"Franchising is an amazing accelerator for the American Dream."
This interview with Christina Kay Russell is part of Inspirations, a regular series from Helen Lao and ClearPath that asks extraordinary founders, executives, and rising stars in the growth-oriented food industry about their why.
Who or what inspires you and why?
I'm inspired by people who defy the odds to achieve success. Whether it's Joe Madden taking the Cubs to the World Series, or Sara Blakely realizing the full potential of a quirky product like Spanx, I'm awed by the joyful and singular focus of that journey. It reminds me of Michelangelo saying that the angel was already in the stone, and it was simply his job to set the angel free.
What types of people do you work best with and why?
I love working with positive, self-reliant people. It makes even the hardest situations easier when every member of the team is willing to lean in and find the solution.
What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far and why?
Every brand I've worked with has had its share of business challenges, but the hardest challenges have been the human ones. I've inherited cultures that were at best counterproductive, and at worst toxic. The challenge in leading cultural change is separating the behavior from the individuals. It's easy to dismiss the person, but I've found that when you quickly infuse meaningful values - and establish accountability to those values - behavior can change. You still have to make some gut-wrenching decisions, but I've found the more quickly you establish the ground rules the better. You'll see very quickly who's in and who's out, and you can move on to the fun stuff!
What’s something you’ve worked on that you’re proud of and why?
I loved helping L'Catterton through the ownership transition with Pure Barre. We facilitated an earlier exit than anyone anticipated, and we accomplished a lot in a very tight window. We rolled out a complete re-brand to leverage our "cool factor," implemented some smart local marketing tactics, rolled out a brand-new workout that required equipment installation across 500 units, revamped our on-demand product, and re-energized our retail line. The end result was an upturn in same-store sales and renewed optimism in our franchisees. I was excited about the sale to Xponential because I truly believe it will be a great fit for the brand, but it was hard to hand over the reins on such a high. Now I'm ready for the next challenge!
What’s been one of your greatest rewards in business and why?
I love franchising. I started as a franchisee myself, and I fell in love with the model because it's such an amazing accelerator for the American Dream. It's exciting to help people take their genuine love for a product and turn it into their own source of livelihood and ultimately into wealth. Great franchise brands thrive by helping others succeed, and that's what I strive to do. That win-win is its own reward!
Looking back, what advice would you give your younger self and why?
Don't overthink. A good friend once told me, "When you quiet your head, your heart usually has the answer." I've found that to be wise advice. The answer is usually the same, but you arrive at it faster.
What's the one word that describes you and why?
The word that probably describes me best is eclectic. I draw inspiration from everything. I love the quiet of nature and the aggression of punk rock. I love the weight of Ralph Waldo Emerson and also the silliness of Douglas Adams. Business analytics inspires me, and so does playing with my four-year-old daughter. I was a literature major who ended up working in physics and then opened four fitness clubs, and all of that informs how I think about business today.
What’s one company, brand, or individual that you admire and why?
I'm a Joe Maddon groupie! I became a fan when I was living in St. Pete, and Joe became the manager for the Tampa Bay Rays, the worst team in baseball. He took them all the way to the World Series in one season, and then he did it again with the Cubs! I'm fascinated by his quiet, quirky, humble leadership style.
What is one thing you’d like to accomplish this year and why?
I'm on the hunt for my next gig. It was exciting taking Pure Barre to a successful exit, and I'd love to repeat that experience. I'm looking forward to being back in the game with the right parent company and brand.
What is one book that you think everyone should read and why?
The Art of War. It is a book about achieving peace by striving to become one's highest self. Or maybe The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which is just a bunch of silly nonsense, but a lot of fun!
At ClearPath, we value relationships over everything because we know that great people are the secret sauce to success. We serve as ambassadors for growth-oriented brands in the food and service industry — connecting them with the leaders they need to build their businesses and change the world. Our collaborative, tenacious, and modern approach to talent acquisition empowers us to surface the right candidates — faster.