Be consistent. You may have highs and lows, which leads to emotional reactions and moves, but don’t allow the highs and lows to alter how you manage situations. Stay consistent in your approach.
Ryan Gunnigle is the CEO and owner of Kids2. Under his leadership, Kids2 has expanded to become one of the world’s fastest-growing infant and baby product companies. Gunnigle leads 450 team members throughout Kids2’s global footprint which spans 15 global offices and operations in five continents.
Ryan has been the leading force behind the Kids2 success and global expansion, driving innovation, passion, and culture from the top. His hands-on approach, supported by the transparency he demands from himself and his team, has enabled the company to be a united front across all offices worldwide.
In his tenure as president and CEO, from 2005 to 2016, the company expanded from a small toy company to a design-driven, a global company boasting a powerhouse of iconic brands: Bright Starts™, InGenuity™, and Baby Einstein,™ and a broad portfolio of toy and gear products that deliver meaningful innovation and differentiation to the global marketplace. Today, the company produces more than 500 unique products and sells to 76,800 retail outlets across the globe.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up in the business and was part of Kids2 since I was using our products myself as a baby. My father was the CEO and owner and this business and industry were engrained in me. After business school, it was a natural fit and progression for me to join the Kids2 team. I worked in almost every role until I purchased the company from my parents in 2005. I’ve been the sole owner and CEO ever since.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
As my company existed before I took it over, my “aha moment” was really centered around and what eventually birthed our purpose — and the formula which we continue to expand. It wasn’t about making quality affordable products, it was and remains much bigger. It was and is about designing and delivering holistic solutions that early-stage family’s need — no matter their background, where they live, or who they are. We want to create brighter futures for all families through tiny wins and we thrive on finding the best and most unique way to do this. That is how I’ve been growing our core and expanding into new areas like venture capital funds to invest in like-minded tech companies in our space, a media company, and building strategic partnerships through our ecosystem.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
A little of both. My dad was an entrepreneur, self-made businessman and I inherited much of that from him. It was ingrained in me. But, I was driven and always knew I was going to do something with those inherited skills. I was committed to cultivating what came naturally to me. I don’t think I would be where I’m now if I didn’t continue to learn, develop and push myself as an entrepreneur.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
My father. He was not only the CEO of the company I worked for and my manager, he was my mentor — personally and professionally. So much of who I am and the success I have is because of him. I didn’t have to take the path of joining Kids2, I wanted to. I saw what he had done with the company and wanted to be part of it and help it go even further. I wanted to continue learning from my father, work side-by-side and create great things together as a team. He pushed me to work harder, think differently, be humble and loyal, and more importantly — he listened and supported me. He was always by my side on this journey, even after I purchased the company and he stepped away from the business.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
So many talented folks passionate about and committed to creating brighter futures for ALL families. We’re more than a product company or a manufacturer. We’re a solution provider that does everything with purpose, compassion, and empathy. And that starts with our team members who care. Our company is made up of moms, dads, and caregivers across the globe. They are either experiencing the same exact things our parent consumers are or have been in that position before. They put that knowledge, insight, and empathy into designing real solutions for real parents. Any company can make products, Kids2 helps families create more tiny wins.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Being a good listener. I don’t have all the answers and will never pretend to have them. I’m only as great as the folks and teams around me. I listen to what our consumers need, what our team members need, and what our partners need. I listen outside of our industry to learn best practices from other successful interesting companies, I listen to peers outside of Kids2. I listen to what we’re doing well, I listen harder to things that have gone wrong or how we can be better. Everyone at Kids2 has a voice and seat at the table and I’m open to new ideas, thoughts, and suggestions. We learn and grow together.
- Having a winning mindset. I want to be the best, I want to beat competitors, I want to be the chosen value-added partner and I believe everything we design and create will win in the marketplace. We have the best talent in the industry and I know we will continue to win with them. I’m hard-charging on this and push everyone to have a “we will win” mindset. I’m motivated by and driven to win and ensure our team members, retailers, partners, and parents win.
- Showing compassion. I care about the success of the company, but more importantly the success of our team members. I’m a husband and dad first and know the challenges that come with juggling work and life. I’m visible, I’m present and I will roll up my sleeves in any area of the business for any team or any individual no matter what. We’re in the business to create brighter futures for families…and that starts with my internal team first. I know it’s not always easy and I’m personally invested in and committed to each and every one of our team members. The same goes for our business partners and even more so for our consumers.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Stick with what you know. I tried for several years to do this and learned the good and bad of this. We missed opportunities but also got really good at what we do. But I didn’t listen to that for too long. I saw way too much opportunity and saw what we did miss out on by sticking within our core. Now while we continue to get better and be the best at what we’ve always done, we’re also expanding out into complementary areas like creating a factory, developing a media company, and investing in like-minded start-ups. All created to be mutually beneficial to each other while staying true to delivering on our promise to create solutions for all families.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
Create a culture where team members feel comfortable raising their hands for help and cultivate a “one team” environment so managers, peers, and team members organically step in and help. Don’t allow your leaders to lead from the clouds and not know what’s happening with their teams and the individuals on the teams. Be present, be available and be willing to roll up your sleeves.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and authority in their industry?
Deliver. It might sound simple but do what you say you’re going to do. Actions have to follow the words and strategy on paper. And continue at that level and pace. No matter who it’s for — your teams, partners, consumers. If you’re delivering what you think you can do and say you’re going to do, it will outpace others and prove you can be trusted, are credible, and are the best in your space.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
The world and consumer habits are changing faster than they ever have. And there’s more “noise” out there than ever before. If you don’t deliver, you’ll lose trust and they — be it employees, partners, or consumers — will move on to the next in line they can trust, and don’t be fooled, there is always someone waiting to be next…and today the number in line is greater than it has ever been.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & Founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Forget how they started and lose their “roots.” Almost every entrepreneur I know didn’t just wake up and say, “I want to make money.” It was bigger for them…they saw a need, a gap, white space and knew they could fill it with something great. They had a purpose. I’ve seen so many times where that purpose gets lost in trying to grow bigger too fast, make more money, find investors or equity partners, or sell. I’ve been fortunate that I remain the sole owner and not only maintain but continue to build upon our purpose and why I wanted to own Kids2.
Stick to why you started the business and try your hardest to keep that intact.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
The weight of everyone’s livelihood. Our team members and their families are the first things I think of when I wake up and the last thing before I close my eyes. While we’re a global team with excellent talent, ultimately the success or failure of our business and our folks lies on me. This past year, I never had so much of that weight on me as the world was hit with the global pandemic. I know when the company wins, when just one of our products wins in the market, it means greater potential for our employees. When just one product fails, or a shipment is delayed, or we have financial hits, our employees could suffer. So I celebrate the wins big and I fight the challenges and take any hit, even if it seems small to employees, very hard.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
When we crossed 100M dollars. When I took over as CEO we were in double-digits, and we were fighting hard to climb closer to triple digits, but I always believed and trusted we’d not only hit that but surpass that number and that’s how I talked about the business with the teams and our partners. I saw it coming way before anyone else and knew we’d get there. But we’d have to fight and fought we did. So when we crossed over 100M dollars, it was a BIG for us…and for me, and we were able to reward the team in a big way, which was even more exciting. That was 230M dollars ago and that number keeps ticking up.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Last year was one of the worst years for almost every business and a time where you would think longstanding partners would come together and work together with a common vision. In many cases for us, that is exactly what happened. In one particular relationship, it was quite the contrary. Last year was a lesson-learning experience in which I discovered our financial partners did not share our same long-term vision or share our same perspective around mutual respect and support. A 20-year relationship was severed, which could have terribly devastated the business and was the one thing above all that kept me up at night.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
I quickly reminded myself and our leadership team that we control our destiny, and we will not sit back and let it happen to us. We’ll make something happen. We worked hard, rapidly, and diligently to replace that partnership with a stronger, a more reliable, and more like-minded partner that wants as much as we do for Kids2 to be successful.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need to Successfully Ride the Emotional Highs & Lows of Being an Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Be consistent. You may have highs and lows, which leads to emotional reactions and moves, but don’t allow the highs and lows to alter how you manage situations. Stay consistent in your approach.
- Lean on peers outside of the organization. Build a strong network of trusted peers outside of your company where you can share the good, bad, and ugly and be vulnerable while not having to be “on” as the leader of the organization.
- Have an outlet that has nothing to do with your business. Even as the owner or CEO, you have to disconnect, even if it’s for a short moment. I always find time to of course spend quality time with my family but also do things on my own. I also am deliberate about not mixing business with these activities.
- Surround yourself with trusted allies and partners within the business. I believe in ONE team and my direct reports are my team. Even as the owner or CEO, you can’t do things alone or in a silo. You have to have awesome, caring folks around you that want the business to succeed as much as you do. I also value and lean on the relationships I have with many team members throughout the organization. The team members and remembering why you’re here always help. You get to celebrate the wins together and lean on each other during the lows and hardships.
- Don’t forget to have fun. When you stop having fun, it may be time to just stop. This has always been a critical component of our culture. Don’t always take everything so seriously. Sometimes, just laugh…at yourself, at the situation. Don’t forget we will also survive whatever comes our way so cut yourself and others some slack, and take time to have fun.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Agility and determination to win with a “we’re all in this together” mentality. We had several major blows last year, and we’ve also experienced several hits in the last five years outside of the global pandemic — but we were never really knocked out. That’s because of our ability to move and pivot fast, come together as a team, and fight to win. My goal is to always have a lot of irons in the fire and many opportunities brewing so we can easily pivot and combat hits that come. From my viewpoint, resilience comes when you’re willing to jump in, find an alternative solution and not give up.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
I grew up in this business and watched my father fight back from serious blows in the business and company so much like my entrepreneurialism, much of my resilience was ingrained in me from an early start. From an early age, I was always very in tune with how he responded to the highs and lows of running the business — both at home and in the office. Watching from his shadow contributed to my resilience and many more traits I have today.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
Yes, you have to. There are too many eyes on you and too many relying on you not to stay positive. It’s easier to lead through positivity and I want a team of positive folks around me. If I’m negative or pessimistic it illustrates that behavior is okay — and for me, it’s not. Always glass half-full. It may sound cliché but it’s all about perspective. In challenging times and difficult situations, the bigger picture or remembering what really matters is what I keep front and center.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
It’s contagious. You lead by the example you want others to follow or how you want others to treat you. I don’t want anyone to be on the defensive, it creates the wrong foundation for a discussion if you head into it with a bad attitude. I’m not perfect and I have bad days like everyone else. I haven’t always illustrated perfect positivity in meetings and you always know within minutes that your attitude is going to make or break the outcome of the conversation. I’ve learned to always catch myself or circle back with a positive follow-up when I know I didn’t demonstrate the behavior I want and expect from others. Leading, living, and communicating positivity creates an environment of camaraderie, collaboration, and productivity mixed with some fun.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”- Albert Einstein. This has been relevant to me for years as I’ve always believed in being a valuable partner to those around me. This is for me personally and professionally in business. If you create solutions and consistently deliver beyond expectations, you become invaluable. I want Kids2 to be the #1 indispensable go-to for our partners and most importantly to the families we serve across the globe. It’s also important as our core consumer brand, Baby Einstein, was founded on the principles of curiosity with a nod back to Albert Einstein and his renowned philosophies. We lean on his quotes in many areas of our business.
How can our readers further follow you online?
On LinkedIn. And you can follow our Kids2 company and brands Baby Einstein, Ingenuity and Bright Starts on almost every social channel. For Kids2 and me…
Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thank you for the opportunity!