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7 Questions on Leadership with Devin Ryder

Name: Devin Ryder

Title: Director of Business Initiatives & Consulting Engineer

Oranisation: Gentry Services

Devin Ryder holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Akron (Ohio, USA) and a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins (Maryland, USA), both in electrical engineering, and 17 years of professional experience.

Devin brings over 15 years of engineering and technical leadership to Gentry Services, having directed cross-functional teams as small as three people, and organizations as large as 1,800 people, across the globe.

During this time, Devin also developed a deep passion for transparency, effective communication, and direct customer engagement with a focus on obtaining a deep understanding of client needs to produce the most appropriate solutions.

As a part of Gentry Services, Devin now provides expert systems engineering consulting services to customers while working alongside the rest of the Gentry leadership team as Director of Business Initiatives to expand our services to new customers and industries across the country.

In his personal life, Devin enjoys weight training, reading, personal finance, economics, and spending time with his friends and family. Devin's wife and kiddo enjoy being goofy together, dressing up, getting their faces painted, dancing, and relaxing at home!

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Devin's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

A phrase that I've found myself regularly repeating over the past 15 years is that "technical challenges are the easy part. The hard part is leading and managing people." This continues to prove true in every position that I've held throughout the course of my career. People are brilliant and interested in doing work that is genuinely valued and appreciated, but finding out what internally motivates them and creating an environment in which they are able to work together effectively as a team requires constant focus, flexibility, and reevaluation. Everyone is different and unique approaches are required for every situation. Leading people is something that I truly enjoy, and these inherent challenges are part of what I believe makes it so interesting and rewarding.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I had the good fortune of stumbling into a leadership role early on in my career, almost immediately after receiving my undergraduate degree and beginning my first full-time engineering position. Of the new hires that were onboarding in the Spring of 2009, I was selected to be the lead systems engineer for a large, high-value technical project for which I was wholly unprepared. Thankfully, I had one of the most fantastic mentors I've ever encountered to help me learn to swim (I'd likely have sunk like a rock just winging it on my own). With his incredible guidance, I was able to successfully organize and lead teams of technical experts to operate, maintain, upgrade, troubleshoot, and eventually decommission a data center of highly specialized equipment spread out across the globe.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

Having a schedule is extremely important to me! I have little free time during the week, so operating on a schedule that prioritizes my goals allows me to maintain progress...and my sanity.

My typical Monday through Friday routine begins around 4:45 AM when my wife's alarm goes off (it's important to set hers because she won't react to mine, whereas most anything will wake me up). We head to the gym for weight training and return home to get ready for work around 6:30 AM.

After hanging out for a bit, eating breakfast, and checking in with our teenage daughter, I either head into the office or log onto my laptop in the home office depending on if I'm working remotely or not, around 7:30 AM. I'll add here that the flexibility offered by remote work has been fantastic, but I also believe that there is no substitute for in-person engagement. I'm probably hovering around 75% in the office and 25% remote with my current client, where I perform engineering consulting services in the space sector. Most often, I'll put in about nine hours here, which allows me to take every other Friday off (from Job #1, more on this shortly).

Within this nine-hour time frame, I always begin by taking stock of what's on our team's plate each week and day first thing in the morning. This allows me to effectively and efficiently ensure that I'm working on the tasks that are most important and highest value. Throughout the day, I'll check in with others, attend meetings and strategy sessions, and provide updates as to where we're at with various efforts. As the day winds down, I gear up to head home (or transition from my home office) around 5:00 PM and put in an hour or so with job #2.

As with any small business that's hard-charging and focused on growth, leaders tend to wear multiple hats. My first hat (job #1) is my engineering consulting hat. My second one (job #2) is Director of Business Initiatives, where I work with our founder & CEO, Brad Gentry, and our Chief Operations Officer, Brandon Beam, to identify and pursue new business opportunities. This consumes about an hour of my time each day (5:30-6:30 PM) and then much of every other Friday when I'm not consulting with clients. It might sound like a lot of work, but when you're passionate and motivated - it really feels more like play!

But enough about work! Once I check out for the day from job #2 (~6:30 PM) my wife and I will make dinner and eat with our daughter, though sometimes we all fend for ourselves, and then often spend an hour or so doing something relaxing or interesting. Watching a show that we all enjoy, discussing a relevant political issue, or just reading near each other.

Around 8:30 PM we're ready for bed, where I like to read fiction for about 30 minutes or so. This helps me turn my mind away from anything that might be stressful or upsetting to get me ready for sleep. I insist (much to my wife's annoyance at times) at giving myself 8 hours of opportunity sleep to the extent possible. Sleep is incredibly important and typically undervalued. Anyways...lights out at 9:00 PM at the latest and then, if all goes well, I sleep until that alarm goes off and we do it all again the next day!

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

Strategy is extremely important, but it's not easy! I spent much of my leadership career having already been given a clear goal or job by those higher up in the organization. However, when I took on a high-level role as Technical Director for an organization of about ~2000 people sprinkled throughout the world (though most in the U.S.), it became MY job to determine what was important, establish goals and timelines, and inspire the right people to charge forward. This was an interesting mindset shift that took a great deal of focus, trial, and error, and solicitations for guidance from those who were wiser and more experienced. However, once I got the hang of it, this position became extremely fulfilling and rewarding and also pushed me to grow in many ways.

I'll also add here that, as I undertook this journey for myself, I began noticing that many of the other leaders at my level, and higher, were really struggling with this idea, or missing it altogether. I often found them reacting to events day-to-day rather than developing and executing a strategy for success. Not only is this a more stressful way to operate, but it's absolutely ineffective at doing anything other than maintaining the status quo. And status quo is what kills companies (and stifles individual professionals) tomorrow, in spite of any degree of success they may be capturing today.

Fast forwarding to my current role, I'm going through a bit of deja vu. With a small team that has challenging goals and ambitions laid out before us, we're now working hard to determine where best to invest our time, energy, and resources to build Gentry Services and expand into new industries. It's not easy, but it's a blast! And I'm extremely thankful that I can leverage my previous experience in this arena to our advantage.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Great question! I love to read and do so daily. Usually several books at once. There are so many fantastic books that I’ve read that have impacted me in one way or another…However, if I have to pick just one, The Power of Less, by Leo Babauta has to be it. This book focuses on one overarching concept that has helped me both personally and professionally: reducing the number of things that we focus on with the limited amount of time that we have any given day, week, year, and so on.

As someone who’s naturally interested in MANY different topics, functioning as a leader in various capacities throughout my career, trying to do everything at once was: stressful, demoralizing, chaotic, and unfulfilling. Even if we are drawn to it all or see great potential for every idea, we can’t possibly succeed at everything because of the time scarcity that, so far at least, no one has found a method for subverting.

The key to succeeding at anything is to focus on it, and only it, with the time that you have. Anything else will get in the way. In reality, we can often have ~3 professional and personal goals (ranked), but adding much beyond that will likely produce little result with a lot of work.

Applying this principle to my career and my life outside of work has made all the difference in the world!

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Find someone (or multiple people) that you, and those around you, respect who’s performing well in a leadership role and reach out. Ask them to share their knowledge and experience with you. Ask them what you can do better, how to handle situations that you facing, or what they might do in your shoes. Mentorship is, in my humble opinion, the single most effective tool for enhancing your own career and the careers of other promising professionals - on BOTH sides of the equation (mentor and mentee).

What most people don’t know is that it’s your job to look out for your own mentorship needs. Don’t wait for highly skilled and experienced colleagues to reach out to you. While sometimes this might happen, many people don’t want to presume that you’re looking for help or advice, so it often isn’t offered proactively. However, if you ask, almost everyone is thrilled to share and help with your development. People love to talk about what they’re good at and passionate about, and they also really enjoy fostering the growth of ambitious talent.

On the flip side, when you have valuable experience to share, make sure you let everyone know that you’re happy to mentor anyone who’s interested. Making yourself available will help draw out those that are looking, but might otherwise be afraid to ask. You won’t be sorry that you did! Mentorship is exceptionally gratifying!

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