by Rachel James-Terry
Dr. Kenneth R. Russ, an associate marketing director at Jackson State University, has a passion for his field and nurturing talent. He started his marketing journey working at high-end retail stores while attending Louisiana State University. He would later spend a short stint at Apple Inc., and then become a consultant for Fortune 500 companies like Chevron-Texaco, ExxonMobil and Georgia Pacific, among others. In 1994, Russ joined Community Coffee where he served as president and CEO, retiring after 20 years. Even with his impressive resume, Russ, who is also director of MBA/MPA programs for the College of Business, says his greatest love is teaching.
JACKSONIAN: Why were you willing to take a pay cut to teach?
I did quite well in the industry and had earned enough money to give me the flexibility to take a substantial pay cut. I did that because money was not important to me; my greatest passion is helping people succeed. I like to help the next generation of leaders grow and develop their talent, especially those who come from difficult backgrounds.
When I left Apple, I went back to LSU for a graduate degree and ended up working there as an assistant professor of marketing from ’87 to’90. I completed my Ph.D., from LSU in 2006 and came to Jackson to teach marketing. I first took a position at Belhaven and eventually ended up here, at JSU.
JACKSONIAN: Are there particular traits that lend themselves toward a successful marketing career?
Marketing is increasingly analytical and the old thinking of a marketer as “super salesperson” is a stereotype that no longer fits. These days good marketers have to show both the left side of their brain and the right side, the creative side and the quantitative side. So, a person who is well-rounded, likes to read and is interested in people will be a good marketer.
JACKSONIAN: What role does a math background play in marketing?
If you’re going to go into the public relations side of marketing, of course, that’s a word and language-driven discipline, so the quantitative side is less important.
But, if you aspire to be an executive, like a vice president or senior vice president, having command of the accounting and data analytics is really important, and the best marketers are those who understand both.
JACKSONIAN: What is your advice to those interested in a marketing career?
First, it is easier to break into the field when in major metro areas. Go to major markets like Dallas, Atlanta, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Next, it is important to gain experience in the marketing field while in college. Working in retail sales is a great way to learn about customer experience and how a business works. Right here, at the Outlets of Mississippi, in Pearl, students can work for Fortune 500 brands such as Nike, Fossil and Michael Kors. Lastly, network. It’s important to connect with professional associations such as the American Marketing Association, Advertising Federation, Public Relations Society, etc. to listen and learn from practitioners in the field. Students can join these associations and have access to trade research and publications, job postings and conference information.
JACKSONIAN: On a personal note, could you tell us about your family?
I have been married for 37 years to Lisa, my dear wife, and we have three daughters. My oldest is Amy. She lives in Baton Rouge and is a graphic designer, which is a form of marketing, and she has two boys. We also have twin daughters who are 30 – Meagan and Amanda. Meagan is a violinist and a music librarian. She lives in the United Kingdom with her British husband, and they have one son. Amanda lives in Jackson and is a historian and a coordinator for the civil rights museum.
JACKSONIAN: Is there one thing you wish you could go back and do over?
If I had a financial do over, I would have kept my Apple stock until about now so I could retire (laughs).
JACKSONIAN: Your students speak highly of you and your classes. What is your approach?
I tend to treat students like professional colleagues because I’m trying to help them develop a comfort with people who are different from them in terms of experiences and achievements.
They know that my passion is their success, so I try to be very acceptable and informal when relating to students, the same way I did when I was in the industry.
JACKSONIAN: Why teach at JSU?
I think the reason why I’m at Jackson State is because the motto – challenging minds and changing lives – is real for me. I hope that I can help change the trajectory of our students’ lives to go in a positive and productive direction.