| Tech industry CEO advocates for needs of small businesses
|Christine Chin Ryan, photographed in Synergy Consulting's headquarters. She stands by a work by Qigong master Ou, Wen Wei. Translated, the calligraphy reads: Heaven, Earth, Humanity in Harmony.
Committed to lending a voice to small businesses throughout Oregon, Christine Chin Ryan, President, CEO and founder of Synergy Consulting, Inc., promotes growth and development of small businesses through entrepreneurship, advocacy and public policy work.
As the first woman – and Asian-American – to serve as chairperson of the Governor’s Small Business Council (Council), Christine has been instrumental in identifying issues that are vital to small companies, such as affordability of health insurance; access to human resources; fiscal reform; business sustainability and renewable energy.
“Our goal for the Council is to serve as the voice for small businesses across the state, and we are on our way to accomplishing that goal. Over the last two years, we have been going around the state listening to small businesses, hearing what they have to say,” said Christine.
“There is a tendency to lump small and large businesses together, when in fact, there is a big difference,” said Christine. “Small businesses tend to invest time and financial resources in the local community. They tend to support each other and keep money in the community, because they care about what happens locally.” In 2005, there were 97,296 small businesses in Oregon with employees covered by unemployment insurance, with a total payroll of more than $5 billion. In addition, Oregon small businesses created more than 686,400 jobs per year.
Path to Success
"Like most immigrants, I acquired a strong work ethic from when I was very young. Our focus was not so much to look back, but always look ahead.
Christine’s parents emigrated from China to Trinidad, where Christine was born. The family came to the U.S. when Christine was 10. “I grew up in Queens, New York, but spent most of my adult life in Oregon. I’ve been in Oregon since the end of 1978,” she said.
With her background in programming and project management, Christine embarked on a career in technology. Managing a successful turnaround for an important project for her employer, Christine was catapulted to a leadership position. She was assigned to the poorest-performing project on the account. Within three months, employee morale was up, customer satisfaction improved dramatically, and the award fee grew from 12% to 85%.
After steering the account back to productivity, Christine decided that she needed a change. “At the time, I had been working for my first employer and I wanted to try other environments. I wanted to take my time, to find another company so I could decide which direction I wanted to go,” she said.
Founded 1988, Synergy Consulting, Inc.’s expertise and core business is providing customized software development in the energy sector, with an emphasis on energy efficiency. Christine has been managing all aspects of the business, from programming to project management and coordination. “We were fortunate to win the first project we ever bid on. Then, we started receiving other contracts and soon became large enough to hire employees.”
For Christine, the transition from corporate life to running her own firm was a “very nice” change. “It was nice not having an extra layer to report to. I liked being able to work closely with my clients, and do more for them, to help them reach their goals.”
The intersection of business and public affairs has always been apparent to Christine. "Like most small business owners, I wear many hats. I was so focused on my business in the early years. My civic involvement started with 2000 Presidential elections. My husband and I were informed politically, but not active. Like many Americans, we were upset with the outcome of the 2000 Presidential elections. We decided that we needed to do something,” she said.
Christine said that she selected the Democratic Party, because their positions were more in-tune with her goals and values. The more she got involved with the state party, the more that Christine determined that the Democratic Party needed to reach out to small businesses.
At the Democratic Party of Oregon (DPO), Christine was instrumental in creating the DPO Business Advisory Council, a group that advocates small business issues. Christine led the effort to formulate the first ever business and economic development platform in the state party.
During the 2004 Presidential election, Christine was asked by the Kerry campaign headquartered in Washington D.C. to be the Oregon State Coordinator for the “Oregon Business Leaders for Kerry”. Christine is proud to say that Oregon was used as the model for the 12 battle ground states.
At first, working as a volunteer in public policy was “a bit frustrating” for Christine, who is used to getting things done and producing results. “People who work for me know that I’m solution-oriented. Learning how the party works and how to function within its structure enabled me to be effective. The relevant questions always was “Are you out there rolling up your sleeves doing the work, or are you just there as a figurehead?”
Her success in bringing together a broad spectrum of small business interests under a cohesive, actionable agenda has raised Christine’s profile in many business and civic circles. She is often asked whether she foresees a career in politics. A question she answered with a smile. “I’m the type of person that would push back. That doesn’t make a good candidate. As a business owner, I’ve worn many hats and taken lots of risks. I’m not afraid to make decisions because I know the business well. I would need to study the issues carefully.”
Christine relishes her role as Chair of the Governor’s Small Business Council and as Chair of the Oregon Small Businesses for Responsible Leadership (OSBRL). OSBRL is a group of Oregon small business owners she founded in 2004 who recognize a need to enhance small business participation in community affairs.
“It’s important to me that the needs of small businesses be heard. The most effective way to advocate for small businesses across the state is to impact policy. Small businesses are rarely asked to join in the conversation, and to impact decision-making. At the Council, we have an opportunity to champion causes important to small business remaining the vital part of Oregon economy.”