Distinguished graduates say adaptability is the hallmark of good leadership in the modern age

Verizon’s Lynn Cox (’98), left, and Joseph Russo (’95) spoke on the subject of leadership in remarks at a March 25 gathering in Hartman Hall.

SUMMARY: After long careers helping run telecommunications giant Verizon, Lynn Cox (’98) and Joseph Russo (’95) return to offer lessons on leadership.

During a brief stopover at James Madison University on March 25, Verizon senior executives Lynn Cox (’98) and Joseph Russo (’95) shared some battle-tested perspectives on leadership at a gathering of more than 200 students, faculty and staff in the Hartman Hall Forum.

It marked the renewal, on an in-person basis, of the Business Insights speaker series launched in a virtual format four years ago. Fortuitously, Cox and Russo’s Harrisonburg interlude coincided with the sudden emergence of vacancies in several key leadership positions at JMU.

Cox, who as a JMU undergraduate distinguished herself as the top Marketing student in her class, was in 2022 appointed chief network officer for Verizon, the multinational telecommunications conglomerate. She joined the company straight out of college, and has served it in many different capacities over the course of a 26-year career, during which she has been required to relocate on nine separate occasions.

Since her promotion to CNO, Cox has been responsible for all planning, design and implementation activities involving the company’s global voice, data, IP and wireless networks. She oversees the work of the 7,500-plus engineers engaged in the continuing expansion of these networks, and the telco capital-expansion program she heads is the world’s largest — delivering a steady stream of new technologies and capabilities to Verizon’s customers.

Asked to name the quality JMU’s representatives should prioritize above all others in its pursuit of new senior leadership, Cox summed it up in a single word: “Adaptability.”

“You need someone who thrives amid change,” Cox continued.

“You also want someone,” she said, “who pursues excellence — who’s constantly raising the bar, constantly challenging their teams ... to deliver beyond what they think they’re capable of.”

Cox further described her ideal senior leader as “someone who’s a source of inspiration, someone people will follow.”

Russo, also a stellar Marketing student while at JMU, has likewise reinvented himself several times since departing Harrisonburg nearly 30 years ago with his diploma in-hand. His first job was an internship with Bell Atlantic —Verizon’s “Baby Bell” predecessor. Fast-forward to 2024, and teams led by Russo are responsible for all technology and product development at Verizon. This includes building, maintaining and securing the nation’s leading wireless network and a vast IP network which serves customers in more than 120 nations around the world.

Especially notable has been Russo’s role in the development and successful launch of FiOS, the nation’s largest residential fiber-broadband service. It delivers industry-leading internet speeds to millions of homes in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

Russo took a more reflective tack when asked if he had any leadership advice to offer. “I’m a firm believer,” he said, “that whatever the company or institution, needs will vary as time goes by.”

For this reason, Russo said, it is important that the university’s representatives be very clear in their own minds about the needs that must be filled at this moment in JMU’s history. The needs assessment must take precedence over every other task connected with the search, he said, and occur “even before you start looking for a particular person who may or may not meet those needs.”

Russo endorsed Cox’s emphasis on adaptability as being consistent with the style of leadership required in the 21st century.

“It’s more important than ever now,” he said. “That, and a willingness to change and to drive change.”

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by David Doremus

Published: Monday, April 1, 2024

Last Updated: Thursday, April 11, 2024

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