Written by Katrina Daniel
Ryan’s work has been recognized with seven Emmys, four Cable Ace Awards, and she was named one of the 10 Most Powerful Women in Media by Crain Media in 2002. She serves on the board of Oxfam America, as a vice president and founding member of The Society for Environmental Journalists and as vice president of the board for LEAD International.
Womenetics: What is the first thing you think about when you get out of bed in the a.m.?
Teya Ryan: I curse the person who decided that it was smart idea to move the start of the elementary school day from 9 a.m. (where it was when I was in elementary school) to 8 a.m. Dog walking, exercise, breakfast, last minute homework, showers, make-up all have to happen before 8 a.m. Ugh. I am a night person.
Womenetics: When did you know you had found your calling or path and was there an "aha!" moment?
Ryan: I was in high school, senior year, and that’s when I made my first film. It was a silent film that we made in Jerome, Ariz. and shot on Super 8 film. The film was a Western about a poor girl and her father who were losing their land to evil town developers. It was so silly, but I loved the process and caught the bug for filmmaking. I was hooked, and it was just a matter of how I would enter the process. My father was a journalist, so I found my way in through documentaries. I love everything about the process of creating and designing visual media.
Womenetics: If you weren't doing what you are, what do you think you'd be doing instead?
Ryan: Traveling. Constantly. I would simply get on a jet and keep going.
Womenetics: What do you find the most challenging aspect of your life to be?
Ryan: I have always found the most challenging part of my life to be motherhood. It requires all the life skills I have. There is no CEO job more difficult and no CEO job more important. You can't hire or fire your kids; you take what you get and work with it joyfully. And unlike your employees, your kids often don't do what you ask; in fact, half their job in life is to figure how not to do what you ask. Their job is to break free and figure out how to make smart decisions on their own. It is nerve-racking finding the right balance.
Womenetics: What's one thing most people don't know about you?
Ryan: I am very sentimental.
Womenetics: What was your biggest setback and how did you handle it?
Ryan: When I left CNN, I designed an entire network for parents from pregnancy through children five years old, called The Baby Network. I rounded up high-powered Wall Street investors; brought Johnson & Johnson on as an initial advertiser; signed up partners such at the author of the "What To Expect" series; and we went into business with the largest website for pregnant women and new parents. I also had a great team of people working with me, but our timing was horrible. The door for new cable networks had slammed shut the year we hit the market. It was a great vision, but we just could not get distribution. It was such a disappointment for me and the team.
How did I handle the disappointment? I looked back at all I had learned: starting a network from scratch, learning to negotiate with the toughest investment bankers on Wall Street and learning to believe in an independent vision. It was all valuable life experience, but ideas never let go of us. Some day. Some how. I may find a way to realize the vision.
Womenetics: What does your family think about your success?
Ryan: I think they feel comfortable now. There were difficult years when my work at CNN owned my life 24/7. It was personally so satisfying for me to work at CNN. It was challenging, exciting and important, but the demands of a 24/7 news network on your life are uncompromising. You have very little control over your life. The news happens all the time, so there is no real rest. One of the few times I did not work on a vacation (when I took a vacation) is when my husband and I were traveling down the Zambezi River in Africa. I had to go that far! So it was difficult to balance life with work. In fact, there was no balance. Work first.
But somehow, I managed to stay married.
Womenetics: What do you do to relax and chill?
Ryan: Hike anywhere that is remote and beautiful. I could spend days out in the wilderness. I also love to spend the day watching thirties and forties comedies. A good “Thin Man” or “Bringing up Baby” or even a fine film noir, like “Dial M For Murder,” put me in the relaxation zone. A hot bath and a good book also do the trick. Anything where I don't have to make a decision.
Womenetics: What does retirement look like to you?
Ryan: I am not sure that I can imagine retirement. I am not sure I want to stop working in some capacity. It may be that I focus more on community service, but I think I will always work in some way.
Womenetics: What did you think you were going to be when you were a little girl?
Ryan: Well, when I was five years old my mother took me to see the musical, “The Fantasticks.” My father was the stage manager of the show. I remember walking out of the theater announcing, "I know what I want to do when I grow up. I want to be in the theaaaater."
Womenetics: What is the best advice you've ever got?
Ryan: I have had so many mentors in my life, and they have each offered such important life lessons. But my mother offered me my best advice: If I have an idea that I really believe in, then most likely 10 other people have the same idea, so move fast.
Womenetics: What keeps you up at night?
Ryan: Budgets. Budgets. Budgets. I also worry about the overall survival the public media system in the United States. We are far better off as a democracy if our culture supports a thriving public media system. I worry we take the value of public media too much for granted and do not fully understand that it is precious and endangered.
Womenetics: What's your favorite thing in your office?
Ryan: Pictures of my daughter. She is smiling at me, and that inspires me to power through my day. She is a very good reminder of why I am working so hard to make sure that we have a healthy public media system.
Womenetics: What makes you laugh out loud?
Ryan: When my daughter announces to me "I DO IT MYSELF!!!!!!!!!!!" She has been saying that since she was three, and I just crack up. She is headstrong, just like me.
Read about other women in media:
Actress, playwright and director Regina Taylor has shifted her focus to a younger generation with the Regina Taylor Project, which encourages college students to assess the state of America through various artforms.
Maria Hennenberry wears many hats: award-winning television journalist, co-founder of a media production company and certified raw vegan chef.
Katrina Daniel is an award-winning journalist and broadcast reporter/anchor. She has worked in Miami, Los Angeles, New York, and as a national correspondent for several networks. She commutes between Miami and the Carolinas, writing for magazines and news organizations. She lives with one horse, four dogs, and a cat.