Russ is a man with a diverse background and a purposeful direction forward.
In addition to filling the CEO role at VisuALS, Russ also serves as Entrepreneur in Residence at Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond, Oklahoma. In that role, he mentored the team of students who developed the business plan for what would become VisuALS. But it’s how Russ came to be at OC that is perhaps even more interesting.
Russ has a long history in technology industries. While a student in college, Russ was blessed to have summer jobs and internships developing software for the defense and nuclear power industries. After graduating from Virginia Tech with his Electrical Engineering degree, he began his long career in the telecom industry, working first for Northern Telecom in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, then moving to Tulsa, OK to join WilTel. While at WilTel in the early 1990’s, Russ had the opportunity to participate in the earliest days of the commercialization of the Internet. In 1994, when WilTel was acquired, the new CEO sought to shut down the company’s internet initiatives. His belief that “businesses will never pay for the Internet” may seem laughable now, but those were the days before Netscape’s IPO, Yahoo’s incorporation, Amazon’s first sale, or eBay’s first auction.
Russ and two of his co-workers met that night to start working on their business plan and in early 1995 launched the first web development firm in Oklahoma. That first startup ride was a short one, as buyers for the business quickly appeared, but Russ would go on to found or co-found two more technology startups before arriving in Edmond.
Between those new ventures, Russ was blessed with considerable success in the corporate world, becoming vice president of strategic development for Williams Communications, vice president and chief strategist for consulting firm TeleChoice, and vice president of corporate strategy at Sprint. As his 11 year tenure at Sprint was winding down, Russ prayed for guidance in how God could continue to use him. He realized that it was only by God’s grace that a software geek with an engineering degree would become a strategy vice president of a Fortune 100 company, and reflecting on how that happened, he realized that God used his startup experiences to prepare him for his career success.
Further research uncovered the concept of a “T-shaped” person – someone deep in one discipline who, through entrepreneurial experiences is forced to gain an understanding of all aspects of business. Russ felt called to help create “cross-shaped” people – young Christians, deep in their discipline, with breadth of business knowledge through startup experiences, and pointing it all to the glory of God. Russ’s son had just chosen Oklahoma Christian as his college home, so Russ reached out to the administration and over the coming months the role of Entrepreneur in Residence was formed.
Russ loves all aspects of the role, working with students, sharing his experiences and knowledge to help them grow in both their faith and career paths, and working with focused teams on launching new businesses out of the university. But the VisuALS journey has been a true joy for which Russ is very grateful. Seven students, three young alumni, and a professor are all actively involved in the business, so the vision of helping young people gain startup experience early in their carers is happening, but to be able to combine that joy with the opportunity to love our neighbors and meet such an important and life changing need through VisuALS technology is joy beyond measure. He prays that his work at VisuALS will be even more of a blessing to those that the company serves than it even is for him.