Robert L. Ryan, MBA ’70, the retired senior vice president and chief financial officer of Medtronic, Inc., will be Harvard Business School’s Class Day speaker on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. The ceremony, which will be in person for the first time since 2019, will take place on the Baker Lawn on the School’s campus in Boston, and will include a welcome from the co-presidents of the MBA Class of 2022, presentation of the Faculty Teaching Awards, and a student address.
Ryan, a Detroit native and longstanding philanthropic supporter of education — particularly for those from underserved backgrounds — was honored by the HBS African American Student Union (AASU) in 2000 and was a speaker at AASU’s annual conference in 2017. In addition, he is one of five recipients of the 2022 HBS Alumni Achievement Award, an honor bestowed annually on alumni who exemplify the mission, highest standards, and values of HBS.
In 2004 he launched the Robert L. Ryan Fellowship at HBS, which has supported 22 students since its inception. Providing funding for future generations of MBA students was important to Ryan to honor his parents’ emphasis on education, even though neither attended college. His father, who completed fifth grade, worked at a Chrysler factory from the age of 16; his mother, a homemaker, did not attend college because her father didn’t think education benefited women — but she ensured that Ryan knew how to write cursive and read before he started kindergarten, and pulled him from public school in his first week when she decided he wasn’t learning enough.
“I don’t think anybody had better parents than I had,” said Ryan. “My father was barely literate, but he was an incredibly visionary person. He sat me down at a very young age and told me that I had a job, no excuses: to get good citizenship grades and good academic grades. He was very tough and had high expectations.”
Ryan is a business leader with a long, successful, industry-spanning career. Prior to joining Medtronic, he served as chief financial officer for the Union Texas Petroleum Corporation for 10 years, overseeing the company’s initial public offering. Earlier roles include stints at McKinsey and Citibank, where as vice president he was responsible for overseeing relationships with companies in the nascent cable television industry. He is a former board member of several esteemed organizations, including General Mills, Hewlett-Packard, Stanley Black & Decker, and UnitedHealth. He is also an emeritus trustee of Cornell University, where he holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering.
“Bob is the most exceptional CFO I have known, creative and strategic, with great judgment,” said Bill George, senior fellow at HBS and former chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic. “He is a great role model and mentor for young leaders.”
The HBS Class Day ceremony is planned and conducted by a committee of second-year MBA students. It is open to members of the graduating class and their guests as well as HBS alumni, faculty, and staff.
Please visit HBS Commencement 2022 for more information on HBS Class Day and Harvard University Commencement.