BOARDMAN – Jeff Ryznar said his four years at Ursuline High School helped mold him into the person he is today and laid the foundation for his success as an entrepreneur.
"Ursuline has been a part of my life since I was born." Ryznar said. "My aunt and godmother, Sister Carole Suhar, is an Ursuline nun and I was surrounded by the teachings of St. Angela from a young age. Ursuline prepared me academically and personally to excel and achieve.
"With God, I knew I was going to be OK" in life and career, he said. While he knew he would have challenges, his time at Ursuline soon began to pay off for him, he said. "I wasn’t just prepared to get through college, I was prepared to excel."
Ryznar said Ursuline had such an impact on his life that he joined the Associate Program of the Ursuline Sisters in Youngstown and is on the Ursuline High School board of directors.
He also serves on the board of trustees at the Youngstown Country Club, is an advisor for the Defiance College Board for Sports Management as well as Miami University’s Strategy Works programs and is a member of the Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley Community Leadership Council.
Ryznar, who graduated from Ursuline in 1998, is the founder and president of 898 Marketing, a local firm specializing in the development of strategic marketing campaigns for businesses in the Mahoning Valley. He founded the company in 2015.
He also remains part owner – since 2011 – of a San Francisco technology company, Phizzle. Phizzle is an engagement automation company specializing in fan activation and data management that was named by Forbes Magazine as one of the "Most Promising Companies in America."
Ryznar served as Phizzle’s vice president of marketing for four years, revamping the company’s business plan and strategic approach.
Most recently, this year he partnered with another Ursuline graduate, Kevin McGuire (class of 1976), in establishing a local technology company called OrderCare, which offers a digital referral application enabling physicians and other primary health care providers to submit requests for home health care, hospice and medical service providers across the country.
"I love my job because it doesn’t feel like work yet." Ryznar said with a smile. "My father always told me that when your job or occupation feels like work, it’s time to move on.
"With owning my own business, it is a challenge for me every day and the person I have to answer to is the one I look at in the mirror. It is a driving motivation that keeps me humble, honest and driven to succeed, not just for my company, but also for the clients who entrust us to grow their businesses."
Ryznar attended elementary school at St. Joseph in Austintown and after graduating from Ursuline, attended Miami University of Ohio, graduating in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and a minor in management information systems.
"I always knew I wanted to become involved in marketing and declared it as my major after my freshman year at Miami University. Marketing is about storytelling and it impacts every part of the organization.
"I’m biased, but marketing is the most important piece to any organization because, whether they know it or not, every person within that organization is a part of their marketing team," Ryznar said.
Out of college, he started working for General Motors (GM), as a regional supervisor in dealer advertising for Buick, Pontiac, and GMC brands .
He landed a job in 2007 as director of strategic marketing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, which he held for four-and-a-half years. That job was the result of an advertising campaign with the Cavaliers that he developed when he was with GM.
Ryznar said the ad campaign was a success and the Cavaliers were looking to fill the marketing position, so they offered him the job.
"It was a dream come true," he said. "My entire life, I wanted to work or play for one of my favorite childhood teams and I was being provided an opportunity to live out that dream.
"It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, not only professionally, but also because of the bonds it created personally." Because of that position, he continued, he "was able to start my own business and to have friendships with some of the most interesting and talented professionals I have ever met."
The Cavs job also led Ryznar to his wife, Dr. Meredythe "Mimi" McNally, also a Youngstown native, who also happened to be working in Cleveland at the time. They have been married seven years and have two daughters, Maeryn Reece, 4, and Kyra Rose, 2. They are members of St. Christine Parish, Youngstown.
"Along with God, my wife and my children are the most important aspect to my life. On my desk is something my wife gave me when I started my own business. It says, ‘Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.’
"Immediately next to it are pictures of my wife and two daughters in a frame with a palm that I replace each year after Palm Sunday Mass. While I still hold true Ursuline’s creed of Soli Deo Gloria (‘For the Glory of God Alone’), my drive, my focus and my passion is to be the best husband and father those three women God has blessed me with could ever want, have or need," Ryznar said.
He said he was not looking to leave the Cavaliers because they were and still are "family" to him, but an opportunity with Phizzle presented itself and enabled him to fulfill his dream of owning his own company. It also further developed him as a person.
"While it was uncomfortable and scary, it was something I needed and wanted to do because it was a new opportunity. Without the Cavaliers, I would never have had that opportunity, and it was time to see what else I was capable of," Ryznar said.
His career advice for others is "Find what you love to do and you will never work a day in your life."
He added that the two things that successful business owners possess is a passion for what they do and a belief they will succeed. He also said that attitude makes all the difference.
"You will come across many challenges, big and small, as you grow. However, it is how you react to them that makes you the person you are," Ryznar said