40 Years of Success: A Q&A with the CEO of Russell Herder

Carol Russell Shares Leadership Advice, the Benefits of Being a B Corp, and the Similarities Between Beekeeping and Agency Life

After 40 years of leadership, Russell Herder CEO Carol Russell is just as driven as she was when she began her career. Becoming a CEO was never part of the plan, but her passion for community involvement and delivering great work brought her to where she is today. Carol is proud of the team she has helped build — it’s one she believes can meet any challenge. Below, Carol shares her advice for aspiring leaders, reflects on her accomplishments, and more.

Russell Herder has been around for over 40 years. What do you consider to be your three biggest accomplishments so far?

Besides successfully growing a relationship with the same partner for 40 years? I would say that the first of our biggest accomplishments would be the fact we have very long-standing client relationships. The majority of our clients are not on a project basis. They start to work with us, they like the results they get, and they stay.

Another accomplishment I’m proud of is the caliber of the team at Russell Herder. We have very good people here, and that is what leads to long-term relationships.

The third would be the fact that we’re a B Corp, which is a much bigger undertaking than most people realize. It takes lots and lots of work to get there and to maintain it. I’m very proud of the fact that we, as a team, have been able to do that.

What gets you up in the morning? What motivates you?

You know, it doesn’t sound that inspiring, but helping clients achieve their goals in innovative ways excites me. It’s problem-solving, but I’d rather see it more as opportunity exploration and execution.

Have you always wanted to be a CEO?

I’ve actually been asked that a number of times, and it’s very clear to me that the answer is absolutely not. What I have always wanted to do is great work and to do what it takes to get this company there, and I’ve just been that solution for a long time. Obviously, an agency needs a leader, and I’ve been able to fulfill that, but that’s not something that I ever aspired to do.

Coming from a small town, do you think that has impacted your approach to your work?

It absolutely has had an impact on my work, and what we do here as an agency. In a small town, relationships matter. You have to take care of people because you just have each other.

I’ve also learned that rural and urban voices both need to be heard. I’m very aware of that. It’s not just about where the density of the population is, but it’s considering the needs of everybody.

Working hard is also very important. We’ve seen that consistently with team members who come from smaller communities and have a different kind of sensitivity and work ethic.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a leader and build an adept and effective team?

Listen, learn, and then act decisively. You have to have all three of those things. We’ve all seen people in leadership roles who either act without listening or listen but don’t act on it, and that doesn’t work.

Make decisions that are for the good of the whole versus for either yourself or for a couple of people. It has to be what is best for everybody, which isn’t always an easy thing to do. We’ve had to make some really hard decisions over the years, which is crucial when you’re in a leadership role. That’s what you have to do.

In addition to working at Russell Herder, you also keep bees. What draws you to this hobby?

It’s the complexity of it. You never ever master it. It is always changing. It’s like managing a little community, and you never know who’s going to live there and how they’re going to act or what they need. Also, it’s about understanding and dealing with things that are in and out of your control. You know that they need to be fed. You have to take care of them. You have to provide them with their food and water at certain times of the year and do it a certain way.

Some things are out of your control, like if it gets too cold. I’ve dealt with bears that try and get in there. It’s fascinating to me that you’ve got all these dynamics going on all the time, and you never figure it out entirely. You always have to be ready.

Do you think there are parallels between beekeeping and being a CEO?

You have to make decisions strategically and carefully because there’s a lot at stake. At the same time, you have to look for opportunities to be really innovative. So it’s not a matter of just checking the box and doing the same things every time. It’s like reading the landscape, trying to make the best decision, and acting on it.

Speaking of bees, Russell Herder is a B Corp. What has changed at the agency since becoming a B Corp?

We attract people who want to make a significant difference and do so ethically and creatively. It truly is an amazing, compassionate team.

Why do you think it’s important to be a B Corp?

It holds your feet to the fire. We are obligated to reach certain standards. When you’re a B Corp, there are standards and oversight, which makes us pay extra attention to our work.

What are you most excited about for Russell Herder in 2024?

The fact that we are entrusted with significant challenges by our clients. I know with 100% confidence in our team that our team can deliver solutions to achieve them. So, I’m very excited about that. It’s a time of growth, which is an exciting thing in and of itself.

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