Russo, Patricia F.

▪ 2005

      In 2004 Patricia Russo, CEO of telecommunications firm Lucent Technologies, accomplished what few had expected. One of the most widely held stocks in the late 1990s, Lucent had seen its share price plummet to less than $1 per share by 2002. As business dried up and layoffs and financial losses persisted, the chances of Lucent's recovery seemed slim. It was a bold move, then, for the firm to appoint former Lucent insider Russo as its new CEO in January 2002. Bolder still was Russo's promise to return the company to profitability before the end of 2003, but she kept her word, met that goal, and led Lucent through four profitable quarters in fiscal year 2004.

      Patricia Fiorello Russo was born June 12, 1952, in Trenton, N.J. Among her six siblings were twin brothers with disabilities, and Russo said that growing up with them had helped her learn the lessons of caring for others. She was active in sports and captained the cheerleading squad before graduating from Lawrence High School in 1969. In 1973 she earned a bachelor's degree in political science and history from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., and moved directly to IBM for an eight-year career in sales and marketing. While with IBM, Russo developed a customer-oriented perspective that would influence her future management style.

      Joining AT&T in 1981, Russo spent the next decade in marketing, human resources, operations, and strategic planning. She completed Harvard University's rigorous Advanced Management Program in 1989, and three years later AT&T chose her to restructure its faltering Business Communications Systems division as its president. Russo's turnaround permitted AT&T to spin off the division as Avaya, Inc. She moved to Lucent in time for its $3 billion initial public offering in 1996, serving as executive vice president for corporate operations (1997–99) and vice president and CEO of Lucent's core business, the service provider networks group (1999–2000). Russo left in 2000 and became president and chief operating officer of Eastman Kodak in April 2001—only to return in 2002 as Lucent's president and CEO. She was elevated to chairman and CEO in February 2003.

      Russo led Lucent on a course of modest but steady growth that emphasized service and customer contact, although the year's profits came largely through slashes in spending, and cuts to retiree benefits and reductions in research-and-development budgets spurred protests. Russo's focus on service was expected to build strong customer ties, but critics feared that Lucent, left to fill gaps in its product lineup by selling competitors' hardware, risked losing its edge in new product development. Even so, the firm chalked up several important contracts in 2004, and the future—for Lucent and Russo—looked bright.

Sarah Forbes Orwig

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Universalium. 2010.

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