2023 40 Under 40: Ryan Richards

Aug. 22, 2023
Ryan Richards, Systems Manager at Stacy and Witbeck Inc.

One word to describe yourself: Relentless

Alma Mater: University of California, Berkeley

Fast fact about yourself: I was a Division 1 javelin thrower but ran the 400 meters while my elbow healed from Tommy John surgery.

What’s your best experience on transit and what made it memorable?

My best experience in transit was as a young field engineer working side-by-side with the amazing track crews from Denver Transit Construction Group while on the Denver West Corridor line. We constructed the West 4th Ave. track crossing during a hot summer weekend shutdown and while it was hot weather and long hours, there is no better experience than working with your hands and building something you can be proud of.

Ryan Richards joined Stacy and Witbeck in 2008 and has spent the past 15 years developing his competence across various dimensions of rail transit, from estimating and preconstruction to field engineering which encompasses walls, structures, trackwork and systems expertise. Following the acquisition of Modern Railway Systems (MRS), Richards became the first employee to transition to MRS with a focus on train signal systems project management. This move allowed Richards to lead in his role by bridging the gap between civil and systems construction.

Richards’ ability to facilitate collaboration and communication between heavy civil and rail systems contractors emerged as a hallmark of his career. By partnering effectively with clients and subcontractors, he ensured project success and streamlined operations.

Richards has played a key role in several large transit initiatives, including the TriMet I-205 Greenline Light Rail Transit (LRT) extension in Portland, Ore.; the Regional Transportation District West Corridor LRT Project in Denver, Colo.; the Michigan Amtrak East ITCS upgrade and the Mid-Coast Blue Line Extension in San Diego, Calif.

His work on the Mid-Coast Blue Line Extension is particularly notable because he earned his Executive MBA from the University of California Berkeley's Haas School of Business while managing the intricate systems installations and rail activation for the project.

In line with his commitment to prioritizing project success, Richards consistently adopted a "project first" mindset. This approach contributed significantly to the San Diego Mid-Coast project's triumph, as it concluded ahead of schedule and garnered prestigious awards, including the 2023 AGC Construction Risk Partners Grand Award, the Build America Award in Highway and Transportation and the Marvin M. Black Partnering Award. Richards’ recognition of the public's watchful eye on public transportation projects led him to cultivate positive client relationships and maintain public perception by proactively delivering solutions to keep the project on track.

Richards currently serves as the systems integration and safety and security manager for the Kansas City Main Street Streetcar Extension. His adept leadership has positioned the project ahead of schedule and on the path to success. Richards’ journey exemplifies a commitment to excellence, a willingness to embrace diverse challenges and an ability to foster collaboration across disciplines to positively impact the rail transit industry.

Is there a specific experience that led you to where you are today?

High school woodshop. My craftsmanship and attention to detail made a positive impression that eventually led to an invitation to interview at Stacy and Witbeck Inc. I have pieces of furniture in my living room I created in that woodshop class more than 20 years later.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I’m a builder at heart and I most enjoy being a part of the construction progress. The final product is always amazing to see but the real fun is putting the building blocks into place and seeing the landscape transform. The path to the final product is never an easy road, but I have always been able to reflect on each project and grow from them. The most challenging situations have almost always resulted in positive memories for me.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

The best and most challenging part of my job is the people. It’s always the people. People are complicated but, on every project, we all have a common goal and that is to create a legacy that we can look back on and tell people with pride that “I helped build that.” Identifying the major component that each individual stresses about and helping minimize that stress is where I am focusing more of my time as I progress in my career.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of and why?

I am most proud of my MBA. This was a massive undertaking considering I chose to enroll in a competitive Executive MBA program while maintaining my full-time job and young family life. This is a point of pride for me because it forced me to level up and accomplish much more than I previously thought possible. Family, work and school were all important but figuring out how to compartmentalize three major components of my life while not letting any one of them slip taught me how to balance.

Best advice/tip/best practice to share from your area of expertise?

“It is always our fault” – We literally had this written on the whiteboard for every stakeholder to see. This is something that we at Stacy and Witbeck truly live by and it sets our projects apart. When problems arise, it is our job to propose solutions and ensure the project continues in a positive manner. Positive and negative press on a project are reflections of every person working on that project. It is our job to do everything we can to create positive outcomes.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.