University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School
“The balance between professional, personal and academic life in my opinion is the biggest struggle. The core curriculum is tough — but manageable — but when you are balancing that between your family and your full-time job you can get stretched thin. Time management is key as each of the aforementioned categories cannot suffer as you work through the curriculum.”
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
Family Members: Wife Elaine, daughter Ryan
Undergraduate School and Degree: University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, BA political science, Class of 2000
Where are you currently working? Personify, president and CEO
Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles: My primary hobbies are spending time with my family and the ongoing labor of love I have with developing my firm Personify. From an awards perspective, in 2015 I was recognized by Triangle Business Journal as one of the 40 “brightest, most promising young business people” in the region under the age of 40. As Personify’s CEO, the company received several national and regional awards. Nationally Personify was recognized by Inc. 5000’s fastest privately held firms in the country. From a regional perspective, in 2015 my firm was recognized as one of the top 10 best places and 25th fastest growing companies in the Triangle. This balance between being both a vendor of choice (national and regional growth award) and employer of choice (Triangle best places to work) is something I am particularly proud of.
Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The academic achievement I am most proud of would be being selected to the Atlantic Coast Conference All-Academic team in 2000. Student athletes (I was on football scholarship) face significant challenges balancing the demands in the classroom and on the practice field. Being named to this team was a tremendous honor.
What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? On September 10, 2001, my family leveraged their entire life savings to acquire a small, boutique executive search firm in Raleigh, North Carolina. Less than 24 hours later the attacks of 9/11 were well under way, and the country would soon be headed to war. The recruiting industry, and specifically the executive search industry, is directly tied to economic growth, and with the country at war, the economy was contracting. The timing for my family to acquire this business could not have been worse. When my father — a seasoned executive and my childhood idol — called and asked if I would leave my position as a Division I football assistant coach and help him turn the company around, I naturally jumped in. My initial thought was that this would be a very short-term turnaround project and I would hop back into Division I athletics in a year or so when the business got back on track. Six months after joining our company my father was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, a battle he ultimately lost 18 months later.
So at the age of 25, with no formal business training, management training, or industry training, I took over a company that lacked culture, infrastructure, and, most importantly, enough revenue to operate. While the time I got to spend with my father professionally was limited, I was fortunate to see the foundation of what he was trying to create — a culture that centered around hiring great people, giving them true opportunity, and then relentlessly pursuing the resources that get people to their personal, professional, and financial goals.
Fast forward to 2015, Personify was listed on the Inc. 5000 fastest growing privately held companies in the country and was ranked on the Triangle Business Journal’s best places to work. In effect, Personify has grown from a struggling boutique executive search firm (knocking on bankruptcy’s door) to a global talent supplier operating in 22 countries. The achievement I am most proud of is, after a decade of hard work, we have finally realized the original vision my parents had for this company — and it has come without sacrificing the foundation my father set to get us there.
Favorite MBA Courses? Introduction to Entrepreneurship, Managerial Accounting, Global Economics
Why did you choose this executive MBA program? One of the key factors that led me to apply to the University of North Carolina was the prospect of working in a collaborative environment, where business leaders from the business community, faculty, and students work in tandem to evaluate and solve complex business problems. UNC Kenan-Flagler afforded the appropriate balance between tactical, quantitative and leadership training to position me to take my company to the next level. Many faculty at UNC Kenan-Flagler hail from industry and can quickly transition from textbook teaching to practical application. These traits when paired with the national network at UNC Kenan-Flagler were critical factors in selecting UNC. The University of North Carolina — and UNC Kenan-Flagler in particular — is a very special place.
What did you enjoy most about business school? Having been in a leadership role for the better part of the last decade, I have often commented that leadership can be lonely at times. I have truly enjoyed the camaraderie and most importantly the diversity in the perspective of the program. It’s incredibly empowering (and comforting) to have such a diverse level of subject matter experts at my fingertips as I work through my career.
What was the hardest part of business school? The balance between professional, personal and academic life in my opinion is the biggest struggle. The core curriculum is tough — but manageable — but when you are balancing that between your family and your full-time job you can get stretched thin. Time management is key as each of the aforementioned categories cannot suffer as you work through the curriculum.
What is your best advice for juggling work, family, and education? I think that I can speak for the vast majority of my classmates when I say that this is the biggest struggle you will face in any EMBA program. Throughout the process our advisers preached the need to set aside a dedicated amount of time (generally two hours) per night to devote to the workload. My advice would be to take this advice to heart as it will be unavoidable that either your professional or personal life will present challenges you were not prepared for when you made the decision to go back to school. Dedicating two hours per night saves you from scrambling/cramming as you work through the program. At some point, it will be up to you to determine how far “above and beyond” you want to go with what you are learning and properly managing your time allows you maximize the time you have.
What’s your best advice to an applicant to your executive MBA program? Come prepared — with tons of caffeine — for immersion week! Lean on your classmates as there is an incredibly powerful room of influences sitting among you.
“I knew I wanted to go to business school when …” My business had grown to a point that I needed formal training. The decisions I was being asked to make required a much broader scope of vision. I found myself wanting to make decision based on proven frameworks and methodologies and not just “from the gut.”
“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be …” Completely blind to the external factors that truly impact our business. My line of sight has expanded exponentially and it scares me to think where we would be had I opted out of going back to school.
What are your long-term professional goals? My long-term professional goals are to redefine the way employers and job seekers approach the talentsphere. Our firm fundamentally believes recruiting is set up incorrectly and we want to make an impact. My goal with my colleagues at Personify is to change/disrupt the recruiting industry while creating true opportunity for our employees.
Who would you most want to thank for your success? Professionally, I would have to thank the dedicated group of Personians working at the firm. There isn’t one day that I don’t wake up grateful to work alongside motivated, driven people that share the same vision to change this industry.
Throughout my athletics career, I have been very fortunate to have been coached by some of the best coaches in the country. Fred Stengel, Mack Brown, Carl Forbush, and Greg Schiano all played significant parts in developing me as a leader. Most importantly, I was blessed to have two of the best full-time coaches I could ever ask for: Mike and Suzy Carfley.
Fun fact about yourself: I chew on straws incessantly throughout the day
Favorite book: Letters from Leaders, Henry Dormann
Favorite movie: Cinderella Man
Favorite musical performer: Jay Z, Dave Matthews Band
Favorite television show: “Entourage”
Favorite vacation spot: Maui, Hawaii
Hobbies? Chasing my 3-year-old around the house, fishing, and working at the greatest company on Earth
What made Ryan such an invaluable addition to the class of 2016?
“Ryan encompasses what this program is designed to support: someone who is doing well in their profession and is ready to take the next step. It is so exciting to watch him take what he learned in the program at UNC Kenan-Flagler and apply it to his company, Personify. His firm has been recognized as one of the top 10 best places to work and the 25th fastest-growing companies in the Research Triangle. Ryan has excelled academically, demonstrated outstanding leadership and fully engaged in all classes/activities. He also remarkable for the high level of concern he demonstrates for his fellow classmates and the community. Whenever I need help in my recruiting process, I can count on Ryan. He is a strong advocate for the program by sharing how he’s benefited from it, and his enthusiasm is infectious.”
University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School