seem to credit his alma mater for much.
“Nothing I learned in college ended up being useful,” he told Yahoo News in an interview last year. “Other than, like, social development ... on the academic side, though, it’s all [expletive] useless.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Marissa MacDonald’s title.