It should come as no surprise that Michael B. Russell is interested in diversity at the University of Virginia.
Russell (Engineering ’87, Parent ’16) is the son of Herman J. Russell, who was a personal friend of Martin Luther King Jr. In the 1960s, King visited their Atlanta home, which Herman Russell had built in Collier Heights, the first community in the nation developed by blacks for blacks.
Michael Russell now serves as chief executive officer of H. J. Russell & Company, the company founded by his father in 1952, which has grown into one of the largest minority-owned construction and real estate firms in the country. The company has worked on projects throughout the southern and eastern U.S., including the New Orleans International Airport, the Bronx Criminal Court Complex, UVA’s Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. It has been recognized by Black Enterprise magazine as one of the “Top 100 African American Owned Companies” in the nation. It also consistently ranks in the Top 400 among construction firms and the Top 100 among construction management firms nationwide, according to the weekly construction industry publication, Engineering News-Record.
A civil engineering major at UVA, Russell said his major benefited his career by exposing him to the construction industry. “Engineering training helped me in my professional life by introducing me to a lot of processes I go through in business, particularly, analytical problem solving,” he said.
He counts his academic preparation and the relationships he built with fellow students and professors among the greatest benefits he received from his student experience. “Developing an ability to communicate and build relationships has been helpful in business and in life in general,” he said.
His family has a strong tradition of philanthropy. “My parents give back in many different ways and have set a good example for their children,” he said. In his turn, he and his wife, Lovette, are setting an example for their own children, including their son, Michael B. Russell Jr. (College ’16).
Russell and his wife give to a number of causes, including the University of Virginia. Their gifts to the University have benefited the Virginia Engineering Foundation, the UVA Health Foundation and the Ridley Scholarship Fund. A few years ago, the Russells made a bequest that will fund an endowed, named Ridley Scholarship for an African-American engineering student. Russell was a charter member of the board of directors of the Ridley Scholarship Fund in 1987. The same year, his father made the first corporate gift to the fund on behalf of H. J. Russell & Company.
“The University was very important to me,” Russell said, “and diversity at the University is important to Lovette and to me. And we’re in a position to do something now that will have an impact long after we’re gone.”