Joan Ryan Mangino carries on family tradition as an owner and president of the family potato company and as an optimist.
“My father was my biggest mentor,” Mangino said. “With his dynamic personality, a lot of people either loved him or hated him, but he also was very optimistic.”
In her work at Ryan Potato Co. and its subsidiary, Ryan Potato Co. Trucking, East Grand Forks, Minn., Mangino said she looks for the positive and loves to try new things.
She joined the company after earning a degree in business management from Montana State University.
Her father, Thomas Ryan Sr., asked her many times to come back and work, but she was somewhat reluctant.
“I loved Montana — the school, the fun atmosphere, the state,” Mangino said. “I miss the mountains. I skied a lot when I was there.”
Eventually she decided to return to be with family. Her father wanted Mangino to learn the business from the ground up, so she did by cleaning, grading, driving trucks, selling, bookkeeping and doing other jobs.
Ron Norman, director of operations, has been with Ryan Potato for 42 years. He’s seen Mangino progress into a well-known and respected member of the produce community, and likely the only woman running a potato-washing facility in the area.
Mangino and her brother, Thomas Ryan Jr., are partners. Their grandfather Gerald Ryan started Red River Potato Co., East Grand Forks, in 1929.
His sons Thomas Sr. and Gerald Jr. eventually took over, and in 1957, they founded Ryan Potato Co. Thomas Sr. and Gerald Jr. have since died.
Mangino oversees the financial and administrative aspects, including marketing and sales, and Thomas Jr. supervises warehousing and packing, but teamwork is what makes the company successful.
“We’re each just a spoke in a wheel that goes around,” Mangino said. “Everybody’s important.”
Norman, with his vast knowledge of the potato industry, is one person she really counts on.
“We are both strong people,” Mangino said. “He will at least combat me if he thinks I’m wrong about something, and that’s what I want.”
Norman said the two of them often disagree, but always reach a resolution. He appreciates Mangino’s open-minded approach to management and her ability to make quick, effective decisions.
Her advice to someone entering the industry is to hold her ground, be respectful, be concerned about customers’ needs, keep moving forward, and, maybe most importantly, try to learn something new and reflect on it.
“Sometimes you just have to try something,” Mangino said. “Then at least you tried it and you can move on.”