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Success, despite her best-laid plans

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Darlene Ryan wasn’t looking for any leadership role. A pioneer female tax partner at Arthur Andersen, she was growing tired of the hi-jinks in the accounting world and distressed at hardly ever seeing her son. When her father and brother invited her to start up a little family business in Texas, it sounded nice.

They launched a pharmaceutical manufacturing firm, PharmaFab, with her father Ken bringing in expertise as a well-known chemist, her brother Bruce coming in as a whiz at production and Darlene handling the money.

Soon, though, Ken fell ill with lung cancer and died not long after. And, once Bruce had established every product, process and system, he felt his work was done, so Darlene gulped hard and bought him out.

“I was a CPA,” she says. “What did I know about running a company? But I decided, ‘OK, I’ll do it for two years and then find a buyer.’ Except I started having too much fun!”

In fact, Darlene has an easy rapport with her staff, and they clearly trust one another. She encourages dissent. At staff meetings, they banter, challenge her, spring up from their chairs.

And Darlene delegates. When both her husband and son came down with serious health conditions in the middle of a company crisis in 2003, she simply asked her management team to cope while she took her son away to recuperate from heart surgery.

Here’s the happy ending: Darlene’s team came through for her, and 10 years after she fled Arthur Andersen, the Fort Worth City Council celebrated Darlene Ryan Day for the owner of the fastest-growing private company in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It wasn’t easy, but Darlene’s grit turned her into a leader after all.

— Adapted from “Always the Optimist,” Jonathan Black, Inc.

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