Excellence in Sales: Chuck Ryan

Chuck Ryan: Driven to succeed
A pizza restaurant, a truck-driving job and a desire to serve have positioned Chuck Ryan for sales success

Those who have driven a truck or van for a medical products distributor know that stocking shelves and closets, setting up equipment, and making sure the customer is set to go can be a good training ground for sales. “The funny part about being a driver,” says Chuck Ryan, account manager for McKesson Medical-Surgical, “is that you probably have more interaction with customers than the sales reps do. You’re in there every day.”

Ryan stopped driving and started carrying a bag in 1989, but he never forgot the part about servicing customers. “Chuck thinks of us as his very own business,” says Tom Carroll, CEO of South Shore Medical Associates, a 70-physician practice in Norwell, Mass., and part of Atrius Health. “And we think of him as one of our employees – not a vendor.”

Ryan, who services Boston, Mass., is the recipient of this year’s Repertoire/HIDA Excellence in Sales Award for a distributor sales rep.

Pizza experience
Born in Anchorage, Alaska (his father was in the Air Force), Ryan’s family moved to Massachusetts when he was just two. As a pre-teen, he started working part-time in a pizza restaurant in Falmouth, Mass. After he finished his schooling, he continued to work at the restaurant, Papa Pete’s, ultimately becoming manager. At one point, he even considered buying it. “I learned a lot there,” he says. “The hospitality field isn’t much different from what I do now – the customer wants something, and we provide service.”

Despite the good experiences in the pizza business, in 1988, Ryan sought a different career path. “I found out early in the restaurant business that you’re always working when everybody else is off,” he says. And he simply was ready for more.

He answered an ad for a driver for Medco Systems, a Cape Cod, Mass.-based physician distribution company founded in 1981 by Doug Harper (later to become president of PSS). “The ad said they were looking for a career-minded individual,” recalls Ryan. “I asked Doug if there was an opportunity for advancement. He said yes. I said, ‘I’ll take the job.’ He said, ‘I haven’t offered it to you yet.’” But a week or two later, Harper did just that.

“He has told me that he hired me because he wondered why somebody would show up for an interview for a truck-driver job in a suit and tie,” says Ryan, speaking of Harper, with whom he keeps in touch today.

The art of peddling
After driving for several months, Ryan got the opportunity to go into the field in 1989. He started out selling three days a week and driving the other two, ultimately going into the field full time.

“I was really lucky at that time in my career” for the mentoring he received from Harper and a veteran salesman named Charlie Sullivan. “He spent a lot of time with me, teaching me the art of what he called ‘peddling,’” recalls Ryan, speaking of Sullivan. “He was very proud of what he did and he had the technique and skills to do it. It amazes me – it didn’t matter how dumb my questions were or how many times I called him, he always answered the phone and answered my questions.

“[Doug Harper] gave me a shot that a lot of people probably wouldn’t have,” he continues. “He taught me the business, and he always had time for me.” In fact, Harper and his wife, Cathy, have been a part of Ryan’s family life too, having been at his wedding and other events involving their kids. “He was there to help guide me through a lot of the things we’ve gone through,” including Taylor Medical’s acquisition of Medco in the early 1990s, and PSS’s acquisition of Taylor in 1995.

He also credits Harper with putting together a team of people who got along well. “Some of the most fun I’ve had in my career has been hanging out with those guys,” he says.

“Between Charlie and Doug, it’s a toss-up as to who was the best sales rep. It’s amazing that I was exposed to both of them and was able to learn so much. It was a great thing in my career.”

Selling today
“Chuck’s main focus is to bring value to his customers,” says John Sasen Jr., New England area sales manager for McKesson Medical-Surgical, who has been Ryan’s manager for four and a half years. “Value doesn’t always mean the lowest price or cheapest product. What it means is helping the practice be efficient and improve their revenues, and stay strong. And it means bringing in new products and services” to help them do that. “With Chuck, it’s not always about what’s in it for him. For Chuck, to profit is to keep his customers strong and happy.”

“Chuck really understands our business, and that allows him to present opportunities to help us either enhance our revenue or reduce our costs,” says Carroll. “So he’s always working with us on those opportunities. That’s different from some vendors, who are always trying to sell me something. In some cases, what Chuck does is not a matter of selling something, it’s a matter of asking, ‘How can I use my expertise to bring value to [the practice]?’ That has always set Chuck apart.”

Ryan never demonstrated his value to South Shore Medical Associates more than in the practice’s recent move to a new, 85,000-square-foot facility in Norwell. “It was a big move for us,” says Carroll, adding that the practice had been in its former location 52 years. The move actually consolidated two South Shore facilities into one, and was so big, it occurred over a three-month period this fall. Ryan played an extensive role, says Carroll.

“Chuck made sure we were buying the right equipment, and he helped us move and install [our existing equipment],” he says. “He was very much a part of the project team on a number of levels.”

Manufacturer partners
As he does with his end-user customers, Ryan considers himself a partner with his manufacturers, says Sasen. “He delivers on the promises he makes.” And vendors trust that if Ryan requests special pricing or some deal, he is doing so in order to get the deal done rather than to squeeze profit out of the vendor. Along the way, he has managed to build a sense of loyalty among his manufacturers. “Chuck will go to the mat for them,” says Sasen, including working hard to make an important end-of-year sale. “Those small things really make a difference.”

For his part, Ryan expects his manufacturer partners to have product knowledge as well as expertise in presenting themselves. “Their expectations are at the same level as mine, and that’s why we work well together.”

Providers’ challenges are financial
“At the end of the day, the challenges end users face today are financial,” says Ryan. “The opportunity for me is to educate, teach and consult them on anything, whether it has to do with [in-office] testing, purchasing a piece of equipment, or designing the flow of the practice. The business is changing dramatically, because of lower reimbursement. The more efficient these practices can become, the better chance they have of surviving. That’s where I can help guide them.”

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