Princeton resident Frank Ryle has recently added “author” to his long list of credentials.
Civil engineer, project manager, teacher, pilot, scuba diver, surfer, single-figure golfer, top-flight tennis player — all these and more fill out his catalogue of accomplishments.
An enthusiastic traveler, Mr. Ryle has lived in and visited 50 countries, including a six-month stay in a kibbutz in Israel, four years in Russia, three in Papua, New Guinea, and one year in Australia.
A curiosity about people and places and a desire for adventure and new challenges has led him to explore a range of opportunities.
As an author, he has recently published Keeping Score: Project Management for the Pros, which deftly combines his love of golf and his project management expertise. His approach includes the nine holes of golf to teach the nine key steps to accomplish a project any time, anywhere successfully. It is a suitable guide both for professionals and those new to or struggling with project planning.
Planning has come naturally to Mr. Ryle. At an early age, he was combining a variety of projects and was able to achieve the desired outcome.
The second child of Maurice and Rita Ryle, he was born in Dalkey, Ireland, near Dublin in 1960. Siblings include Cathy, Philip, Jack, and Liz. When Frank was 11, the family moved to the seaside village of Tramore, also the site of a highly respected golf course and the nearby Waterford Crystal company.
The family was close, and Frank enjoyed fishing with his father, playing golf with his mother, and going on family vacations throughout Ireland. “It was a simple upbringing and a happy childhood,” he recalls.
Frank liked math and later, drama in high school. He washed cars and worked in a hotel to earn extra money, and he reports, “At the hotel, I was interested in the people who worked there. I wanted to understand them.”
From the time he began playing tennis at six, however, sports was his passion. “Both of my parents were very good tennis players, and at 12, I was playing tennis competitively all over Ireland.”
At 10, Frank took up golf, and became equally proficient in that sport. “We had sports idols then,” he says. “I especially looked up to Eamon Coughlin, at one time the world record holder in the mile. He was the fastest in the world.”
Tennis gave Frank his first excursion to another country and a taste for travel and faraway places.
“When I was 14 , we went to Paris for a tournament, and I loved it,” remembers Mr. Ryle. “By this time, I had a wanderlust. I wanted to see the world and have adventures.”
Before the adventures, however, college was a must. His good academic record enabled him to attend University College Dublin, where he studied civil engineering. It was a rigorous program, requiring many hours of demanding study.
“I made a lot of good friends, though, and we’re still in touch. We have class reunions in Ireland. I also admired my professors, especially Professor Sidebottom in chemistry. He was engaging and humorous — he had to be with a name like that!”
After graduating with a bachelor of engineering degree in 1981 (he was later made a Fellow of the Irish Engineering Institute in 1993), Frank went to work for Arup International, a global firm of designers, engineers, planners, and consultants.
“I got a job with them in London, and Sir Ove Arup, founder of the company, had a great influence on me. He was a philosopher as well as an engineer. He’d ask, ‘Why are you building this?’ ‘Who is it for?’”
During his 20 years with Arup, Mr. Ryle undertook projects in Hong Kong, Australia, Papua, New Guinea, Russia, Ireland, and the U.S., among many other locations.
In 1985, he moved to Australia for a year to work on Arup’s America’s Cup preparations in Perth and Sydney, which remains one of his favorite projects.
Over time, Mr. Ryle became increasingly interested in the project management aspect of his work. The “how to” of getting things done efficiently and effectively.
“With project management, you think in terms of ‘how to’, he explains. “How to bring in the project on time, how to do it with the resources, how will you get it done?
“I made a natural and gradual transition from pure engineering design to being the project manager on our projects,” he continues. “This was probably due to a matching of desire and aptitude. It happened from when I was 28 until I was 33, and then I became a full-time project manager, but still very much associated with construction-type projects.”
In 1994, a new adventure presented itself, one which would have far-reaching consequences for his future. He traveled to Russia to serve as Cadbury’s construction manager and first production manager for the company’s new chocolate factory in St. Petersburg. He lived there and in Moscow for four years.
The challenging project was exceeded in importance by Mr. Ryle’s chance meeting in 1996 with Vivian Slee, originally from Princeton. This meeting even outranked the enormous pleasure of playing in the first Russian Open golf tournament!
“Vivian had an MFA, and had been selling art in New York,” says Mr. Ryle. “She had come to Russia for eight months to work on a movie with friends.”
Some things don’t require a lot of planning — even for a project manager. As Mr. Ryle reports, “I met her in May, and in 10 days, we were engaged. Five months later, we were married in a castle on the west coast of Ireland.”
The couple spent another year in Russia, while the new Mrs. Ryle was engaged in research for a book, and Mr. Ryle continued with his work on the chocolate factory.
In 1998, the Ryles, with baby Oona, moved to the U.S., settling in Brooklyn Heights. Mr. Ryle became project manager for Arup’s $800 million remaster plan for the Eero Saarinen-designed General Motors Tech Center near Detroit, and for the design of JFK Airport’s International Terminal Four. In 1999, he earned his Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.
The next year, the Ryles came to Princeton, and in 2001, after 20 years with Arup, Mr. Ryle chose a new direction and a new challenge.
“I decided to start my own business due to a combination of factors: turning 40, the imminent arrival of our second daughter (Maisie), a desire to try something different and on my own, my dislike of commuting to New York, and a very understanding wife.”
He set up his own company, PMPulse, which developed software for project management. “We were the first to to do that,” he points out. “I have also worked with the International Institute for Learning (IIL) since 2001, when they bought the rights to the software that I had developed. We have a great relationship, and I have taught more than 10,000 students in 22 countries for them.”
Through his relationship with IIL, Mr. Ryle provides consulting and training to professionals in banking, IT, accounting, pharmaceuticals, and manufacturing. Companies include UBS, Ernst & Young, SAP, Murex, Deutsche Bank, Mars Inc., and Thomson Reuters, among others.
Teaching has become a distinct pleasure for Mr. Ryle, who says, “I love the interaction with people from many disciplines, cultures, and ages. My students range across all industries and from undergraduates to retiring age, from students to Ph.D.s, from the U.S. to all countries and cultures. I love helping them see that project management is complex but can be learned in a ‘simple’ way.”
He enjoys teaching so much, in fact, that he agreed to teach a course this semester at Princeton University. “Teaching at Princeton University is delightful, as the staff is amazingly friendly, and the students are above average in ability and willingness to learn new concepts.”
Mr. Ryle teaches mostly project management materials (program and portfolio management are part of project management), and as he says, “Recently, I have also focused on the soft skills required for successful projects — hence my passion for psychology and science. I also want to weave my thinking from the book into the classes, and will be developing one class on a golf course, perhaps Springdale, soon. I am also working with a professor in London to bring psychology to project management.”
Living in Princeton has been a happy choice for Mr. Ryle, who became an American citizen in 2008. It offers opportunities in many areas, and after 12 years, it feels like home.
“I like a lot about Princeton,” he says. “I like the fact that it’s a real town, and you can walk to places. I like being in a university town. I also love the library — it’s very good architecture, by the way. And, I love the plaza outside and downtown Princeton. There’s a lot of energy here and a sense of identity.”
Another positive aspect of living in Princeton is the opportunity to be with his children. As he points out, “I left Arup because I wanted to spend more time with my daughters — my proudest achievement! It’s very important to me to see them growing up and being able to spend a lot of time with them.” He also enjoys the chance to see his in=laws, Louis and Biby Slee. “They are well known in Princeton and are wonderful grandparents to the girls.”
In addition to teaching at the University, Mr. Ryle enjoys auditing courses there, including anthropology and psychology. He is also looking forward to a course in philosophy.
Indeed a man of wide-ranging interests, he started the “Topic Club” eight years ago, which meets once a month to discuss a myriad of subjects, from Iran to humor to the Pyramids to the psychology of happiness to affordable housing.
“We have seven to 20 men who get together to discuss a topic,” he explains. “We meet at 8 and can go on until midnight. They are all professionals from different fields and backgrounds. It makes for fascinating conversation”
Mr. Ryle’s friend, Princeton resident Ted Nadeau is one of the participants in the club. “It’s pretty much like a book club,” he explains, “except there isn’t a book! Usually there is a presenter who has done some specific preparation.
“Frank is a very constructive facilitator, and easily gathered a group of diverse and interesting people together. I very much enjoy meeting and speaking with Frank. He has interesting world travel experiences and engineering/building experience that I’m interested in, and also of course, his professional management expertise.”
When not traveling, teaching, or writing a book, Mr. Ryle especially enjoys reading about science, including psychology. “I particularly like Matt Ridley, the best science writer, I believe. I like bringing science and the arts together, and I’m also getting into well-written fiction, such as Somerset Maugham, Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Herman Wouk.
“I like classical music, and I am learning to play the piano,” he continues. “And, when we can, we enjoy getting down to Long Beach Island. I grew up by the sea, and we like the ocean.”
The Ryles also have a house in Tramore, and often visit his family in Ireland.
Tennis and golf remain a part of his life, and he plays whenever possible in Princeton and also on his travels. In 1983, he qualified as a tennis coach, and taught part-time in Israel, Kenya, and Australia. His friend and fellow tennis player, Bobby Hackett of Princeton can vouch for Mr. Ryle’s tennis prowess.
“We play regularly, and Frank is a great tennis player. I have gotten better playing with him. But more than that, just being with Frank is fun. He’s very clever and very interested in what you are doing. One of the things I get from being with him is the international perspective. He has opportunities to blend people from different backgrounds, different countries, and different perspectives and get them to work together in this global society and economy.
“He sometimes helps me puzzle through some of my work just by asking interesting questions. He’s very smart, but very down-to-earth.”
The ability to ask the right questions to develop a plan and ultimately complete a project successfully is evidenced in Mr. Ryle’s book. He uses a narrative format with three fictional primary characters, who must come up with a plan to save a company facing a crisis. The story takes place in New Jersey and Cork, Ireland, and a golf course is prominently featured. As the scenario evolves, Mr. Ryle points out the methods they can employ to reach a positive outcome.
Use of the golf theme, with nine specific questions and a score card, is an intriguing strategy. Including characters within the story format adds a personal touch, and creates immediacy. The project management tips he reveals are helpful to anyone working on a project and trying to formulate a plan.
As he notes in the preface of the book, “My personal goal is that after reading this book, your own approach to projects becomes less of a maze and more of a labyrinth. A maze, like some project processes, is something in which you can easily waste time and get lost. A labyrinth, by contrast, is something in which you can lose yourself and therefore free your mind from the burden of project navigation to maintain the agility and creativity required in this exciting new world.”
On Wednesday, April 11, Mr. Ryle will discuss his book at the Princeton Public Library at 7 p.m. A book signing will follow, with proceeds from sales of the books going to help a Princeton family whose young daughter is suffering from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
“I look forward to interaction with those who come to the book discussion,” says Mr. Ryle. “I hope it will lead to a lively conversation.”