Journey from tennis
to company
cofounder to JLL

Arthur L. Russell forges an
extraordinary career path

As a kid growing up playing tennis in Maryland, Arthur L. Russell wasn’t thinking much past improving his backhand those hot summer days on the court. But to win in tennis, it takes skill, determination, stamina, and tenacity. Those attributes led to a full Arthur Ashe tennis scholarship in 9th grade to the Salisbury School, a prestigious prep school in Connecticut. Arthur didn’t know it then, but those skills and the opportunity to embrace a rigorous academic curriculum would translate into achieving success in business, and in life. 

Today, as Managing Director for JLL’s Mid-Atlantic Government Investor Services Practice Group, Arthur attributes his success to many things, but says there’s one person in particular who originally inspired him.

“As a child it was my mother. She was a single mother who also functioned, on some levels, as a surrogate father. A lot of my core values that I use today originated with her. She was unique in that nothing was impossible if you had the right attitude and a plan.”

We sat down with Arthur to learn more about his education, career path, insights on diversity, equity and inclusion and his advice for future Black leaders.

What do you do at JLL?

I serve as the Managing Director leading JLL's Mid-Atlantic Government Investor Services Practice Group, where I’m responsible for driving growth and overseeing the strategic direction of JLL’s government-focused landlord clients. My expertise and passion lie in creating strategic alliances, handling diverse situational challenges, and developing and implementing action plans.

Where did you go to college/university?

I received a Bachelor of Arts in Banking and Finance from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. For those who don’t know much about Morehouse, it’s a private, non-profit, liberal arts college that was founded in 1867. To this day, over 150 years later, Morehouse remains the only all-male Historically Black College or University…in the world! As an alumnus, I share this powerful collegiate experience with some amazing people like Martin Luther King Jr., Howard Thurman, Spike​ Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, David Satcher and Jeh Johnson.

What influenced your college choice?

A family mentor named Bernard Smith, a Morehouse alumnus, was the driving force behind my college decision. I was fortunate to have received a few athletic scholarships but there was no driving force to attend any of the colleges offering a free ride. As a mentor, Bernard had lived a professional and personal life that exemplified ideals I wanted to emulate. Those principals included: respected professional in his field of computer science, a level-headed approach to making personal decisions and a wide range of extracurricular pursuits.

After college, what made you decide to move from Atlanta to Philadelphia?

A job opportunity. Every finance major in the mid-1980s read Michael Lewis’s Liar’s Poker and that meant a career in investment banking. I pursued a financial analyst position in banking and chose Philadelphia (over New York City offers) due to the rare opportunity to directly support the firm’s CEO. The pay was not great, but the exposure and experience were incredible.

How did you make your way to JLL?

I am referred to as a “boomerang employee,” working at JLL only to leave and return at a future date. My gap between employment dates is 24 years.

After I left my job as a financial analyst in Philadelphia looking for a comparable position, I wanted more analytical seasoning. The LaSalle Partners DC office in the early 1990s had a group of four to five analysts that collectively supported the hotel, acquisitions, and investment management groups. My hiring, as I am told, was by mere chance. My resume for the financial analyst position was accidentally discarded in the trash and sitting on top of a pile of old resumes. An analyst saw it and the group took a chance; the rest is history.

You owned your own brokerage firm for several years. Tell us about that and what made you want to be an entrepreneur.

As a child maturing into a teenager, there were two things ingrained in my brain – attending college and owning a company. College was an expectation of my parents and the road to an entrepreneur was paved by my mother. She was a pacemaker and direct advertising sales executive for 30 years, but she consistently had a money-generating side interest or business. 

As a creature of habit and living with my mother for 18 years, it was not a matter of entrepreneurialism playing a role in my future but to what extent it would affect my career. Like my mother before me, I dabbled in entrepreneurialism. For me, those passion projects ranged from selling water filtration units in college to a part-time day trader while working a day job.

My transformation from employee to full-time entrepreneur was purely opportunistic. After leaving LaSalle Partners in 1995, I was hired by Hill International, a government contractor, to work as a project manager in the General Services Administrations (GSA) Region 11 Advance Acquisition Program (AAP), a fast-track lease procurement program. After one year as an employee, I explored an opportunity to move my position from Hill International to a small business serving as a subcontractor. With GSA's consent, my resignation was submitted, and the entrepreneurial phase of my career began.

As a result of excelling as a project manager under the AAP and GSA's interest in moving brokers offsite, GSA agreed to award my newly formed company, Capitol CREAG, LLC, a small business set-aside contract.

Capitol CREAG was the brainchild of myself and three additional partners. We moved the firm’s headquarters into a shared office space located at the Ronald Reagan Building. The firm grew from 4 partners and an initial contract of $750,000 in 2001 to 60 employees, five offices in the US, and average annual revenues of $6.5 million over the next 10 years.

Being an entrepreneur tells you a lot about yourself to yourself – the good and the bad. The jump to an entrepreneur came at the right time under the right circumstances and to make the same personal sacrifices to achieve the milestones above in this current business environment would be incredibly difficult.

Who inspires you in your community, professionally, or personally?

My sources of inspiration have evolved over time.

As a child it was my mother. She was a single mother who also functioned, on some levels, as a surrogate father. A lot of my core values that I use today originated with her. She was unique in that nothing was impossible if you had the right attitude and a plan. In the 1970’s, she was a national sales rep for Medtronic Pacemakers. She eventually left the company and moved us to Maryland so I could pursue my interest in junior tennis under a well-known coach and she could pursue a better work life balance for our family.

On a personal level it has been that family friend and mentor I mentioned earlier, Bernard Smith, who has guided me in choosing my college and provided personal guidance until a few years ago. Bernard had a penchant for having a great ear and good advice at the right time.

Finally, on a professional level, it is probably two people. Herman Bulls, the JLL Vice Chairman, and my stepdaughter, Brianna, the principal of a growing non-profit. In the mid 1990’s, Herman was an investment manager under the former LaSalle Partners Investment Management group, and I served as financial analyst. He applied the proper guidance (and, in some instances the necessary tough love) to instill some necessary life and work skills to be successful over the last two-plus decades.

The second person is my stepdaughter Brianna, who at the age of 26, is building a national advocacy platform for the betterment of young Black women called Justice for Black Girls. Her passion and focus for her cause are undeniable and the ability to build her organization’s credibility through a growing list of ivy league post graduate degrees, fundraising through notable non-profits and corporate 500 sponsors is impressive. Her ability to inspire is not so much her professional accomplishments but more so her ability to weave her caring nature into a genuine cause for humanity. 

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You’re a member of JLL’s Empower Black Professionals Network. What does the word “Empower” mean to you?

To be empowered is the desire to be treated fairly and with respect. Having access to necessary support (mentoring for new hires, opportunities for career advancement, etc.) and resources that allow me to contribute to the bottom-line success of an organization.

2020 has been a year marked by calls for racial justice. Would you care to share a time you experienced or were exposed to racial injustice and how you overcame it?

As a college sophomore in 1987, I returned home in suburban Maryland to spend my summer break. I had been using a family vehicle to get around and needed to use it one day to run some errands. The license plate on the front of the car had been reported missing but in Maryland cars can be driven if the rear license plate is in place.

While driving the car (with the missing license plate), I was pulled over by a police officer and asked to produce my license. He took the license back to his squad car and returned five minutes later with his gun holster unhooked. He requested I get out of the car and put my arms behind my back and I was told to lean against the car. I asked why handcuffs were being used and he stated that my last name did not match the owner of the car (the BMW was registered under my mom’s maiden name, however, our addresses were the same). When I offered to explain the mix-up, he took his gun out and told me not to say another word. A second policeman pulled up in front of my car and heard the arresting officer mention to the second officer that the car was stolen. A third officer crossed the grass median from the other side of the road, pulled up in front of my car and told me not to make any sudden moves and all of the decisions were made to protect everyone.

They took me to the precinct and reached out to the owner (my mother) to inform her the car had been found. She clarified that the filed report listed a stolen license plate not a car. I was released without an apology.

At that moment, I really could not quantify what was happening because it made no sense as to why the scenario went the wrong way so quickly. The officer’s body language and communication led me to believe he was going to make all the decisions without the facts or any interest in gaining more clarity. I tend to think through things intellectually and then emotionally. I was just plain scared and remained motionless once I was leaned against the car. Patience and facts were going to be my ally and it turned out to be the case.

Thinking back on that experience, do you have any advice for today’s black youth, as they navigate their own experiences?

My advice for young Black men and women that confront unconscious (or conscious) racial bias is the necessary development of how to react in such circumstances. I learned how to develop a thick skin by maintaining self-control and self-awareness of my circumstances and surroundings in racially charged moments. The use of sensory skills in difficult situations could be viewed as emotional intelligence.

Understanding how to invoke the necessary social skills to diffuse, inspire or even provide an opportunity to inform a friend, work associate or adversary in a potential hostile moment will lead to personal and professional growth.

What does an inclusive culture look like to you?

An inclusive culture starts with opportunity. From a societal and work perspective, there are programs and efforts to diversify our educational, work and living environments. These efforts only address designated problem areas within these three core areas of our culture with varying degrees of success. My sense is that a true opportunity from day one of a person’s birth is reaching one’s fullest potential without the impediments of race, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, etc.

Learn about our Empower Black Professionals Network and commitment to diversity and inclusion