Tim Ryan: U.S. Chairman PWC: life and times of a blue-collar business mogul.

Author:Jaime, Kristian


PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) is among the most lucrative corporations in the nation, but for Tim Ryan, the recently named U.S. Chairman, the road to the boardroom started in a grocery store.

For someone whose father worked as an electric company lineman and whose mother who worked as a grocery store cashier, the trajectory to Chairman at one of the largest companies in the world was not forged by privilege. The avid marathon runner and father of six remembers how he learned to relate to people while working in the produce department of a local business.

"When I was in high school, I used to work in a supermarket that was a small, family-owned chain. It was known for high-end customer service, and that's where I learned about how to treat customers, who today are clients," Ryan said.

He stayed at that job for the next decade and the lessons he gathered there led him to apply for admission at nearby Boston College. It seemed a world away from his humble hometown of Dedham, Massachusetts. Arriving on campus was the wake-up call he needed, even noting slight embarrassment as he and his father looked at the affluent legacy families all around them.

Yet it was not long before the first generation college graduate started to fit in with his classmates and catch the academic eye of a mentor that suggested public accounting as a possible career path.

Given the entrepreneurial streak in the executive-to-be, a focus on accounting seemed to be a match made in business heaven.

"At the time, I thought public accounting was working for the government, but what (my mentor) saw was that it was about dealing with people rather than technical brilliance," Ryan said. "He knew, given my background, that I understood that you have to know how to listen--and the rest is history."

Academic prowess soon developed into the career opportunities he was seeking since a high school biology teacher told him success would always elude him. Even before PwC came calling in June 1988, he had already learned a crucial tenet of leadership when he was chided in his youth by a storeowner.

The lesson was simple: leadership is not making everyone like you; it is getting the most out of the people who work for you.

Starting on that balmy Boston morning, wearing a suit his mother helped him pick out, Ryan's journey to the top of PwC was underway, complete with a moderate financial crisis by 1990. The epicenter was New Hampshire and the person is charge was...

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