Meet the Board: Dennis Russell

Meet the Board: Five Questions or Less
Dentistry, Surfing and Survival on a Deserted Island

Nonprofit consultant Dennis Russell has worked in healthcare management for more than 25 years, and currently serves on the FSA Board of Directors and Strategic Issues Committee. To learn a few new things about him, we sent him five random questions. Here's what he told us:

Dennis RussellWhat are the book(s) you’ve given most as a gift and why? True North by Bill George. It is a book about discovering your Authentic Leadership Style vs. emulating or modeling someone else. It was very helpful for me and others seem to feel the same way.

  • Gracious Space by Patricia Hughes with Bill Grace. Our culture has slid into polarized positions that have "coarsened" our communities. This book (short paperback) has proven very effective when I work with organizations that are struggling to find common ground.

    What did you want to be as a child, and how similar/dissimilar is it to where you are now in your career? In 6th - 9th grade, I wanted to be a helicopter pilot so I could get to remote beaches for uncrowded surf. In high school, I wanted to be a dentist to help children that have had traumatic dental experiences (like me) recover. Very different from Health Care Administration/Retirement Executive and Consulting, but I do travel to remote, uncrowded surf locations.

    What lesson or wisdom would you impart on your 25-year-old self? Listen more, place yourself intentionally around people with disparate life experiences and perspectives, learn Spanish, trade stuff for stamps in your passport.

    If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would you hope to have with you? 
  • A knife
  • Clear plastic for shelter and water catchment
  • A fishing net 
  • A giant box of matches
  • Satellite phone with batteries
  • Wide-brimmed hat
  • Inflatable raft/oars
  • A hammock
  • Bug spray
  • Sunblock
  • A headlamp
  • A surfboard if there were waves
Whom do you admire and why?

I have always said if I could have dinner with anyone dead or alive, I would choose the following:

  • Mother Teresa. The year she won the Nobel peace prize, my daughter was born. Her struggle to help people overcome poverty and distress was humbling and I even wanted to name my daughter Teresa (didn’t win on that account) in recognition of this amazing woman.
  • Stephen Hawking. It was really my son who did a paper on him in Jr. High school that introduced me to Stephen Hawking. My son ended up getting a Physics degree from Oberlin, electrical engineering degree from Columbia and will finish his PhD at MIT this year. He was encouraged by Stephen’s outlook on life and commitment not to let his disability keep him from accomplishing so much to benefit our world.
  • Maya Angelou. I love her poetry, confidence, activism and humility. She influenced so many and is a great influencer for many of us.
  • Nelson Mandela. I really came to appreciate him more after watching the movie “Invictus.” Hard to imagine a life-time commitment to overthrow Apartheid, even after 27 years in prison. Using soccer to improve racial tensions was genius.
  • Martin Luther King. Obviously, the top of most people's list to spend time with. Amazing man of faith and willing to risk everything for a cause far bigger than anyone thought achievable. His tactics and commitment to peace were not a passive movement, but non-violent activism.

Two people that I admire today as much as those above would be:

  • Judy Brown. Her investment in me and so many emerging leaders in our field will bear fruit for many years to come. She was a key element in the design of the National Leadership Academy sponsored by LeadingAge, as well as the Kendal Leadership Program. She has coached and helped develop over 500 leaders in our field and had done it in such a humble, quiet manner.
  • Jimmy Carter. I don’t think his presidency will ever be ranked in an upper tier, but his passion and energy to make a difference for those people on the fringes is compelling. He leveraged his notoriety to influence others and also contributed his time, talent and treasure to make a real difference in his community, the nation and, to some extent, the world.

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