“Seeing first hand the qualities of successful sales folk, and more importantly, the reasons for failure in style and approach, made me believe I could be successful in sales,” he explains.
However, certain factors altered his decision, and impelled him to move in a different direction. He was a sales professional with five successful years under his belt in the mid-eighties when an opportunity to move overseas to live, first in London and then in Sydney, gave him a chance to move into a significant management position in the telecom industry. It proved to be the launching point of his present career.
What is appealing about Mr Ryan is his unbridled enthusiasm for his job. He enjoys explaining the company’s vision to an audience, large or small. He is equally energised about launching new projects and services, and getting a sales organisation all charged up about going out and succeeding. It motivates him to look back and see how far they have come, and to look forward, knowing exactly where they are going.
Leading by example
It is not as if there are no challenges ahead. Four successful years have been followed by a slowing economy that will affect Tata Communications’ business. While he is unsure about the exact extent of this impact, he is sure that “it requires constant vigilance”. The ongoing challenge is to decide what expenses should be delayed and what must proceed. “Communication amongst the leadership team and with all the field managers is the most important,” he avers.
Mr Ryan believes in giving his people the freedom to do their job, once the objectives are made clear at the beginning of each six-month performance cycle. “Customer-specific activity is usually the guide for providing input, support and encouragement. It is important that performance feedback is more than a one-on-one exercise,” he says. Mr Ryan encourages, and even solicits, input from peers on team and individual performance.
His key strengths define the man. Assessing strengths and overall fit for potential hires is coupled with an innate ability to communicate one-on-one. These mesh well with his talent for communicating the company’s vision, strategy and competitive differentiators to people within the company, and without.
Mr Ryan speaks fondly of one of his former bosses, Gabe Battista, a man he describes as an unbelievably charismatic sales leader. He admits that professionally he has been deeply influenced by Mr Battista’s way of making everyone feel like they were part of the team, and enthusing them to go out and sell, sell, sell. Mr Battista also organised sales kick-offs that were fun. Despite staying up late with the sales personnel, he was the first one up in the morning, ready to go to work. Mr Battista’s outgoing personality and communication style has been his role model for the last 20 years and more.
Connecting the dots
Mr Ryan launched Tata Communications in the US as its first employee. He is justifiably proud of having helped to build the organisation from the ground up, and of hiring some of the best talent in the telecommunications industry.
He feels that the transformation of Tatas as a global business force has only recently captured the perception of their US customers, but, “Within Tata Communications, this has had a very positive impact.” Being part of the globalisation effort definitely ranks as one of the most exciting things he has done in his 25 years in international telecom.
When he is not travelling, Mr Ryan’s workday starts with an early morning conference call, to review major transformation or incubation projects with the management team. He spends a few hours a day ploughing through the large volume of communication from around the world and responding. In between, he also manages to schedule a few meetings related to HR activities, customer issues / opportunities and various reporting responsibilities. Meeting one-on-one with the company’s local staff, and planning customer and office related activities is another big part of his day.
The family man
Handling the demands of his job seems a trifle compared to the challenges of life after work. “With three boys ages 11, 15 and 17, there is always something going on. My oldest son is getting ready for college, the middle one is always going or coming from somewhere and the youngest just wants to hang out and play.” So, how does he relax? “My wife is a great cook and when she is not planning a dinner, we love to go out.” And if he has a few hours to spare, he is always game for a round of golf with customers, colleagues or friends.
Mr Ryan has no regrets about any of his decisions in the past, either personal or professional. “However, I wish I had been a bit more conservative in my financial planning. When you are young with no concerns, making a good salary and lots of commissions, you don’t worry much about the future. Today, as I look forward to putting three kids through college and planning for life after retirement, I can surely think of some things I might have done different,” he confesses.
His plans for Tata Communications however are taking shape. It has taken them over four years to build a business from scratch and to the position the company holds today as an established new competitor. He feels that it will take another three to five years to become a recognised global leader in all the markets they serve. “I plan to help make that happen.”