Dictated by rigorous schedule

By Nichole Seguin

At 5 o’clock every morning, Oakland University President Gary Russi starts his day with a workout at the Recreation Center, sometimes before it’s open for general use.

By 6:30, he is done exercising and begins to chisel away at his busy schedule, planned months in advance.

From 6:30-7:45 a.m., Russi, who has been president since 1996, is using his time to prepare for the upcoming day. He’ll review names of people, trying to remember as many as possible.

His days consist of donor lunches and dinners, an average of 250 emails — most get a response — advocate and legislative events, golfing when time permits and lots of interaction and handshakes.

“Those donor events are really important,” he said. “It’s all about personal relationships.”

Every day, he consumes locally-produced Robin’s Nest prickly pear protein bars and Light Muscle Milk. At events, he tries not to fill up on food in preparation for the other events he has scheduled for the day.

“I can’t eat all of it,” he said. “Plus I’ve been a vegetarian for 15 years, so sometimes the selection is sparse.”

At night, Russi has an even stricter plan. He tries to get at least 15 minutes of quiet time before he goes to sleep, which is typically by 11:00.

“I try to do two things,” he said. “One is trying to decompress. In other words, no music, no radio and no Internet. If I can get that time, I can collect my thoughts. During that quiet time I also try to stretch. It’s just a little part of the day that is very quiet and permits me to reorient myself … because I’m able to do it, I don’t take heavy loads of information when I’m going to sleep, so I sleep good. I try to at least get that 15 minutes to clear my mind and it seems to work for me.”

A graduate of Southwest Oklahoma State University, Russi received his undergraduate degree in pharmacology.

From there, he went on to receive his Ph.D. of philosophy in pharmacology and toxicology from the University of Kansas.

“My home is in Ohio,” Russi said. “I have family from Canton, Ohio, where I was actually born. My parents then drove me down to Oklahoma to work.”

Without a single pair of jeans in his wardrobe, Russi said he owns  approximately 16 or 17 suits and twice as many ties.

“If I’m at basketball games or student events, I’m mostly seen in casual clothes, specifically Grizz Gear,” Russi said. “I wear sweatshirts and hoodies, but never get the  opportunity to wear jeans.”

Russi, who is married to Beckie Francis, the head coach of the women’s basketball team, doesn’t get to spend much time with her because of his schedule.

“I’m out all of the time and she’s got a lot going on in her own profession,” he said.

For him, dinner at home once a week would be highly unusual.

When he isn’t abiding by a rigorous schedule, Russi enjoys mountain biking at local parks and visiting restaurants like the Rochester Chop House, where he said the service is impeccable and they pay great attention to detail.

When he’s not busy meeting people and attending dinners, he’s hosting his own events and gatherings.

This past week, Russi pitched his “Creating the Future II” plan to an audience of 400 business professionals, students, administrators, alumni, government officials and civic leaders. The event focused on creating OU’s vision for the year 2020 and how the school can bring prosperity back to Michigan, as well as creating a brand for the university.

“I’m very happy with how things are turning out,” Russi said. “There is a lot of participation and people have been coming up to me frequently, expressing how much they enjoyed it.”

Most students don’t get the opportunity to formally meet with Russi, but he is available to meet with any students so long as they arrange to do so in advance, according to Ted Montgomery, director of media relations.

“You can always rub elbows with Dr. Russi,” Montgomery said. “If you want to talk or see him, you can arrange it. You just have to do it within an adequate amount of time … we try to give as much access as possible.”

Though he hardly ever gets vacation time or weekends off, Russi said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I enjoy being busy,” he said.