Meet Ryan Burks

The new Commission Chairman for the Port of South Louisiana reflects on his professional journey and outlays his vision for the Port.

2022 05 03 Burks Ryan Img 9269r 6x6Tell us about yourself. 

I’m a native of St Charles Parish, raised in New Sarpy and Destrehan. I’m a product of the St. Charles Parish public school system and a graduate of Destrehan High School. I attended Tulane University on a Dean’s Honor Scholarship, where I graduated with a BS and MS in Civil Engineering. I’m currently married to my high school sweetheart, Stephanie Burks. We celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary in July. We have three children: Arielle, Ryan II and Caleb. We live in Destrehan, and we own and operate a commercial roofing business. Our company is regional. It has three offices: Kenner, Atlanta, GA and Austin, TX. I’m civic and philanthropically minded; therefore, I love giving back and supporting many organizations. I’m also a board member of several organizations: Tulane University School of Science and Engineering, Son of a Saint, Ozanam Inn, Louisiana Museum Foundation. And of course, I’m currently the Commission Chairman for the Port of South Louisiana. 

How did you get started on your career path? 

My career started as a design engineer in Atlanta, Georgia. The firm I was with was a park of all major projects within Atlanta, such as the Georgia Dome, Hartsfield Jackson International Airport and the 1996 Olympic Stadium. I transitioned from engineering design to construction. I worked as a project manager, construction manager and lastly as a Director of Construction Operations before starting RYCARS Construction.

After 20 years of serving as President of RYCARS Construction, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned about leadership?

You have to adapt to the people you lead. Make everyone feel like a part of the team and that their contribution matters. Celebrate victories with your team, and conduct lessons learned.

You’ve served on the Board of Commissioners for the Port of South Louisiana in various capacities over the years. Why has it been important for you to stay engaged at the Port? 

The Port has a significant economic role in the River Parishes, South Louisiana, the USA and the world. I believe I add value and want to continue adding value to ultimately see the Port reach new heights within the maritime industry.

What are some of your main goals as the newly elected Chairman?

Improve our processes and procedures through automation and ingenuity. Upgrades facilities and expansion of our footprint.

What’s one thing you wish more people knew about the Port of South Louisiana and its operations?

The global impact that we have: our Port literally feeds the world, as 60 percent of the world’s grain comes through our Port.

How do you think your years as a business leader will influence your approach to leading the Board of Commissioners?

My business experience allows me to see things from a different perspective; primarily, I understand the need for efficient and effective processes, and I believe in letting talented people perform without micromanagement. Also, I’m not risk averse. I believe in preparing and stretching oneself to take advantage of potential opportunities. 

CEO Paul Matthews has emphasized a continued investment in equipment and infrastructure to maximize the Port’s capabilities. Where do you see the greatest potential for growth, and what advancements do you hope to see in both commerce and the community? 

The Mississippi River is our greatest asset. A new public dock, particularly on the West Bank, would greatly enhance our capabilities. Building a heavy load dock access bridge would increase our tonnage throughput at our Globalplex facility. Expanding our airport runway an additional 1,500 feet would allow for cargo planes, which would increase the volume of goods as well as our speed of access to and from Central and South America. Building new warehousing and cold storage facilities is essential because there’s a severe shortage in our region. Ultimately, I want the Port of South Louisiana to be a household name that people can proudly say they work for, partner with or just know of.

What advice would you give to young professionals hoping to launch careers in either the construction or maritime industries?

Young professionals must pick a specialty in a particular industry and dedicate at least 3-5 years of intense study and skill development–the key word being “intense.” Most people take a casual approach to their careers, and it only slows them down and stifles their growth. Credibility is assigned to highly skilled and knowledgeable individuals. The next thing is to build a network of professional friends along your journey.

When your busy schedule allows downtime, what are some of your other passions or hobbies?

I love fishing, having cocktails and conversations with friends–but my favorite hobby is traveling the globe.