Class of 2016
By Vicki Ikeogu
Originally published: Jan. 8, 2017
As a kid, Ryan Gerads had a pretty good idea of what he wanted to be when he grew up.
"For four generations, my family had been in the manufacturing business (in Central Minnesota)," Gerads said. "I saw the struggles they went through and decided to be a lawyer. I was also inspired by L.A. Law and the legal shows (I grew up watching)."
And even though Gerads has achieved his childhood dream, it was not exactly the lifestyles of TV's Leland McKenzie or Michael Kuzak.
"I got to law school and realized that maybe courtroom legal work wasn't for me," Gerads said. "I did appellate arguing and things like that in law school. And I guess I was underwhelmed with how much that appealed to me."
But with a background in commerce, in part influenced by his deep family history in manufacturing, Gerads switched gears to focus on the business side of law — more specifically, taxes.
"There's a challenge to it," he said. "And I think it appealed to my skill set better."
At Gray Plant Mooty in St. Cloud, Gerads has earned a reputation in Central Minnesota as an expert in corporate tax law and business advising.
With deals like the acquisition of micro-organism manufacturer Microbiologics by St. Cloud-based private investment and holding company Granite Equity Partners in his portfolio, the young lawyer has made a commitment to help businesses stay and grow in the area.
Because of his legal work on behalf of area businesses, Gerads was selected for the 5 Under 40 Class of 2016. In a recent interview with the Times, Gerads talked about his role in shaping the community he grew up in.
Question: In your time practicing law in Central Minnesota, how have you come to have an impact on the local economy?
Answer: I advise people and their businesses. My goal is helping them do a lot of things that will ultimately help the community. So that's advising them on acquiring a new business or how to grow their business. I've advised a number of successful startups with raising capital in the area and (have helped) them accomplish those goals. (It's about) helping families keep their businesses in the family, which generally means that they are going to stay in the community. Ultimately, all that translates into wealth, jobs, opportunity that stays in our community. And doesn't go someplace else, because a business was acquired by a big outside company or a big corporation.
Q: What has been the most challenging part of being an attorney?
A: Work-life balance is probably the biggest challenge.
Q: Are you on-call essentially 24/7?
A: All the time. And technology doesn't help that. Maybe 20 years ago when you didn't have cellphones, people had less of an expectation. But now, you can reach anybody all the time. Maintaining that work-life balance can be a challenge.
Q: What has been the most rewarding part of being an attorney here in St. Cloud?
A: The people. Absolutely the people. This is where I grew up, where I'm from. And I am blessed to have great people and clients that I work with.
Q: Did you ever see yourself coming back to Central Minnesota? Why come back to your roots?
A: It's an opportunity to give back to the place in a lot of ways that shaped me. I look at the foundation that I got at St. John's (Preparatory School) and I look at the other institutions that helped shape me. Not even the ones that shaped me, but the ones that provided opportunities to people in the community that shaped all of us. You look at the YMCA, the United Way, all of those organizations contributed to me having such a great upbringing. An opportunity to give back to that community and those institutions really provides a separate set of rewards.
Q: Between your work with Gray Plant Mooty and in the community, what sort of legacy would you want to leave behind in 20 years?
A: I look at the opportunities that I had growing up. I have three kids under the age of 8. And I want to make sure that they have the same opportunities, the same experience that I had. Hopefully, even better than I had growing up. Not that I had it bad, I had a great upbringing. I had all sorts of organizations that really contributed to my growth. But making sure that my kids have those same opportunities and that same foundation that I got growing up. If we can accomplish that, I think that's a really strong legacy.
Q: Who in your life has been an inspiration to you and what makes their qualities so special?
A: I've got two of my partners that have been inspirations to me: Lee Hanson and Steven Kutscheid. What was really inspiring to me, by both of them, is (they) helped me understand how much this is a business about people. I mean, Lee Hanson, he's a people person. He's also a tireless worker on behalf of the community and his clients. If I can emulate half of what he's done in his career, I think I'll be really happy. And Steve also is a tireless worker on behalf of his clients and the organizations that he is involved with. I have a third mentor who has been an inspiration to me from a professional standpoint: William Klein. I've been lucky to have somebody like him to help me understand what it means to be a good, practical lawyer. Steve and Lee have been great mentors from a professional standpoint. And from a legal standpoint Bill has been a great mentor as well.
Q: What is your motivation, your driving force that keeps you going?
A: I think it's the people. Interacting with the people and the clients. This would be really hard to do if we didn't have great clients to work with. Also, my family. I'm lucky to have a great wife and three great kids that motivate me every day, sometimes earlier than I would prefer, but they do nonetheless. My wife's made a lot of sacrifices for me and for our family. She holds a master's in journalism from a university on the East Coast and she moved here to raise three kids in Central Minnesota. I don't think that sacrifice should go unnoticed.
Q: What advice would you give to other professionals, especially young professionals, who are starting out on their career journey?
A: I'd say focus on the people. I give that advice to young lawyers all the time. Listening, understanding what people's needs are, that is something I think gets overlooked. And I think it applies to other professions as well.
Occupation: Attorney at law and shareholder with Gray Plant Mooty.
Education: Bachelor's degree in international business and finance from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Law degree from New England School of Law in Boston, Massachusetts. Graduate law degree from Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law in Chicago, Illinois.
Family: Wife, Emily; son William, 8; daughters Katherine, 5 and Elizabeth, 2.
Hometown: St. Cloud.
Community involvement: Vice chair of the St. John's Preparatory School Board of Regents in Collegeville and board member of United Way of Central Minnesota. Gerads also provides pro bono business advice for LegalCORPS through the Small Business Development Center and Initiative Foundation.