Guest Post - Jeff Johnson
So I was an analyst in the pressroom of the Chicago Tribune in 1986 (imagine the business was so strong we had a full time analyst supporting the pressroom!) when I first met Russ Newton.
I decided to have fun with Russ who was running 3rd shift. I was a little nervous as I didn’t know him, but essentially, I challenged the shift to improve their newsprint waste performance. I accused (somewhat unfairly) the 3rd shift of needing to show results. Russ immediately took on the challenge and I wagered that if they could improve their performance to a certain level, I would come in at shift’s end (around 4 am) and buy them breakfast/dinner.
Of course Russ met the challenge, and called me at 3 am or so on the morning of his achievement and I hauled my butt out of bed and drove 30 miles into the city and bought him and his team steak/eggs and beer (for them, not me).
From that night/morning on, we became close colleagues and while he made a slight detour to Virginia, we worked together in Chicago, Orlando, Ashland, Ohio (major story there), Los Angeles and San Francisco. Whenever I got to a new assignment and couldn’t figure out how to fix an area of the company, I asked Russ to come in and fix it….and he did.
We worked hard, laughed quite a bit and turned many operations and companies around. Russ was one of the smartest, most well read and best leader of people I knew. He fundamentally knew that the way to lead is a heavy use of the golden rule…treat others as you would like to be treated (still a good lesson for all of us). He also called BS on BS and that was invaluable to me. He also pointed out that he never thought he would rise to the executive level he did, but every time he got promoted, he realized he was just as smart or smarter than the people he was now working with. Another good thought for everyone is that 90% of success is just showing up and showing your stuff which Russ did consistently.
It is bittersweet that Melissa and I and the medical connections at Hearst helped Russ diagnose his disease. He is a trusted, valued friend and colleague.
He took in my kids one summer in Glendale, CA when they were in college and needed a place to stay over the summer and they still tell stories about the wisdom of Russ and the lessons he taught (or lived). This included buying them beer but “limiting” them to 3 friends or less!
Our family’s life is better for knowing Russ for 35 years, working together in 5 cities and we look forward to more adventures and stories in this life or beyond. Has someone warned Jesus what a pain in the butt he can be?
Jeff, Melissa, Eric, Brent and Zack Johnson