Shenehon Center for Real Estate
2010 Inductee: Jim Ryan (1942-2009)
Published November 10, 2010
Mr. James R. Ryan helped transform his family’s Minnesota-based construction business into one of the nation’s leading real estate design-build development firms. His first job was in the eighth grade working in his grandfather’s lumberyard, and he never worked anywhere other than Ryan Companies. He became a project manager for the company in 1965 and, nearly 25 years later, he took over as CEO in 1989.
Mr. Ryan believed strongly in the values on which the company was founded: character, honesty and integrity. His high standards of business ethics are exemplified by his generosity to his employees and customers, creating long-lasting relationships and repeat customers. Ryan Companies literally changed the landscape of communities across the country, building a large and loyal customer base.
Building relationships is the company’s mantra and is what helped Mr. Ryan distinguish himself in the field of real estate. A great example of his work is the transformation of the old Sears building on Lake Street in South Minneapolis into the 1.2 million-square-foot Midtown Exchange Building. Throughout the development of this unique mixed use project, the most important goal was making the surrounding community better and stronger. In a statement, Mr. Ryan’s cousin, Pat Ryan, said, “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.”
Mr. Ryan spent many years giving back to the community and was an active philanthropist. In 2007, he helped establish the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School and Colin Powell Youth Leadership Center, both in South Minneapolis. 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. Mr. Ryan’s philanthropic causes went well beyond company projects. He 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.
“This world would be a better place if there were more CEOs with Jim Ryan’s values.”
– Pat Ryan, cousin and President/CEO, Ryan Companies US, Inc.
“Jim had a calming presence that could zero in on the toughest challenges. He had a deep caring for people that I witnessed in college through the last months of his life. He was a great partner and employer who had a heartfelt concern for his employees. A true friend.”
– Tim Gray, Vice Chairman, Ryan Companies US, Inc.
“Jim Ryan was the original Mr. Cellophane. Nothing to hide. No embarrassment to camouflage. No personal agenda ahead of others. No compromising of values. Just a transparency of kindness, passion and love. Jim is a lost friend, but not one who will ever be forgotten.”
– Lloyd Sigel, former owner of Lloyd’s Food Products, Inc., current Ryan Board Member