Fireside Chat: Sarah Russell

Sarah Russell is a manager at NEI Group, the Secretary of the American Gem Society Young Titleholders and the Vice President of Membership for the Women’s Jewelry Association NY Metro Chapter. 

At NEI, Russell is responsible for company-wide technology strategies including overseeing web development. She also manages the hiring of personnel and company training. As a senior manager, Russell is involved in other key strategic decisions including merchandising and financial planning. 

With an impressive background and industry experience under her belt, we’re very excited to have her joining us as a panelist for JCK Tucson 2019’s Fireside Chat, Can Inspiration Influence Your Business? 

Before the show, we wanted to give you the chance to get to know her a bit more—see our conversation with her below to discover her favorite JCK memories, her favorite jewelry, what she’s most looking forward to at JCK Tucson and more:

Describe your day in numbers.
4-5 hours of interrupted sleep; 6 AM wake-up; 2 cups of coffee; 2 internal meetings (if I’m lucky); 1 Skype meeting to India; 50 chat messages sent to teammates across 5 platforms; 20 emails; 1 midday call with my husband; 2 hours pure work time; 25 social texts; 10 product photographs; 30 minutes practicing CAD; 3 volunteer boards to check in with; 3 home provisions ordered from Amazon; 7 diaper changes (on a good day); 5 bedtime stories; 30 minutes Peloton; 2 dinner times (one for kids and one for adults).

What is your background in the jewelry industry and how did you get your start?
I started my career in the tech industry. I worked in ads at Google for seven years after college. After earning my MBA part time at NYU, and managing a steady team for three years, I had the itch to do something more entrepreneurial. I saw a giant corporate organization on top of me preventing me from taking risks, but I was no longer on the ground level executing ad campaigns. My father started NEI Group (as Nanasi Enterprises) in 1964 and it felt like a safe place to come take risks and have bigger impact. I also happen to love rocks of all kinds. It was a good fit.

What is your favorite type of jewelry to wear? Do you have a special piece of jewelry that you always wear?
I love jewelry that feels natural and reminds me that I’m wearing wonderful pieces of the earth. I also just gravitate towards rings more so than earrings,  bracelets or necklaces. This has always been the case, but especially now that I have two kiddos who love to pull on any and all adornments. Yellow gold is my metal of choice. For religious and personal reasons my wedding band is a simple 1.5mm plain yellow gold band and I never take it off, ever. I just dip my whole hand in the ultrasonic every once in a while. (Kidding!)

What are your most memorable moments from one of our JCK events?
Walking around the Luxury show (where NEI exhibits every year) and finding vendors like L.J. West who let me play with natural wonders like purple, red and 100 carat diamonds. I love the camaraderie and I love being reminded of how cool our product is.

What are you most looking forward to in 2019?
If I’m being honest, more sleep (and more energy) as my babies grow up. But what will I do with that energy? Of course, enthusiasm for various projects ebbs and flows, but the one thing that I look forward to at work every day, without fail, is learning CAD. The first piece of jewelry I created myself, using CAD and stones I bought last year in Tucson, is in polishing as I type this. It’s been exciting to grow those skills and I’ll continue to grow them slow but steady.

What’s in store for NEI Group in the future?
Three things we’re focusing on this year as part of a longer term strategy: ongoing technology updates, a tighter product line and more relevant and regular communication. One habit I picked up at Google is to make almost entirely data-driven decisions. NEI is trying to head in that direction, but first we need tools in place to get the best data. That’s what I’m working on.

Can you tell us a bit about the NEI community and about the NEI team in more than six countries? How does the team continue to feel connected and united?
We’re actually mostly living in the USA. Our team includes people from Hungary, Poland, Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Israel, China and the U.S. but we live in New Jersey or New York now. I love our diversity, it unites us and makes us stronger. That said, we work with a handful of vendors in India for help with our web development and image retouching. We’re also migrating to an internal operating platform and working with developers in Hungary.

We use tools like Slack, Skype, and regular email to stay connected. I’m used to this type of remote work with Google, and honestly, it feels more efficient than people just walking into my office and having piecemeal conversations without context. Working remotely and using digital tools forces us to be organized, succinct, detail oriented and schedule meetings (calls) only when really necessary. I’m trying to bring “remote” project management tools and practices into our in-house operations, but changing habit is a process and I don’t want to do it at the expense of an open door culture.

What does it mean to you to be an American Gem Society (AGS) member and how does it align with your brand identity and company culture?
I’m so proud and grateful to be an AGS member for so many reasons. From the standpoint of NEI, our business is so much better off because of the supportive AGS network and the relationships we form. As a vendor in AGS we’re able to show that we operate ethically and competently, as one must in order to be a member of the American Gem Society. This speeds along and strengthens industry partnerships. On a personal note, a family business can feel like a lonely place sometimes, but I’ve made such great friendships working on the Young Titleholder committee and attending AGS events. My AGS friends help me thrive in my career and make my day-to-day world feel so much bigger.

Can you share with our readers a small glimpse of the topics and conversation that you think will prominent during JCK Tucson 2019?
I love JCK Tucson because it is the one JCK show that NEI attends to observe and to buy, and not to exhibit. The timing and energy at Tucson is unlike any other show of the year. We go to Tucson to be inspired and start each year with our heads in the game and with good energy. So…on that note, I really hope to be surprised by the conversation!

Learn more about this Fireside Chat here.
View the full JCK Tucson Events Schedule here.
Haven’t registered for JCK Tucson 2019 yet? There’s still time! Register here.

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