As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Stana. Named one of the top fifty entrepreneurs in New York City, Ryan Stana is the Founder and CEO of award-winning RWS Entertainment Group (RWS), a premiere production company creating memorable entertainment, consumer events and branded experiences since 2003. Stana founded the company at the age of 22, operating out of the corner of his Manhattan apartment, and has since expanded the company to open a 52,000 sq. ft. modern office and studio complex in 2015 that houses multiple rehearsal studios, vocal rooms, Wardrobe & Casting departments and an in house Design Lab. Now as North America’s largest provider of branded entertainment, RWS produces, writes, directs and choreographs shows and television events, which has garnered Stana a 2009 EMMY® Award, numerous IAAPA Brass Ring awards and nominations, multiple Magellan Awards for his work with Holland America Line and Azamara and, the 2012 Golden Ticket Award for “Supplier of the Year” by Amusement Today.
As an industry leader, Stana serves on the entertainment committee for International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), as well as on the Board of Directors for the Broadway Dreams Foundation, an organization that offers training to youth from socio-economic backgrounds who aspire for a career in musical theatre. Stana holds a BFA from the prestigious University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music and Point Park University where he serves on the Board of Trustees.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Igrew up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was an only child whose parents were both entrepreneurs. With my parents being entrepreneurs, I learned to have a no fear mentality in life, which I think is the reason why I had the courage to open my own company. When you’re 22, you are much more gutsy than you are as you get older in life.
I was always interested in two things: performing and teaching. My family taught me that anything I dreamt could be a reality. By the end of my high school career those dreams started to push me from being in the spotlight to behind the table. I started working for a corporate entertainment company in Pittsburgh, who hired me to write and choreograph corporate shows for them. I have always been very thankful that they put so much trust in me as I learned a lot from my experience with them on how to run a business.
After I finished college, I moved to New York and started to work as an associate producer for a production company doing corporate entertainment. While I had great respect for their creativity, I started to consider how I would run the business differently. I firmly believe that any successful production firm must have equal creativity and operational knowledge and because they didn’t have this balance within their company, I became very frustrated. One day I called my parents and said, “I don’t want to do this anymore, I hate working with this company.” They said, “Why don’t you start your own business?” I took their advice, walked in that day and put in my resignation. Then, I went to the Staples store down the street from my apartment in New York City, and bought office supplies to set up a desk in the corner of my apartment… and that’s how RWS Entertainment Group started in 2003.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
I was too young to know what challenges were. I had a strong work ethic and I loved what I was doing every single day. I was truly living the dream. The challenges did not come until we started growing.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
Passion and Drive. Success doesn’t come easy, but my passion and drive to change the landscape of the entertainment industry never stops — even during the most difficult times.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”?
- You never stop working, so be sure you love what you do.
- You can’t do everything by yourself and without a great team you are nothing.
- Always listen to your gut.
- Being a CEO is a lonely job and anything that happens in the company can be attributed to you, whether you like it or not.
- The highs you experience are highs only a few experience in this world…but the lows are lows that only a few experience as well.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Everyone needs to create alone time for themselves. My time is going to the gym every morning where it allows me time to organize my goals for the day. I also schedule one day a week to “veg”, spend time with my husband and watch mindless television. Currently it is the Real Housewives franchise. (Don’t judge!)
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My grandmother Esther Kocevar. When I started this business, I felt that I had to have a different persona to achieve success. Being from a small town in Pennsylvania, I felt that I had to prove that I was a NYC socialite in order to do business. Early on when my grandmother started seeing that occur, she pulled me aside and said, “You will never have full success in your life until you are proud of where you have come from.”
She could not have been more correct. Even though she is no longer with me, I carry that advice with me every day.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Personally, I need to take time to smell the roses. Professionally, I am setting up the proper succession plan to grow RWS Entertainment Group into the future.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
My daily goal and my passion reflects our mission statement: to raise people’s experiences. We essentially have to elevate ourselves and everyone around us in order to provide our clients with the very best product.
In our 16 years of business, we have never lost a client. And when I examine why, it’s because in everything that we do, we’re extremely dedicated. We’re innovative in what we provide them, we’re all about collaboration, and our clients can trust us. But most importantly, we’re fun. And if you can’t have fun, why do it?
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I would start a movement of respect and guidance. When you have the means (not just financially) take the time and help someone. It can be as simple as answering questions or giving advice on their career. I personally feel, and instill in my staff, that we can make a dent in this movement by answering all our emails and phone calls by 6pm daily. I don’t care how busy you are — give people respect and answer their questions. That is my daily goal, because communication is key.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Ryan LinkedIn- https://www.linkedin.com/in/ryanstana/
RWS Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/rwsentgroup/
RWS Instagram- rws_nyc
RWS Twitter- @rwsnyc