September 30, 2002

Ryan '69 Reveals Secrets of Success

Print More

Rob Ryan ’69, founder of Ascend Communications and Entrepreneur America, revealed the secrets of his success as one of America’s most successful entrepreneurs in an open address on Friday in the Statler Auditorium.

The address was given as a highlight to the annual Entrepreneur of the Year Celebration, in which Ryan was the honored guest as Cornell presented him as the 2002 Entrepreneur of the Year.

In his address Ryan recounted his journey to success, attributing much of it to the application of his “Sunflower Model” to the business world. The Sunflower Model emphasizes the role of reinventing a company several times in order to cater to different markets.

“It’s a way of thinking; it’s a process,” said Ryan in reference to the Sunflower Model.


Ryan split the model into three separate components and applied these parts to the case of his own creation of Ascend Communications. He explained the model in terms of driving forces, core technology, and product markets.

Commenting on the tips Ryan gave, Eric Sontag ’05 said, “I think that talking to the customers to get information is admirable and a valuable piece of advice.”

Ryan went on to talk about the value of reinventing a company in three phases: conspiracy, discovery and action.

“We needed to reinvent ourselves. This is not something people like to do,” said Ryan referring to Ascend Communications.

Though Ryan’s innate sense for business and marketing may have been a large contributing factor to his success, his creativity and ingenuity also played a role in selling Ascend’s product, dynamic bandwidth.

“They told me it couldn’t be done,” said Ryan as he talked about applying dynamic bandwidth to video markets.

Despite the important role of ingenuity and good business sense in creating a success, Ryan also acknowledged the role that circumstance may play in developing a successful business.

“There are large elements of luck, [such as] the internet explosion. … We were plumbers of the Internet. I gravitated to [marketing] to see if I could make it more of a sure thing,” Ryan said.

Ryan wrote Entrepreneur America: Lessons From Rob Ryan’s High-Tech Start-up Boot Camp to further spread the secrets to success in the entrepreneurial world.

“It was uncommon common sense,” Ryan said in summary of his business philosophy.

By 1995, Ascend Communications Inc. grew to a company with more than $500 million in sales. When Lucent Technologies bought the company out in 1999 for $23 billion, it was the largest technology merger in history.

Ryan is now a entrepreneur boot camp mentor at his Montana ranch. He dedicates himself to helping high tech entrepreneurs develop successful business plans and shares his experience on how to sell ideas. Ryan is also a member of the Cornell University Council and its university-wide Entrepeneurship and Personal Enterprise (EPE) Advisory Council and the mind behind the Cornell Entrepreneur Network, a networking program for alumni.

“We are all grateful for his support of our programs,” said John Alexander, chair of the Cornell Entrepreneur Award and of EPE.

Archived article by Carrie Tremblatt