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As it nears 30 years in business, Russell Cellular Inc.’s leadership team has a new look.
Chief among the series of changes made in November 2021 at the Battlefield-based Verizon wireless retail agent was the promotion of Jeven Russell, son of company co-founder and CEO Jeff Russell. He’s now joined his dad as co-president. But Jeven’s history with the company goes back 14 years, and he’s served since 2018 as its vice president of operations.
The Russells say the change is part of a multiyear family succession plan.
“Since 2017, we’ve been having conversations within the family of succession planning and what this would look like for me to move into a position of taking the reins for the company,” Jeven says. “It’s such a great opportunity to work alongside my father and him hold that co-presidency title with me for the next couple of years to make a seamless transition for our business.”
Additionally, Layton Alsup – daughter of founders Jeff and Kym Russell – was promoted to vice president of executive support; Daniel Hyder became chief sales officer; Nathan Mindeman moved to chief strategy officer; and Kurt Reinhart was appointed to vice president of learning and development. Jeven says all five of the executive promotions are new titles and roles for the company.
“It’s 14 years in the making,” Jeff says of his son’s new leadership position. “He’d been stepping up in different roles and continuing to go to that next level.”
Jeven, 29, says he started in an entry-level job in 2008, packing boxes in the warehouse. He became an inventory buyer in 2011 and began the management track the next year when promoted to inventory manager. The company, which in 2008 had 120 locations in eight states, was in the process of converting to Verizon from Alltel.
Changing carriers opened the door to become more of a national player than a regional one, he says. Today, the company operates nationwide with over 700 stores in 43 states. It employs 2,500 companywide, including nearly 200 at its home office.
Russell Cellular in 2021 ranked No. 2 in Springfield Business Journal’s Dynamic Dozen fast-growth awards. The company reported 2020 revenue of $664.5 million, representing three-year growth of 57%. That upward trajectory continued last year, as Jeven says the company reached its projected revenue of $800 million.
“Smart growth comes to mind,” he says of the company’s strategy, which has been partly fueled by acquisitions. “There’s been a lot of opportunities we’ve had to say no to. Our goal and Jeff’s goal is not be the biggest but be the best.”
Part of that strategy involves ensuring a potential acquisition or territory is the right cultural fit. Additionally, the geography needs to be well covered with leadership not spread too thin to travel to the stores.
“We’re always making sure that we’re retaining the culture,” he says. “We’ve seen it with other businesses; once you lose that, it’s really hard to get back.”
Eventually reaching all 50 states is unlikely for Russell Cellular, Jeven says.
“We’ve had opportunities to operate stores in Hawaii and Alaska. That puts a lot of strain on our operations,” he says. “But we’re open to challenges.”
Jeven says Russell Cellular has been a part of his life since childhood, noting he remembers being involved as early as 5 years old. He and sister Layton grew up around the business.
“It was very normal to have family vacation road trips going to Texas or Ohio, where we were growing and doing acquisitions,” he says. “I have a lot of early memories of the business going to store setups and various things, even into my teens.”
Jeven recalls an occasion when the company’s internal database crashed, meaning it was family to the rescue.
“My sister and I skipped school for the day just to do data entry and recovery to get our (customer relationship management) system back up and running,” he says. “We were always very close to the business. At the same time, I don’t think either my sister or I had intentions of necessarily being in the business. But it was a great place to learn some work ethic and get some job experience.”
Layton, who also has owned Nu Essence Spa for 15 years, began working at Russell Cellular in 2019. Jeven says his mother, Kym, is no longer involved in day-to-day operations for the company but remains active on its executive council.
“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do getting out of high school,” Jeven says. “But I ended up sticking around here and moving into a full-time position. I started to find a passion for the people side of things.”
He says stepping into the new position of inventory buyer in 2011 was the first time his father had let someone else take the company checkbook to make purchases.
“Once I stepped into that position in 2011 is when I really started to identify there’s a career path here for me,” he says.
Away from the office, Jeven says family is a priority. He met his wife Kayla in 2006 when they attended Republic High School. They’re raising two daughters: Saylor, 4, and Parker, 1.
While young children and the COVID-19 pandemic have limited travel over the past couple of years, Jeven says he and his wife both love to take international trips. He’s also a wine and spirits enthusiast, particularly whiskey.
Still, Jeven admits the pull of work is strong.
“I just enjoy it and I have a hard time getting away from work. That’s been the biggest transition and challenge for me,” he says.
Jeven says his new leadership role was kept quiet between he and his father for about 30 days prior to its announcement.
“I had spent a lot of time preparing – especially most of last year – for that,” he says. “I’ve always taken this as an aspect of I’m not expecting someone to tell me when an opportunity is here. I need to constantly prepare myself for when that role is ready and rise to the occasion.”
While an exit strategy from the top spot is possible within the next couple of years, Jeff says he has no intention to completely leave the company he started in 1993.
“This is kind of my baby,” he says. “I can’t imagine ever walking away from it.”
That sentiment is hardly news to his son as the two have openly discussed the topic.
“Frankly, there’s no keeping him away from this business,” Jeven says with a laugh. “He’s very passionate about it and very active day to day.”
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