Profile: Ralph Russo '88 (EMP-17)
guru, educator, spouse, parent, philanthropist, golfer. These
words are common descriptors for many Kellogg graduates. But
add the word "fighter" to that list, and it begins
to describe Ralph Russo EMP-17.
former president and CEO of Sara Lee Coffee & Tea has
taken on a new set of challenges in the last few years. Russo
was the director of marketing for the 2006 PGA, which was
held in Medinah, Ill. His assignment began in 2004, and Russo,
a member of Medinah Country Club, says he enjoyed working
with fellow club members to create a real "fan experience"
during the tournament. Part of his role was to manage all
advertising promotion related to ticket sales and hospitality
sales. Following his success for the 2006 PGA, Russo was invited
to be the director of marketing for the 2012 Ryder Cup, which
will also be held in Medinah, Ill.
what makes Russo's story more impressive is he took on this
role soon after he began to have the symptoms of amyotrophic
lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's
disease," in March 2003. He was officially diagnosed
in January 2006, which is when he went on disability leave
from Sara Lee.
is a progressive and neurodegenerative disease, which means
it affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Because
motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and
from the spinal cord to the body's muscles, their degeneration
gradually results in the brain losing its ability to initiate
and control movement. The disorder eventually leads to paralysis.
made it very clear that I was going to live very actively
with this illness, and I would make a benefit come from it,"
Russo says, emphasizing his goal of raising both awareness
of the disease and funding for research and those financially
unable to afford care.
involvement with the PGA connected him to an opportunity to
fundraise for ALS. "As we all got to know each other,
the PGA wanted to have a big breakfast in my honor,"
he says. "They were so appreciative of the work I was
doing for them, and they wanted to help the cause." It
was so supportive, in fact, that the charity event raised
more than $68,000 for the Les Turner ALS Foundation.
chose the Les Turner Foundation because it has a nice balance
between raising awareness and funding," he says. In addition
to the event held in Medinah, Russo was the recipient of this
year's Hope Through Caring Award at a black-tie gala that
raised more than $350,000. This year a new event called ROAR
(Reach Out Around Ralph) will be another opportunity to raise
funds at a golf outing.
also writes articles for the Les Turner Foundation's newsletters
and has been very active in raising awareness and funding
through local media. One of the reasons he is so passionate
is because he calls ALS "an orphaned disease," one
that is underfunded but that increases by about 5,600 new
cases a year.
has done a lot and he continues to do so," says Wendy
Abrams, the executive director of the Les Turner ALS Foundation.
"He is constantly fundraising; he understands it from
a business perspective, and now that he is a patient, he is
even more adamant about raising awareness and funding for
this disease. He's been an amazing partner given his decline
in health, and that's rare."
who graduated from the Kellogg
School's Executive MBA Program in 1988, credits this education
for helping him be able to market and communicate on behalf
of those in the fight against the disease.
all have an opportunity to give back, and this is how I've
chosen to do it," he says. "I have learned that
there are causes beyond our everyday running of businesses
in which we can make a difference with the gifts we have been