The leader of Ryan Companies built his legacy by sharing his values with family, business and customers.
Over the course of four decades, CEO Jim Ryan helped drive the Ryan Companies from a local construction outfit to one of the nation's leading real estate development companies, winning industry accolades along the way.
Ryan, who died at 66 on Thursday after a 10-month battle with melanoma, also will be remembered as a modest man who shared his wealth and time with the disadvantaged and proclaimed his good fortune even in the late stages of his cancer.
"Jim's goal was not to build the biggest buildings or to be the largest company," said Pat Ryan, Jim's cousin and long-time business partner. "His goal was to build character in employees, confidence in our customers and better communities."
Jim Ryan, a native of Hibbing, Minn., started working for the family business as a kid and full time in 1965 after graduating from the University of Notre Dame. His first project was converting an old grocery store in Bloomington to one of the first Target stores. Jim Ryan succeeded his uncle, Fran Ryan, as CEO in 1989.
On Jim Ryan's watch, the company topped $1 billion in annual revenue from offices in Minneapolis, Chicago, Phoenix and several other cities.
Ryan built hundreds of Target Stores, office buildings and refurbished and brought back to life abandoned eyesores such as the Grain Belt Brewery on the northeast side. He also worked on the Sears Roebuck complex on E. Lake St. that was refurbished to serve as a new headquarters for Allina Hospitals as well as an eclectic, ethnic marketplace.
Jim Ryan also was unafraid of controversial developments, community partnerships and willing to make changes.
More than a decade ago, Ryan caught flak from Loring Park neighbors over a proposed new headquarters and downtown store for Target. Jim Ryan joined his project manager and other staffers at a couple of sometimes-rancorous community meetings at which critics railed about height and features.
"We weren't jumping for joy over the first design, either," Ryan said after changes were made and the buildings erected. "I do think the process we went through with the neighbors was helpful. I may have wanted some changes if I lived down there, too."
Jim Ryan served as chairman of the board of Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and led the high-profile drive for $300 million to modernize the hospitals.
For years, he and his family quietly served the homeless and disadvantaged with hands-on volunteer work at St. Stephen's Human Services
"Jim knew that everybody, including the homeless, has a story," Pat Ryan said. "Most of us will walk by them. I came back from a meeting one day, and I'll be damned if Jim didn't have a homeless guy we had passed on the street earlier, in his office, learning about his situation. Jim directed him to help and services."
Jim Ryan also chaired the board of the Minnesota Nonprofits Assistance Funds. He served on the boards of the Minneapolis Foundation, Amicus, an organization that works with inmates and ex-offenders, the United Way and the School of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame.
Jim Ryan is survived by his wife, Colleen, children Molly Carson, Maggie Allen and Kate Hegman; Tim Ryan, Nell Ryan, Dan Ryan, Sean Ryan and Tess Ryan; sisters Patricia, Jill and Bridget Strudwick and six grandchildren. Funeral services are pending.
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