Ryan Hanson is a team playerRyan Hanson knows a thing or two about teamwork. From the time he was a third-grader at Cloquet’s Washington Elementary School, playing both basketball and hockey and changing uniforms in the back seat of the family car, to his days as a cadet at West Point and later in the United States military, he learned just what it was to be both a follower and a leader.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Ryan Hanson knows a thing or two about teamwork. From the time he was a third-grader at Cloquet’s Washington Elementary School, playing both basketball and hockey and changing uniforms in the back seat of the family car, to his days as a cadet at West Point and later in the United States military, he learned just what it was to be both a follower and a leader.
Since that time, Hanson has worked his way up to the top post at Target Corporation’s online customer fulfillment center in Tucson, Ariz., which ships goods ordered on the Target.com website all over the world. As one of only two such operations in the United States, the center offers some 200,000 items online and, at a whopping 975,000 square feet, it holds boasting rights as the largest single-floor contiguous facility in southern Arizona. The total project, including the land and construction, cost about $100 million.
When the facility first opened its doors in spring 2009, it was Hanson who was tapped to serve as general manager.
Hanson is characteristically modest about – though justifiably proud of – his accomplishments. As one of those rarified managers who believes in getting to really know his employees and play to their individual strengths, he is quick to credit the people and circumstances of his upbringing that showed him the way.
Hanson was born in Duluth and grew up in Cloquet.
“I was highly involved in sports [while in school],” he said, reflecting on his participation in numerous sports while still in elementary school. “I am not sure how my parents dealt with that. I didn’t see it from their point of view back then, but I sure as heck appreciate it now!”
As Hanson got older, he decided to hang up his skates and focus on basketball and baseball.
“I took both sports very seriously…too seriously at times,” he admitted. “Through sports, I learned how to be both a follower and a leader. I also learned the importance of teamwork and discipline.”
In fact, through his involvement in high school sports, Hanson learned some of his life’s most lasting
“I am very thankful for a couple of coaches that had a tremendous, positive impact in my life,” he said. “For basketball, Coach Jerry Erickson modeled the way. He spent the time running camps and open gyms when I was coming up through the program. As a high school coach, he continuously reiterated the importance of being a solid student athlete.
“For baseball, it was my dad,” he continued. “My father, Don, is and has always been the most patient, dedicated person I have ever met. Not only did he set a great example for me, additionally, he always made time to be there as a coach and a dad. For example, during the start of my senior year baseball season, I was in a very big hitting slump. He threw me about 500 pitches after another of my 0-for-4 games. The next night during my first at bat, I hit a home run and it was all because of him. We still laugh about that. I took my son to the batting cage last week and thought about it (it worked again as he hit a triple in his first at bat the next game!).”
Hanson met his future wife, Kim (Nelson), while growing up in Cloquet. They were good friends growing up, though they didn’t start dating until their junior year in college.
“During our senior year, we knew it was the right match!” he declared.
By that time, Kim’s own life story had already grown, well, bigger than life. While an active student athlete and senior in high school, she discovered a painful swelling on her leg that didn’t seem to get any better. Doctors eventually diagnosed it as stage four synovial cell sarcoma, a very rare and aggressive form of cancer found in the joints.
She battled back with a will and determination well beyond her years, and came out a victor.
“Kim has a bigger heart than anyone I’ve ever known,” Hanson related. “I think her experience battling and defeating cancer during her senior year in high school made her realize that since you only live once, you may as well make the most out of every moment.”
In fact, when the two of them married, they thought there was a good chance they wouldn’t be able to have children because of the aggressive chemotherapy Kim had gone through for over a year.
“Thankfully, we now have three amazing kids (Carter, 10, Taylor, 8, and Derek, 4),” said Hanson. “And Kim’s a tremendous nurse, thanks in part because of some of the great oncology nurses she had.”
Hanson wasn’t at all certain what career field he wanted to go into, but when he was selected for admission to the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, N.Y., he knew it would offer him the type of opportunity he’d need to get ahead in life.
“I went to West Point because it was a good challenge and a great (free) education,” he admitted. “I wasn’t thinking about life as an Army officer afterwards – I don’t come from a military family and that part of it was very unknown to me – [but] after graduation, I found I loved the leadership, scope and responsibility of being an Army officer. I was only in for five years after graduation, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. I absolutely loved the experience and more importantly the professional and dedicated soldiers I served with. It is a challenging world we live in with many conflicts. That said, we are in very good hands with all of the service men and women serving today.”
Hanson received a Bachelor of Science degree in systems (industrial) engineering, and Kim earned her RN degree at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth. The two were married in 1995.
Hanson served as an Army Intelligence officer stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, for the first three years, working as an Intel Operations and Planning officer for the U.S. Army Europe command. After that, the Hansons moved to Ft. Huachuca, Ariz., where Ryan served as a company executive officer and commander.
“This experience was priceless in providing me a lot of real world experience at such a young age,” Hanson reflected. “I again learned how to be a follower and a leader at a higher level. Leading a diverse group of people in a fast-paced environment really helped me build confidence for the future.”
Kim worked as a RN in labor and delivery in both Heidelberg and later in
“With all our moves around the country she has been able to work in various types of hospitals, which has given her fantastic experience,” said Hanson.
Following his five-year stint in the military, Hanson went to work for the Target Corporation in Minneapolis in 2001 as a front line supervisor. He subsequently moved to six different Target facilities in 10 years, all in distribution or transportation leadership roles.
When he was selected to head up a Target operation of the significance of the one in Tucson, he admitted that it was the sum of all of his life’s experiences up to that point that earned him the nod.
“It is hard to pinpoint any one thing that helped prepare me to lead a large scale distribution center for Target,” he said. “However, I feel blessed to have the experiences and relationships I have had. Growing up in a small town where I had the chance to play various sports was a start. Although I wasn’t a fan the first year, my experience at West Point accelerated my growth and career. It gave me the experience and confidence to learn how to lead larger teams to achieve results in the right manner. It helped me learn how important it is to get to know each person I work with and genuinely care about their families and their future. Every big accomplishment we’ve had has been a team effort. I have learned that if you hire well, take care of the team and create common purpose, they will achieve great results and have fun along the way.”
Hanson is quick to recognize the fact his parents and family continue to have a big impact on his life and success yet today.
“My mom [Sue Hanson] has had numerous medical challenges and she has conquered each one,” he stated. “She is an inspiration to our entire family. When I think my work situation gets a little tough, I just think about what she has gone through and realize how easy work challenges really are. Again, my dad is my role model. He has always had an amazing work ethic, is extremely patient and models the way at work and in our family. For example, I grew up thinking he just didn’t like to ever drink alcohol. As I got older I realized he simply chose not to drink because he was the Cloquet girls high school basketball coach and thought he wouldn’t be leading by example if he did. You don’t see that kind of thing very often.”
Hanson said he still loves coming back to Cloquet and usually gets back home two to three times a year.
“I love the outdoor lifestyle,” he said “and as a family, we always spend time on Big Lake fishing and waterskiing. We also love golfing at the Cloquet Country Club with Kim’s parents (Den and Flo Nelson). Kim and I have also both enjoyed running Grandma’s Half Marathon. Unfortunately, I had back surgery last summer so I am taking a bit of a break but she continues to run and enjoy that awesome event.”
When asked what advice Hanson would give to young people growing up in Cloquet today, he stressed, “Cloquet is a great place to live. The education system is top notch. Take full advantage of it. In my current job and in this tough economy we have thousands of people applying for jobs. After looking at countless resumes and applications, I would encourage young people to think about the future as they grow up. To open doors for good education or career options, work hard and get involved in a well- rounded manner. Have fun, but stay out of trouble. It will follow you and limit your options down the road.”