By Emily Speziale
With a passion for her military occupation as a logistician, Jessica Russo began her Alliance training with the expectation that she would continue the same path as a civilian. She thought she might see herself working to solve problems in distribution centers or warehouses…maybe managing supply chains and growing into leadership roles. Logistics made sense – she mused that it was “just how her mind worked”, and it seemed like a good fit!
So, how does a passionate Army logistician end up working for Johnson and Johnson as an executive sales leader with thirteen years of medical device experience?
We all enter the Alliance Training Program with varying levels of confidence in which industry we might envision ourselves – so it’s no surprise to hear that she recalls sitting down with Mr. John Zornick to have “the talk”. John mentioned that logistics would be great, but that she might also be a good fit for a sales position. She thought, “I just spent 7 years in the Army as a logistician. What would I even be selling?” John explained that the role was for medical device sales, and he asked if she might have an interest in interviewing.
To understand why this is a significant moment, there are a couple of things you need to understand about Jessica. She comes from a VERY proud line of Ohio State alumni. In her senior year of high school, however, Jessica was awarded a full-ride scholarship for a nursing program at a different school. During this time, her Italian grandfather was suffering from Parkinson’s, and, although fully English-speaking, reverted to speaking only Italian. Jess’ dad was trying to help guide her through the decision between the nursing program and joining the long line of Ohio State alumni, but he was a bit torn himself – so he bent the ear of his father, Jessica’s grandfather. Jessica wasn’t there but she surmises her dad was merely thinking out loud and not expecting much of an answer. Then, a raspy voice answered back in clear English, “tell her…to go…to Ohio State!” Her instructions were clear; she traded in her nursing scholarship in for a full-ride ROTC scholarship from Ohio State.
So, when John Zornick asked Jessica if she had any interest in medical devices, it seemed like it might actually be a good fit for her after all. She’d given up nursing, but maybe she could still make a difference in the medical community. During her Alliance hiring conference, she recalls walking into the room for her medical device sales interview. Laid out on the table in front of her were all the components of the technology she would be responsible for in this role. She knew she would be interviewing for a sales role, but what she didn’t know is that this was the same technology used in her sister’s colectomy surgery just 6 years earlier. With an obvious connection to the medical device, an interest in the medical field, and guidance from the Alliance team, Jessica accepted her role with Johnson & Johnson (Ethicon-Endo Surgery) as an Associate Sales Representative.
Jessica’s first role as an associate was a bit less than traditional – she started off covering a territory of a tenured rep who had just left the position. Not only did she have to absorb all his accounts and workload, but she would have to do so with little day-to-day guidance. She remembers how foreign it felt to transition from the rigor of her military schedule to having nearly complete autonomy. She said she was so surprised to find that there wasn’t someone looking over her shoulder. She had regular meetings with her manager but those were once a week, unlike the frequent daily touchpoints she was used to. Her Area Vice President famously quoted, “I don’t care if you work 1 hour a day or 10– just hit your numbers”. But Jessica knew that no one could meet their numbers in one hour of work, so it was up to her to find the sweet spot.
Jessica managed a sales territory of over $4.5M and 11 hospitals to include providing staff and surgeon education on surgical devices, and she delivered annual business reviews to Clinical Resource managers to ensure their contract compliance. As a medical device sales representative, it was up to Jessica to be in the operating room with surgeons and medical staff as the subject matter expert for the device. As a representative it is not enough to be physically present in the room, you have to be mentally checked in to the operative case at all times, you never know when a surprise can happen and suddenly you are front and center. You need to understand not only the steps of the procedure and the anatomy involved but also have the ability to navigate the technical aspect of troubleshooting the medical device, while balancing strong personalities in a high-stakes environment. This job was not for the weak, and Jessica loved being able to rise to the challenges that the field provided. After a few years as a successful field representative, Jessica wanted to compete for a leadership role. She loved the work she did, but she understandably also felt a natural pull toward leadership. She eventually transitioned into a teaching position where she’d put her experience to use with new sales representatives in training. She coached, assessed, and developed new hires as professional sales representatives until she was offered a role as a Regional Sales Manager. She would go on to lead a team of 20 people – 19 of which were men. Her team spanned 4 states in Surgical Orthopedics with a focus on Capital Equipment sales, inventory reduction, and P&L management. In April, Jessica was promoted to Contract Director where she went from managing $20M to managing over $140M in business.I asked her if she ever thinks about her decision to leave the Army and she replied, “I would have retired from the Army this year!”, to which I followed up with several questions about what that meant to her. She says that she wouldn’t change a thing. She mentioned, “I picked a great company with a great culture, opportunity, and room for growth. It was important to me that I could gain a retirement. J&J has great benefits; that was important to me.”
In closing our conversation, I asked, “what’s next?” to which she replied, “Exactly! What’s the job after the job?! I must consider my end goal. I’m 42, I’ve been here almost 14 years, let’s say I work to 55 or 60 – I’m halfway there! So, I’m not rushing. I’m a Senior Manager and the next level is Director. After that, I could move to Area VP or Senior Director. But I want to fill out my portfolio because my ultimate goal is to be a Senior Director.”
Jessica Russo is impossible not to like. She’s smart, easy to talk to, and she leads others through conversations with elegance and confidence. Her experience is a testament to the fact that keeping an open mind and understanding your strengths and interests can help foster long-term growth in an organization or industry.