Partners buy back branding firm

Caryn Foster Durham

Caryn Foster Durham

A brand strategy firm with an office in Richmond is marking its 41st year in business with a change in ownership.

Charles Ryan Associates is now owned by managing partners Caryn Foster Durham and Susan Lavenski, who purchased the firm Sept. 30, from previous owner Triana Management, an investment group led by the CEO of Charleston, West Virginia-based Triana Energy.

The investment group purchased the company from its namesake, founder Charles Ryan, in 2007 – six years after the Charleston-based firm opened a Richmond office in Shockoe Bottom. Foster Durham and Lavenski, who manage the company’s Richmond and Charleston offices, respectively, became minority owners five years ago with the ultimate goal of attaining full ownership.

“Our goal was always to buy the firm since the investors bought it in ’07 from Charles Ryan,” Foster Durham said. “In 2005, we knew Charlie was getting older, he was likely going to sell, so we made the decision that I would move here to revamp the Richmond office.

“It was very important for us that we kept the ownership internal, so we didn’t sell to someone else and get swallowed up by that.”

Foster Durham would not disclose the overall purchase price. She and Lavenski purchased the company outright as equal partners through an agreement that she said allowed them to close the deal without any interruptions for clients or staff.

Susan Leveski

Susan Leveski

The firm employs a staff of 27 between both offices who provide advertising, public relations and digital and social media services to such clients as Richmond Region Tourism, Virginia Tourism Corp., Virginia Craft Brewers Guild, Virginia State Police and Wellpoint/Anthem. Annual billings have averaged approximately $5.5 million over the last three years, Lavenski said.

With the ownership change, Foster Durham said the firm would look to benefit from its new status as a women-owned company that would also classify it as a federally designated minority-owned firm. Such classifications will allow the firm to go after more government contracts and work with larger firms that want to hire out projects to minority-owned businesses.

“There are many set-asides for women-owned businesses,” said Foster Durham, who serves on the board of the Richmond chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners. “One of the things that this allows us to do is position ourselves for pieces of business that we might not have traditionally been considered for, from either (chief marketing officers) or search consultants.”

Foster Durham next month marks 20 years with the company – the past 10 in Richmond. She said Charles Ryan, who recently attended an annual meeting in Richmond to celebrate his company’s 41st year, is pleased to see the business squarely back in familiar hands.

“He is absolutely thrilled with our taking back the reins of the firm, so to speak,” she said.

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