Interview Spotlight With Kristy Ryan

Kristy Ryan is an operational efficiency expert that found her calling in the nonprofit sector based out of the Canyon Ferry region of Montana. She left her corporate junior executive job in 2011 to pursue her master’s degree and work in the nonprofit sector. Kristy divides her time between working as the COO at Move For Hunger, consulting with small businesses to assist with scale and organisational efficiency and running the organisation she and her husband founded working with youth through the Junior Olympic Archery Division program of USA Archery.

Thank you for interviewing with us today, can you introduce yourself to us?

Thanks for having me, I’m excited to share and learn from everyone. I’m Kristy Ryan. At the onset of the pandemic my family and I left Hawai`i, home for 11 years, and moved to Montana, where we have settled into a quitter life that allows us both to spend time in the areas that spark joy in our lives. I’m many things; I’m an organisation optimisation specialist and provide consulting services to small organisations struggling with scale and efficiency. I’m the COO of a nonprofit fighting food insecurity. I’m the co-founder of a youth servicing organisation that gives youth pathway alternatives to keep them out of risk situations, teaching them the skill of competitive Junior Olympic Division Archery. I classify myself as a bit of an ambivert. I love what I do, even if it means I divide my time between various passion projects. I always knew I would work in fields that allowed me to be of service to others and while vastly different the three worlds I currently orbit allow me to do just that.

Can you take us through your journey to where you are now?

Like many, after college I was on the track of seeking that career and salary, and while it wasn’t what I wanted it was certainly a needs-based trajectory. When I met and married my husband, I was suddenly given the option of choice. I no longer had to work for that high salary to sustain quality of life for my daughter and myself, now I could decide what really mattered. I did two things; I quit my junior executive role and started my master’s degree in public administration. Because I couldn’t just do schoolwork, I started a small consultancy firm that allowed me to focus on small businesses growth, success, and reshaping.

At the same time, I wanted to set myself up for what was next, I began serving on nonprofit boards and took a job with the Girl Scouts where I was brought in for my LEAN skills to help reshape the organisation. While at Girl Scouts I started my Ph.D. program and really focused on what I wanted to do.  I had these skills I was noticed for and this passion that I wanted to be known for.  That shaped the start of our youth servicing organisation. Upon leaving Girl Scouts, I switched gears yet again teaming up with Move For Hunger to help the organisation make the leap from 5 million pounds of food recovered to 10 million pounds.  At Move For Hunger my primary focus is using every bit of skill I’ve gained to help push the organisation to the next level.  In short, I’m a fixer, and thinking, and a doer.

Since starting, have you made any changes to your business model?

When I started my consultancy, I quickly learned I could not be all things to all organisations. I had to get serious about the things I uniquely brought to the table and define what I could not. This exercise naturally shaped my business model, but also the clients I took on. As I’m not doing this work full time any longer, I had to get picky about where I would spend my time. I currently work with small businesses that are looking to grow, many of my clients are female entrepreneurs but that is not necessarily out of my business model. 

Have you ever had a mentor? If so how has this benefitted you either personally or professionally?

I’ve been fortunate to have many mentors throughout my professional experience. These mentors have helped settle me when I was unfocused, they have pushed me when I was overly comfortable, they have held me accountable. To me mentors serve as a sounding board of balance, they are unbiased and unwavering and when paired well will push you past the boundaries you have envisioned for yourself. I’m now fortunate to be at a point where I am viewed as a mentor to some, and I can give back.

What outlets do use for marketing?

My consultancy is 100% word of mouth, I do zero marketing for it. I save my marketing energy for my nonprofit work.  The other side of my professional life is in partnership with my community – in other words I don’t really have to market that much either.  What I do use social media for is sharing cause and development messaging. If I can bring awareness or give someone access to tools that may not have had that is a powerful thing.

What or Who has inspired you most recently?

Honestly, the most inspiration things of recent months have been my work with the nonprofit. I knew very little coming into the space, I know I was being asked to help with scale, culture, and operations. I view this work as basically a long-term consultancy. The more I learn the more I want to help the organisation, the team is inspirational in their dedication and the mission is something I can get behind every day. 

What is the best piece of business advice you have received to date?

Good question, after reflecting on this I have to say its advice on failure and risk. A mentor shared that I need to be unafraid and bold when I make decisions. Failure is a sign of success in that its momentum, movement in the direction regardless of outcome is progress and failures are opportunities for growth and self-awareness.

How do you create an evenly balanced work and personal life?

I am a bit of a workaholic; I make a conscious effort to work from my office and not from my living space daily. I get dressed and ready for my day even when working from home.  It’s a mental trick for me, if I am dressed for my day, I know I am in work mode, when I am done with my workday – I shower and change into comfortable lounge wear, unless I’m going out for the evening.  I never wear lounge wear while working to keep my mindset centered.  On the rare occasions I am working in the evening or on the weekend I set parameters around my time, using a clock and alarm to keep me on track. I also block time in my calendar each day for stretching, mediation, lunch, disconnecting – what ever I need to center and show up.

Name a seminal point in your career so far?

Speaking to 3,000+ professional Girl Scouts on Operational Success and a few keynote topics. The art of developing the speech and delivering content that was meaningful forced to assess what those two things meant.

What gives you ultimate career satisfaction?

Setting up systems and operations that all an organisation to uncover hidden gems within their own organisation. We tend to put people and things in boxes, we hired So and So for this role, we use this platform in this way.  Yet what we know is rarely boxes all encompassing, nor should they define the potential of a person or a project.

Are there any leading entrepreneurs or SME leaders that you admire and if so, why?

Sylvia Acevedo and Terri Broussard Williams – both for their leadership and passion in working in Nonprofit Leadership and Engagement. Sylvia showed me that when you show up with passion you can create ripples of great change. While Terri showed me that speaking and acting with true intention sparks change.

How do you define your own success?

Success, for me, is defined as that moment or culmination of moments that fulfil a need and allow others to succeed. It is creating structures, systems, and opportunities that allow others to realise their strengths and understand their weaknesses. I’ve always approached leadership with the mindset, I am only as strong as my weakest team member, and it is my role as a leader to help spark something in my team that will propel them to excellence.  I’m preparing my team for what is next for them, not confining them to their role out of fear they will leave. 

Finally, what can we expect from you next?

I hope to finish my dissertation this year and most certainly have some public speaking engagements on the agenda.  Beyond that, I feel that is the beauty of the future – we don’t really know what doors will open and where we will go.  I expect from myself to continue learning and growing, sharing where I can, and authentically showing up. If you asked me a year ago if I would be where I am today, I would probably so no and yet here we are.

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