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A 650K LGP Crawler Dozer shapes the land on a Russell jobsite.

A John Deere 650K LGP Crawler Dozer shapes the land on a Russell jobsite.

Spring 2022

In Swift Succession


In its 38 years, Russell has been no stranger to female leadership — which is exactly what’s taking the company to the next level.

“It started with a business card and a pickup truck,” says Jim Russell, founder and CEO of Russell of Davenport, Iowa. “It was the middle of a recession, so the only way was up.” And upward he went, and continues to go, in large part due to the female talent making up over 30 percent of the company’s team.

With women at every level of the company — from boots on the ground through the C-suite — Russell is well ahead of the curve when it comes to leveraging the skill set females often bring to the table. “It was short-lived, but my first ‘hire’ was my mom. She helped with some administrative items early on but was really the inspiration. She set a great example of what a strong, intelligent, and hardworking person looks like. Seeing that spirit live on through our team is very rewarding.”


Following suit

Taking the helm going forward is Jim’s daughter and the company’s new president, Caitlin Russell, who’s been part of the team as long as she can remember. “Jim used to bring my siblings and me in on Saturdays and we’d check the phone lines,” Caitlin jokes. “That obviously was just to keep us busy, but we really learned by the example he set —how much he cared and how hard he worked to make this successful. We took so much pride in visiting different jobsites and seeing the impact the company was having on our community. I couldn’t wait to join the team.”

Caitlin gained additional exposure by performing administrative functions while in high school before attending Arizona State University to get her degree in construction management. She then rejoined the company as a project engineer, quickly working her way up the ranks; earning her MBA, Iowa Real Estate Broker license, and Certified Commercial Investment Manager designation; and pioneering the real estate arm of the firm, all while raising a family. At the time of this interview, she is just seven weeks out from the birth of her fourth child and already itching to get back in the saddle.

“Growing with the business and being the boss’s daughter added an extra weight of expectation,” Caitlin admits. And in expected fashion for someone so high achieving, she promptly adds, “but also some fun, too. You get exposed to some things earlier and you work harder for them, so I’ve appreciated all this time under Jim’s wing. He’s really taught me the importance of collaborating with the team, and I have an immense amount of appreciation for our people.”


Exceeding expectations

Another working mother following Caitlin’s ambitious example is Project Manager Erin Marsh. She hasn’t been with the company as long but displays the same grit and pride in her work that’s representative of the Russell legacy. “I got into the trade almost by accident,” Marsh explains. “I picked up an admin job on a worksite to help pay for school. My manager asked why I didn’t just take the classes to make it official because I was already doing the job anyway. So, I finished my construction engineering program and eventually landed at Russell a couple years ago.”

For Marsh, the reality of working for Russell has exceeded expectations. “I love it. Russell has been tremendous for me and my family. As a mom, the work-life balance has been critical to my success — I’ve never had to sacrifice one or the other, and I feel very appreciated.” For the types of work Marsh takes on, who wouldn’t appreciate her? Her current project is on the national stage — the new Stanley Art Museum for the University of Iowa, which will be home to an estimated $500M in one-of-a-kind pieces. “It’s an incredibly unique building, both in design and materials used. At the end of the day, turning over the key to the owner is the best part of my job. Sharing in their excitement is gratifying.”


Leading by example

Another Russell team member excited to play her part is Apprentice Carpenter Cathy Snell, who is arguably the most outgoing and upbeat person to ever grace a jobsite. After exploring various career options, she’s found her true calling in carpentry. “I picked it up as a way to stay busy during the pandemic,” Snell shares her story. “I just realized I had so much love and passion for being creative, building things, and making things that make me proud. An old boss asked if I ever considered the trades, and as a woman I didn’t see it as a possibility. Now that I’m here, I couldn’t be happier. Everyone has been so welcoming and supportive of my growth.”

Snell’s positivity and its benefits extend beyond the jobsite. “I love the example this sets for my kids. I’m a single mother, so sharing the skills I’ve learned with them and just the attitude of not being afraid to figure something out means a lot. My little one loves it, too — she loves every second of building something with me, and making those memories means the world.”

In addition to the overwhelming depth of female talent at Russell, something else is clear. No one is showing up just because they have to. The entire team is there to bring their best, take on new challenges, and be leaders in all aspects of their lives. “Our culture is all about growth,” says Caitlin. “If you’re passionate about that, we’re passionate about you.”


Birds of a feather

Complementing the team at Russell of Davenport, Iowa, is Michelle Solis Russell, both life and business partner to the company’s founder, Jim Russell. In addition to running facilities management and working with leadership to develop mentorship and career tracks for the team, Solis Russell also owns and operates her own company, Solis Russell Owner Services (SROS).

A Minority- and Woman-Owned Business Enterprise, SROS assists project owners through the entirety of the construction process, starting long before ground is broken. “We’re typically involved in projects from their initial ideation and work to untangle the knots and align the teams and resources to make it all happen,” Solis Russell explains. “That includes everything from securing federal and private funding options to writing RFPs, engaging architects, awarding bids, and ensuring everything is as effortless as possible for our clients.”

Russell is serviced by Martin Equipment, Rock Island, Illinois.

Clockwise from the top. Taylor Jones of Chuck Jones Trucking, West Branch, Iowa, and Erin Marsh of Russell, Davenport, Iowa, discuss landscaping progress on the Stanley Art Museum jobsite at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa. Project Manager Erin March reviews the blueprints for the new museum project with a sub-contractor. Apprentice Carpenter Cathy Snell of Russell works on cutting baseboards at the jobsite.

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