Tech Council CEO: Audrey Russo
You can take a New Yorker out of New York, but not, to measure by new Pittsburgh Technology. With a beguiling feistiness and enough self-confidence to fill up a hotel ballroom at a Tech Council Breakfast Briefing, the Nassau County native has set ambitious goals for the 25-year-old, 1,400 companies member trade association.
She rattles off a list of priorities: accelerating workforce development, having the council play a larger and more forceful role in remolding business climate public policy, strategic partnering with outside (and not necessarily economic development) organizations, helping entrepreneurially run manufacturers with succession planning and promotion of immigration into the Pittsburgh area.
On that last point, Russo has some concrete targets and a game plan in place.
Western Pennsylvania has largely missed out, of course, on the immigration stampede that has reconfigured so much of the rest of the country. Call it parochialism or inertia, but attracting talented new blood from around the world and the consequent vitality has not seemed to be high up on the region’s agenda.
Russo says we should aim to bring 5,000 immigrants into the region per year. Accomplishing that goal is in part a communications challenge, broadcasting Pittsburgh’s opportunities and quality of life to a worldwide audience. On the to-do list at the Council now is a revamp of the group’s Web site to feature blogging, viral marketing, interactivity and the other geewhizs of online social networking.
“We have jobs here,” Russo says. “The question is how do we get that information outside of the region.”
Russo’s own new job started with a call from headhunter Tom Flannery at Boyden while she was vice president and CFO at South Side-based MAYA Design, consultants in software and product design. Russo says she was attracted to the Technology Council position because it represented an intersection between technology and people and private enterprise and public affairs. “I love people. I love business. I love the region,” she says.
Certainly her own career has crisscrossed the different arenas. Before moving to Pittsburgh in 2000, Russo was in Richmond, Va., where she held a series of senior positions with Reynolds Metal Company, including a stint as director of client relations and performance support services. She also taught at Virginia Commonwealth University and previously had been director at a nonprofit healthcare facility in Richmond that serves people with chronic health issues and developmental disabilities.
When Alcoa acquired Reynolds in 2000, Russo, her husband, Joseph, and daughter, Mollie, relocated here. They settled in Squirrel Hill to be a part of its Jewish community. (Most workdays for Russo start with an early morning workout at the Jewish Community Center.)
Russo says her upbringing instilled a serious work ethic. Her father was a successful businessman, taking his company public, and the family enjoyed affluence and prosperity — but she was expected to work. Today, Russo says that her daughter, a junior at Shady Side Academy is one of the few students at the tony school who has an outside job.
While at Alcoa, Russo managed the aluminum giant’s global business information systems and IT strategy, integrating systems from acquired companies and handling human resources strategy. She spent a large portion of her time shuttling between Alcoa technology centers around the globe, including frequent trips to Perth, Australia. (Joseph was a stay-at-home dad for some of those years.)
When her daughter was younger, Russo spent a decade as an independent consultant, specializing in strategy and organizational change. Reynolds was a client, and hence the pathway to Pittsburgh.
Russo’s first job after earning her bachelor of science degree at Ohio State University (she also has a master’s degree in public administration from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Affairs) was with a social agency in Toledo where she worked with patients and ex-cons with drug and alcohol abuse problems.
Social work, health care, IT, HR management and now trade association presidency and public policy. An unlikely career progression.
Russo says the common denominator has been transformation of people, communities and business. Western Pennsylvanians can expect to see transformation of the Tech Council as well, with Russo playing a more prominent role on the public stage locally and beyond the region.
“The board is committed to do something new here,” she says.
And in this year of the Hillary, the question has to be asked: Is it significant that Russo is the first female head of the Tech Council?
“I don’t look at this as a gender-specific job,” she says.
Still, there are side benefits. Being in the limelight means, obviously, more newspaper articles and broadcast time. Russo’s parents, now retired in Florida, follow along on the Web, sometimes asking, “Are you in the news this week?”
Says Russo, “They’re very proud of me. ”