Business Q & A

Five Questions with Brian Riordan

A Riordan is back in charge at the Center for the Improvement of Human Functioning International.

Brian Riordan recently was named interim CEO of the holistic health organization founded in the mid-'70s by his father, Hugh. He died in 2005; the center has been run since by a two-person team, one of whom recently moved on.

Riordan, 44, who lives in New York, earned degrees in economics and East Asian studies at the University of Kansas. He has worked and lived in Tokyo, France, London, New York, Silicon Valley, Spain, Brazil and Tokyo again before returning to New York in 2004.

His first turnaround CEO assignment was in Tokyo. "I discovered I liked it," he said. He has "a passion" for helping develop strategies, adjust costs and hire new leaders.

He has been hired for five turnaround assignments and was close to taking a sixth when his brother called about the one here.

Riordan said his father used to say, "Everything in life is a cycle. You have to breathe in and breathe out."

It was time for him to breathe some Kansas air.

1. Is "fixer" an accurate term to describe you?

It would be a word you could use. I wouldn't say it's the best word. I think "turnaround" is a better word because "fixer" means something is broken.... It's just, times have changed, and we need to adjust to them aggressively.

2. Why did you say yes to this job?

The Center for the Improvement of Human Functioning has incredible potential and always has — incredible science and medical expertise that could be shared with the rest of the world... and I wanted to be part of that. Carrying on Dad's legacy is also a very, very important part of the equation, of course.

3. What's your first task?

What I start with is a vision of strategy that's a working proposal, a working theory. And I test it with people in the market and people in the organization — customers and employees — to define the strategy and define which way we're going to head.

4. How is this assignment different?

I'm filling my father's shoes, almost exactly five years after he passed away. It's in my hometown, which is a welcome and refreshing change. It's also my first one domestically... which also means I can fly home more frequently. The other thing that's kind of amazing is how strong and special and durable the culture at the center is. The people are very committed and very flexible and very motivated to contribute to the success.

5. What kind of leader does the center need? Business? Health? Something else?

I think someone with a vision and strong leadership that the staff will coalesce around is the most important thing. Could be medical. Could be business. Doesn't have to be either.

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