As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ronn Torossian. Ronn is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the 15 largest independent PR firms in the United States. With more than 20 years of experience creating powerful narratives, he is one of America’s most well-respected PR professionals in America. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie’s American Business Awards 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year, the ABA PR Executive of the Year and Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist. Torossian is known as one of the country’s foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, has appeared on CNN & CNBC, was named to PR Week’s “40 under Forty” list, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and his book, “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations” is an industry best-seller. 5W has a diverse client roster, and their client experience includes top global brands including Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Microsoft as well as many others. The firm has repeatedly been chosen as the ‘PR Agency of the Year’ by the American Business Awards. Ronn is a native New Yorker and lives in Manhattan with his children. He is an active philanthropist.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’m a native New Yorker — I was born in Brooklyn and raised in the Bronx. I am a proud product of the New York City public school system.
Worked in a Bronx Pizzeria from the age of 11 for twelve years or so, and still have lessons from my first job which I apply today.
Studied liberal arts in college, then worked in politics in Israel and finally after a year in Israel returned to the United States and discovered I liked Public Relations.
Growing up I considered being a lawyer, or doing some sort of sociology work. As I explored my career options, I realized that PR is a mix of journalism, psychology and lawyering, making it the perfect fit for me, and so I started 5WPR in 2003. Started out of one room, and today thankfully we are about 175 people and growing.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
Challenges and problems — every single day. 5WPR has grown since we started, and I think in the beginning I made mistakes because I never really took the time to stop, take a breath and consider all my options. I learned that slowing down is not a bad thing — it gives you time to gather your thoughts and make the best decision for you and your company at the time. Also — starting a business is hard work! Pitching and signing new business, recruiting talent, and day to day operations all take hard work and dedication.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
I pride myself on my work ethic — I worked extremely hard to get to where I am, and still do every day. I also allow myself to take mistakes in stride, learn from them, and let them go.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”?
- Lead by example. Stay connected with your employees and lead by example. My team knows I work hard for the business and hard for them. Treat people the way you want to be treated.
- Learn to shut up and listen. Good ideas can come from anyone, anywhere. Understand that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Learn to listen to others and learn to trust your gut.
- Cut your losses. If there are aspects of your business that are no longer serve your mission, let them go. At 5W, we’ve had to resign clients when they no longer fit our business. It’s unfortunate, but a necessity for our business in the long run, and ultimately it’s a strategy that continues to help us grow and flourish. The old 80/20 rule remains very true.
- Make time for the little things and practice gratitude. Spend time with family and friends. My daughters are the biggest blessings in my life. Thank employees for their hard work. Treat your team fairly and always bring positivity to the workplace. Learn the importance of balance and of what makes you tick.
- Give back. I proudly give 10% of my annual earnings to charity every year. It makes me feel good and it is one of my top priorities. I have always believed that the more I give, the more I get. Being able to give is a blessing, and the desire to help others comes full circle back to being productive, working harder, and making a difference as an entrepreneur.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
While working hard is key, so is taking breaks. Be sure to take time away from the office regularly — allowing yourself to recharge will ultimately make you a better business leader. Read more books, and have interests outside of work.
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 mother, Penny Waga, helped me get to where I am today. My mom was bright and tough and taught me values, courage, wisdom, strength and decency. She told us every single day that we could do anything we set our minds out to do. We heeded and believed her — and knew that our mother would and could do anything and everything for us. And she did.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I never stop working hard and setting goals for myself. I plan to continue to grow 5WPR as a business, bringing on inspiring new talent and serving our clients in new ways as the industry continues to grow. We are just getting started.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
Being an inspiring business leader is only part of the legacy I hope to leave — more than that, I hope to be remembered as a good person. I also want to leave a positive impression on my children — I have daughters who are the biggest blessings in my life, and I want them to be both proud of me and inspired by my work. There’s charitable and communal work I do which is very important to me as well.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
5W Twitter: https://twitter.com/5w_pr?lang=en
5W Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/5wpr/?hl=en