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Lily Russell, 30s, Sustainability Professor & Consultant

By June 28, 2015January 8th, 2017No Comments

What is your name, age, and location?

Lily Russell, 34, San Francisco, CA USA

What is your profession?

Founder. Professor. Consultant.

What did you study in school and what degrees do you have?

MBA from MIT Sloan; BA International Relations and Spanish from UNC Chapel Hill

What was your first job?

The truth? Doing my dad’s accounting for his start-up when I was 7 years old. It was he who exposed me to renewable energy, the ‘circular economy’ (in present day terms!), and the value of hard work.

The more traditional answer? Teaching Middle School Spanish in Baltimore City with Teach for America.

Who or what inspired you to break into your current line of work?

I often point to my two years living in Argentina where I truly lived, saw and experienced our global food system at work.  Upon my return to the US, I knew I needed to continue to work internationally, for the environment and for people.  This translated into 10+ years now of working in supply chain sustainability.

Interestingly, the older I get, the more examples I uncover of how I lived this passion as a young child.  These discoveries are remarkable to me… My picture book, ‘Recycling’, that I wrote SO PROUDLY in the 3rd grade.  I discovered this a couple years ago in the same month I decided to leave my management consulting job to write a children’s book on sustainable thinking.  Or when I realized that my Dad’s profession in forest products and wood fuels reprocessing was not about ‘killing trees’ (as I so wrongly assumed as a young child).  Rather, he built an entire company and livelihood for my family around a product that was otherwise thrown out.  He took a risk to support our family based on the core belief that there is value in what was otherwise called a ‘waste product.’

Name/describe what has been your most rewarding project so far?

Starting a Spanish program with Teach for America, helping found World Camp for Kids and building entrepreneurship programs in Argentina were all  rewarding experiences. More importantly, I trust that if I did my job well they were more rewarding for others than myself!

However, I’ll never regret spending a few years in a more traditional role at Deloitte Consulting. The opportunity to lead real change for social and environmental responsibility among the world’s biggest brands is invaluable and I encourage others to find opportunity for impact in more traditional paths.

Name/describe one incident when being a woman has helped your career?

It has helped the most to recognize who I am and the energy, passion, and skills that I bring: I bring Lily to the room, not ‘Lily… and I’m a woman.’ My subject matter is supply chain sustainability, not gender issues. While I think gender in the workplace is an incredibly important topic, I think it has served me well to isolate these interest points from my subject matter expertise. As a consultant and teacher I am paid to share my expertise, not caveat my experience with my gender.

Name/describe one incident when being a woman has hindered your career?

See above.

Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)?

Tyra Banks.  If we look beyond the personality she represents on various TV shows, the Tyra Banks I grew up with challenged infinite stereotypes in a world and industry that, frankly, is quite superficial.   She continues to stick with this industry and defend characters and strengths she believes in, all while building a massively successful brand and company.  If, as a reader, you’re hoping for a more traditional response from me, I encourage you to think deeper about how she’s positioned herself and her career: I admire her voice, consistency and success.

If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting out in your field, what would it be?

Listen — always.

Push yourself to make a recommendation or have an opinion rather than deferring to asking others theirs.  Sure, listen and take in other people’s opinions, but don’t use this as a soft way to stand back and let others lead.


Explain the Chain

Lily Russell on LinkedIn

– Interview by Eve Richer

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