Behind the Scenes – NYLMA Special Profile: Sue Russon

by Sander Coxe on November 23, 2014

Sue Russon

We all know her name from NYLMA emails and see her front and center at our chapter’s events. But now it’s time to get to know Sue Russon, NYLMA’s Business Manager, a little better as a person. Our Sander Coxe went behind the scenes with Sue to allow us to become more familiar with the woman who is a big reason why everything runs so smoothly for the largest LMA chapter in the U.S. 

Thanks for being an interview for the newsletter – we are excited to give everyone the chance to get to know you better. Your professional background is very interesting. Tell us a little about your life in finance and banking.

I received my B.A. in Economics and Finance from Douglass College/Rutgers University, and then my M.B.A. in Finance at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz School of Business. I joined Chemical Bank as a trainee in 1980. Then I had a 20+ year banking career starting at Chemical Bank (and was a survivor of three mergers). It was a pretty interesting path. I managed Private Banking client teams which were focused on the Law Firm marketplace, acted as Chief of Staff to the head of the Private Bank, and ran the Analyst Training Program for JPMorganChase’ s Investment Bank, among other assignments.

Wow – what was it like living through all that merger activity?

It was a very different time to be sure, and the mergers were interesting and challenging. Chemical merged with Manufacturers Hanover, Chase Manhattan, and finally JP Morgan. In the world of private banking, and probably both banks in general, people tried to keep a low profile until things were sorted out.

Combining two different corporate cultures, as any of your readers who have experienced a law firm merger can probably tell you, is unnerving while the competition for which system will dominate unfolds. Two columns on a spreadsheet are set up, best practices, systems, managers, and staff are compared and rated. Employees of course feel loyalty to their existing systems and managers, and it is pretty raw sometimes to witness the cuts and be part of what is really a competition.

By the time JPMorgan acquired Chase, I was used to the process, but it was never easy. Friends sometimes were let go and that was always difficult. The merger process makes you hyper aware of your own value and forces you to be ready to defend it and make the case for it. Sometimes you had to really put yourself forward and promote yourself just to stay in the loop as territorial battles took place. At Chase the training platform was delivered by staff and line managers. That model forced extra responsibility and travel on us. JP Morgan brought everyone (100 or more trainees at a time) to New York and used their large training center in the old JP Morgan headquarters across from the Stock Exchange. One good thing came of it – our training conference room was actually J.P. Morgan’s personal office – with a fireplace!

You mentioned several types of positions – what was your favorite professional role in banking?

Probably my favorite spot along the way was as a team leader in Private Banking. As a manager, I enjoyed structuring loans and mentoring the junior members of my team. The partners I met as a team leader in the Law Group were always interesting if not a real challenge (I’m sure you can relate to that!) and I met some famous names along the way.

What drove you to step away from your career?

My oldest son George was born in 2001 and I was fortunate enough to be able to step away and focus on parenting full-time for a while.

What’s the best thing about managing the NYLMA?

That’s easy – the people. I come from the financial community and after almost four years of working with LMA, I can honestly say that you all are one of the most outgoing, sociable, friendly groups around.

We are more fun than financial services people, right?

I love all my friends from my days in banking but you all might have them beat. I think marketers in general may be a little less uptight. Why, I can’t say. It is truly a different atmosphere. I enjoy being around the legal marketing folks, and at the events they always seem to enjoy being there. It is fun, and it gives me a chance to have professional relationships and adult interactions. And most importantly, LMA gave me the opportunity to restart my career.

What is the toughest thing about managing the NYLMA?

There was a good structure and organization in place when I arrived, and I’ve worked to further systematize and automate the chapter. Even with a standard format in place, program planning can get a little hectic and I have to be prepared for anything. A last minute speaker change or a long waiting list, for instance, can be tricky. And now we have such strong attendance that finding seats for everyone and venues big enough to hold us is a challenge. That is a testament to the organization – most events now sell out and people don’t always have the opportunity to attend a popular program. We’re hitting 100 people for most lunch sessions. When I started we were sometimes scrambling to fill seats. So, I guess this is a good problem.

Honestly I love it. I work from home most of the time and it’s great. Sometimes balancing the needs of all of the Board Members AND the Committee Chairs AND the SIG Chairs is hard, but other than that, the job is truly fun. And again the people are pretty terrific.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in your current job?

I would probably go back to corporate training administration or work in the not for profit world. These days I prefer being an administrator rather than doing stand-up/front-of-room training or managing a team. I have had experience with both but find more satisfaction in planning and execution.

Where do you live?

New Rochelle. We used to live in Bronxville, where I met my good friend Despina Kartson. Despina introduced me to Susan Jacobs, the LMA Chapter President in 2010.

Our gratitude to Despina and Susan for corralling you. It’s nice up there in Westchester – How do you like suburbia?

New Rochelle is great. It’s a diverse community with a terrific school system – we love it. And it’s only 30 minutes to midtown. It is also a great fit for me because I am very involved as a volunteer with the women’s organization of my church and the PTA. The social and volunteer aspects of community life are truly important and fulfilling for me.

So tell us a little bit more about yourself – where did you grow up?

I grew up near Detroit, Michigan, until we moved to New Jersey when my Dad was transferred. New Jersey became home and like all good Jersey girls, I quickly became a Springsteen fan. I saw him in college and was hooked.

What’s your favorite Bruce record?

Well, this may surprise some people but it’s not his earlier music. My favorite song changes from day to day – like with any great artist possessing a deep catalogue – but my favorite album is “The Rising.” It has real power, and it stays with me, partly because 9/11 left such a big impression on all of us in the NYC area.

I love the early stuff in particular, but it’s hard to argue with your reasoning for loving “The Rising.” Are you raising two Springsteen fans? Is it rubbing off on them?

I do “encourage” my little guys to listen. George (just turned 13) and Harry (10 in December) are starting to come around. I tell them it is part of their heritage and they must respect the Boss! My husband Manny did not start out a Springsteen fan but he is coming around, and understands how powerful and inspiring his music can be.

How do you relax? Do you have some favorite TV shows? Activity?

I LOVE a good movie or book (a real book, not a Kindle). I totally binge watched “House of Cards”, and I am a huge fan of “Downton Abbey”. Also, I recently picked up knitting (thank you again Despina, with honorable mention to Carolyn Sandano.) A longtime hobby is genealogy – I’ve found family in Australia, as well as uncovering some colorful stories in our family tree. Mostly I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I’m close to my brother and sister and my parents, who all live in New Jersey. I do wish I had the opportunity to travel more. Back in my banking days I got to see the world a bit with trips like Bahrain, Hong Kong, and London. LMA has certainly helped get me back out in the world. It is great to be home with the boys, but I am delighted to have time to do more – especially as my kids get more independent.

My last harassing personal question – what’s your favorite food?

Seafood prepared any way and a great bottle of wine will always make me happy. I am Greek and Italian and I love both those culinary traditions. My husband thinks my northern Italian heritage is actually Swiss because I am overly organized, especially when we entertain.

Do you like to cook?

I love to cook and I’m pretty good at it, if I do say so myself. I’m always willing to experiment on new recipes, sometimes to the chagrin of my family or dinner guests.

Manny is a lucky guy. Thanks so much for making time for us today! And thanks for taking such good care of us. 

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