Monday Madness – Matt Russo (’90), Northwestern Mutual Managing Director
Matt Russo’s Bio
Matt Russo is a graduate of the Hotel School of Cornell University. He graduated in 1990 with a major in Food and Beverage. His industry experience includes management positions with major restaurant associations, as well as a wholesaler of fine wines with one of the largest spirit purveyors in New England.
Matt joined the Northwestern Mutual Financial Network in 1995 as a Financial Representative and consecutively received top company honors for his production. In 1999, Matt was named Managing Director of The North Shore Group in Wakefield, Massachusetts and under his leadership the agency was awarded for the Outstanding Achievement Award every year. In June 2006, Matt was appointed Managing Partner of the Midtown Manhattan network office, which is consistently one of the highest producing agencies in the United States with over 100 Financial Representatives.
Matt resides in New Canaan, CT with his wife, Tonya, and their sons, Thomas and Chad. He enjoys boating, wine collecting, and spending time with his family.
Matt began his presentation to my AEM 1210: Entrepreneurship Speaker Series with a series of jokes and anecdotes about his time as a Cornell student. After explaining how he somehow managed to get into Cornell, he told us his reasons for attending this university: “1. To play football, 2. To work at a bar, 3. To join a fraternity, 4. To go to school. In that order.” We all laughed and knew we were going to enjoy this speaker. Once he graduated, Matt took a job in the wine business. He loved his job, but when he was offered the opportunity to start a practice with Northwestern Mutual, he showed interest. He interviewed for the job 11 times, and after a discussion with his father, he decided to take the job. He took the opportunity because he appreciated the entrepreneurial aspects and the positive work-life balance.
Throughout Matt’s talk, I truly appreciated and respected his honesty. He was honest when he discussed his academics, which were not very strong. He was honest when he told us about the struggles of starting a company. He was honest when he came clean about the many mistakes he made. And he was honest when he told us what he found to be important in life. While some of the lessons he gave us were very somber in nature, he told them with humor and the audience was constantly laughing.
And the end of his talk, Matt told us ten lessons he learned over the 24 years since his graduation. Here they are:
- No one is going to care about your business more than you. You need to get out and sell your product. You need to build the brand. You need to keep the machine running.
- Always be yourself. Don’t let other people deter you or try and control your dreams.
- Don’t have a plan B. Having a plan B allows you to escape and keeps you from committing 100% to your business idea.
- Understand delayed gratification. Going through difficult times now can open up an incredible future.
- Make mistakes, make mistakes, make mistakes.
- Get As in business and As and life. If you get an A in business, but at the expense of a B or C in life, that is an F. Your happiness is worth more than any amount of money you make, and this happiness comes from being a good father, a good neighbor, and a good person.
- You can’t be creative when you are scared. Sometimes you need to do something not related to work and let your mind wander. Oftentimes, the answer to the issue you are facing will come to you during these periods.
- Have outside interests away from work. It is important to have other outlets.
- People aren’t born quitters; it’s something that we are taught. When everyone else is quitting, be the one who doesn’t know how and keep fighting on.
- When you’re running a business you will need to decide between different investments. If it is a choice between an investment in lifestyle and an investment in people, always choose the latter.
In Matt’s 60 minute talk, he gave me a new understanding of what is important during my time at Cornell. It is not all about academic performance, but also about having fun, being happy, and learning how to work with other people. I will take these lessons with me throughout the rest of my life, as both a student and a professional, and I hope you will to.
For more information about Matt, check out his eClips: https://www.prendismo.com/collection/viewEnt.cfm?id=412&showProfile=false
Monday Madness is a weekly Monday column featured on talks given by Cornell alums to students enrolled in AEM 1210: Entrepreneurship Speaker Series. Monday Madness is here to offer students thoughtful takeaways from smart and successful entrepreneurs.