MINNEAPOLIS (May 28, 2009) – Jim Ryan, CEO of Ryan Companies US, Inc., died today after a 10-month battle with melanoma. He was 66. Jim helped transform his family’s Minnesota-based construction business into one of the nation’s leading real estate design-build development firms.
Born and raised in Hibbing, Minn., Jim started work in the family business in the eighth grade, and continued working through school and during college breaks. He joined the company full time as a project manager after graduating from the University of Notre Dame in 1965. Jim started as a construction project manager under the tutelage of his uncle, Ed Ryan, and was one of three employees and two cardboard boxes that comprised the Minneapolis office. His first project was the remodel of a National Tea store into a Target in Bloomington, Minn. It was Target’s fourth store.
“Jim’s goal was not to build the biggest buildings or be the largest company. His goal was to build character in his employees, build confidence in our customers and to build better communities. This world would be a better place if there were more CEOs with Jim Ryan’s values,” commented Pat Ryan, Jim’s cousin and business partner.
The company literally helped change the landscape of communities across the country, building a large and loyal customer base. Building relationships is the company’s mantra. As Jim Ryan himself said at the company’s 70th anniversary last year, “My grandfather, father and uncle recognized that success, in any business, means providing value, being aggressive and competitive, but they also believed that they could do all of that while creating a win-win for everyone involved in the project. Treat a customer or an employee better than anyone else has before, and you’ve created a lasting relationship. It’s those relationships that make our working lives truly meaningful to us.” As a result, more than three-quarters of Ryan’s customers are repeat customers.
Jim was also mentored by his father Russell and uncle Fran who led the company from its inception in 1938 until 1989 when Jim became CEO. The company expanded in size and stature under Jim’s leadership because of his dedication to customers, employees and business partners. Under Jim’s leadership, the company grew across the nation. Today, it operates offices in Hibbing; Minneapolis; Chicago; Phoenix; San Diego; and Tampa, Fla.; as well as in three Iowa cities: Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Davenport.
Jim didn’t focus on promoting the company’s success. Instead, he concentrated on employee development and on improving Ryan’s processes so the customer received the most value for every dollar spent. To many of his employees, Jim was more like a family member than a boss. As Mike Ernst, Team Leader at Ryan, explained, “Jim always went the extra mile to show employees he cares. He enjoyed meeting our children and knew our spouses by name. He called people when a loved one passed. He always made us feel important to the company’s success and a part of something bigger than our individual talents.”
That attitude extended to Ryan real estate developments. Jim, his cousin Pat Ryan and CFO Tim Gray agreed that each development project involved more than just putting a building in the ground. The most important goal was making the surrounding community better and stronger. That was a primary goal when the company committed to transform the old Sears warehouse on Lake Street in south Minneapolis into the 1.2-million-square-foot Midtown Exchange.
It also was the inspiration behind the company’s involvement in the creation of the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School/Colin Powell Youth Leadership Center located in south Minneapolis. The college prep school and the youth-development organization co-own the building, where at-risk students and those from underprivileged areas receive education, character development and leadership skills. The company contributed significantly to the design and construction and helped raise money for the building within the business community. Today, Ryan is one of many companies providing corporate internship opportunities to Cristo Rey students, affording them the chance to personally and professionally develop in a corporate setting while contributing financially to their education.
As Fr. David Haschka, President of Cristo Rey, said in a Catholic Spirit article in highlighting Jim Ryan as one of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis’s 2007 Leading with Faith honorees, “Jim has a comprehensive vision – to build a successful company and to use that success to help improve the lives of other people. He’s been a quiet but strong force in the community because of his energy, commitment and integrity.”
Jim Ryan’s philanthropic causes went well beyond company projects. He recently served as chairman of the board for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, where he helped lead a drive to secure $300 million to modernize the hospitals.
He chaired the Minnesota Nonprofits Assistance Fund, served on the boards of The Minneapolis Foundation and Amicus, an organization that helps inmates and ex-offenders rebuild their lives. Jim also has worked in many capacities for the United Way, and served on the advisory council for the School of Architecture at his alma mater, University of Notre Dame.
Jim’s giving spirit will live on through the Ryan Foundation. Established by his uncle Fran, this fund contributes 5 percent of company profits to community projects nationwide, and matches employee contributions up to $400 to causes of their choice. His enduring example has also directly impacted his employees … 100 percent of Ryan’s employees participate in volunteer activities.
Jim is survived by his wife of 37 years Colleen, children Molly (Mike) Carson, Maggie (Craig) Allen, Kate (Zach) Hegman, Tim, Nell, Dan, Sean and Tess; and six grandchildren. He also is survived by his uncle Fran Ryan – who led the company with Jim’s late father – Russell, his aunt Jean Rothstein and sisters Patricia, Jill and Bridget (Scott) Strudwick.
Memorial donations may be sent to:
Minnesota Medical Foundation (to support melanoma research)
c/o Dr. Arkadiusz Dudek
PO Box 64001
Saint Paul, MN 55164
Cristo Rey Jesuit High School Twin Cities
2924 4th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55408
Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota
2910 Centre Pointe Drive
Roseville, MN 55113
If you would like to share a comment or memory of Jim, please Connect with Ryan.