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Legacy Spotlight: The Russell Family

Updated: Apr 24

By Rachelle Koenig, Pastorelle Marketing Group

This series aims to capture a moment in time, talking to airport concessionaires about how their lives and businesses are being transformed by the coronavirus pandemic.


In the Russell family, tenacity runs deep. Rooted in Atlanta and raised on the principles of a strong work ethic, this multi-generational family is no stranger to adversity and reinvention. Their company, Concessions International (CI), is a shining example of success within the ACDBE program—a program founded, in part, by the family patriarch. While still minority-owned, CI has graduated from the Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) program and has since been “paying it forward” by helping other ACDBEs climb the ladder of success through mentorship and partnership. The family has also been instrumental in grooming young leaders with the founding of its Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (RCIE), which is meant to be a driving force in shaping the future of Atlanta and the nation through corporate and civil stewardship. This family philosophy of giving back and building better started with late Herman J. Russell, a self-made man and successful real estate and construction entrepreneur, who had had already been deeply involved in the civil rights movement, forging relationships with prominent politicians and civil rights activists in his hometown of Atlanta. In 1979, he seized on a rare opportunity: become a minority joint venture partner in a major airport concessions program to learn the business and help create more opportunities for minorities in the industry. From there, he formed CI and helped pioneer the same ACDBE program that gives minority businesses an open door to the industry today. Today CI has 40 restaurants, from cafes to full service in eight of the top U.S. airports. Herman J. Russell passed in 2014, but his legacy lives on in his companies. His daughter, Donata Russell Ross became president and CEO of CI with her brothers remaining part of the business. Now, one might think growing up one of Herman J. Russell’s children would guarantee a path to success, but the Russell children were given no special breaks. They were raised to understand the value of hard work, integrity and respect for all people.

"I was taught to always be honest, to do the right thing, and to put people first."

Donata Russell Ross

CEO/President, Concessions International

As Russell Ross navigates being an airport concessionaire during the COVID-19 pandemic, she relies on the foundation of strength and perseverance her father put in place over 40 years ago. CI has a close-knit culture with so many employees having been with the company for decades. Putting them on furlough because of the pandemic has been one of the most heartbreaking decisions Russell Ross has had to make.


“Our employees are family. They are my sisters, brothers, elders and children. There is no easy way to tell a family member I can’t have them come to work today, and I fear for their health at this time. When they were working at the airport, we could see their smiles every day and know they were okay. We look forward to bringing every one of them back.”

Donata Russell Ross

CEO/President, Concessions International


Mentorship is a key component to Russell’s leadership. She mentored her niece, Mori Russell, who assumed a business development leadership role at CI and thrived by revitalizing the company’s presence at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and winning a bid for the largest concessions space at that airport. Mori’s leadership extends beyond CI. She plays an active role at RCIE as well as family non-profits, CI Cares and Russell CARES, she is on the Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC) and the YMCA of Metro Atlanta Ambassador Boards of Directors, and she is among several young new leaders in Atlanta being featured in local media.

“My aunt and my family have taught me to surround myself with smart people who are the best at what they do and learn from them, consider new ideas as real possibilities, and be willing to think differently than I’ve thought and try things I wouldn’t necessarily think to try,” Mori says.

Russell Ross and the entire Russell family are optimistic about the future of airport concessions and hopeful that their representatives and airport partners will do what they know is right to save the travel experience for customers.

Together, we will overcome.



About the Author

Rachelle Koenig, Pastorelle Marketing Group


I’ll admit it. I’m a word nerd. I love arranging words to shape how people think about products and services and motivate them to take action. My 20+ years of experience across industries and technology platforms make me extremely adaptive. What’s more, my work ethic is old school. I take pride in what I deliver and getting it done on time and within budget. I’m also a people whisperer. You can drop me blind in any room and I’ll come out with a pile of business cards and a few new friends.

My work has appeared in Chicago Magazine, Chicago Baby Magazine, Naperville Magazine, Make It Better (formerly North Shore Magazine), TribLocal, Ledger Sentinel, Positively Naperville, Patch.com and on Castle Connolly.com, the leading on-line resource for recognizing top hospitals and physicians.

Specialties: Campaign development; Creative solutions; Strategic planning and tactical execution; Reputation management; Crisis management; Writing for print, web, social and multimedia (including video scripts and ghost blogging), press releases, business documents and annual reports; Networking; Project and personnel management.

View Rachelle Koenig's LinkedIn here.

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