Age 34 | Vice president/consultant, Ruan Cos.

For Rachel McLean, making her own way ended up leading her back to the family business.

The daughter of John Ruan III and Janis Ruan, McLean said she was encouraged to follow her own path in choosing her career. A bachelor’s degree, master’s and Ph.D. in communication studies from Northwestern University in Illinois led her to a strategic research analyst position at Starcom MediaVest Group Inc., a consulting company in Chicago.

McLean and her husband, Ben, decided that it was important to both of them to start their own family close to family. Still, McLean didn’t necessarily anticipate working for Ruan Cos., she says. She was looking for an academic career. In the meantime, she assisted with some special projects with the company.

“Immediately I found there was no more perfect place for me than at Ruan,” McLean said.

McLean spent a couple years as director of communications and then a couple years as vice president-communications of Ruan Transportation Management Systems Inc. before being named to her current role. She oversees charitable giving for the Ruan Family Foundation, and manages customer satisfaction initiatives.

Part of what has driven her to this point of her career is a constant desire to learn, which she says she gets from her grandfather. She has also made a point to learn from her mother.

Janis Ruan has been very involved the Des Moines community, and McLean feels strongly about doing that in her own life. She says she’s lucky to fulfill that at work, and has also been involved with the Des Moines Community Playhouse and Youth Homes of Mid-America.

Outside of that, her 21-month-old son takes up a majority of her free time.

Five reasons she’s a 40:

• She manages customer satisfaction initiatives and conducts research to understand Ruan’s performance with its top 65 customers.

• Oversaw communication processes among Ruan’s 4,500 employees.

• Has three degrees in communication studies from Northwestern University.

• “She is smart. She is nice. She is thoughtful and she is efficient and effective,” said Michael Gartner.

• “Rachel is one of those young ladies who does everything with a certain grace and style,” said Suku Radia, president and CEO of Bankers Trust Co.

Mentor: Janis Ruan

Fun fact: One of McLean’s hobbies is cooking. “I don’t think I have a signature dish, but I tend to chop a lot of garlic,” she said. Her husband isn’t exactly a huge fan of it, she said, but almost everything McLean makes has about a cup of garlic in it. “It gives it a little flair, and it’s good for you, right?” she says.