O’Neill alumnus Mike Russo (BSPA’84) sits in a conference room at Eli Lilly and Company’s global headquarters in downtown Indianapolis. The suit and tie he wears now is quite different than the uniform he wore during his time with the Marion County, Indiana Sheriff’s Department.
At Lilly, Russo is responsible for the physical security of all company facilities in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia Pacific, as well as the safety of Lilly travelers and expatriate employees. He also leads investigations into counterfeit, stolen, and diverted drugs in those areas.
Russo says his role at Lilly and his past in law enforcement may seem quite different, but they share a common thread.
“In police work and in my position at Lilly, there is a lot with gray area that most people don’t know how to handle,” he says. “I’ve always found it very challenging and rewarding to deal with something that no one else could.”
Russo says there’s another link between his past and present: without one career he may not have the other.
As an officer, Russo went through the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia, and attended the U.S. Secret Service Dignitary Protection program. He also took advantage of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Law Enforcement Educational Assistance Plan, which partially covered the cost of his education at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs in Indianapolis.
When the federal program wound down, he didn’t give up. Instead, he took a leave of absence from his job to finish his degree. That commitment to education paid off. He returned to the sheriff’s department as a senior-level administrator. A few years later he had a new offer: Eli Lilly was calling.
At Lilly, Russo joined the global security team. He developed an international security support program, took on counterfeit investigations, and was promoted to director. “I couldn’t have done any of that without the background and degree I had from O’Neill,” Russo recalls.
He says it was his O’Neill education that made him a well-rounded person, combining the foundation of criminal justice, corrections, and law enforcement administration, with the fundamentals of grant writing, government operations and an understanding of environmental issues.
“When I’m talking to government agencies around the world, I have a better understanding of some of their problems because of what I learned at O’Neill,” Russo explains. “If you embrace the different courses O’Neill offers, you can connect them with many parts of life, including how the government and the world works. It broadens your skillset and appreciation for things that matter, and explains what you may have previously thought was unexplainable.”
To give back to the school that he says set him up for global success, Russo focuses on the future. He conducts mock interviews with students and serves on the Distinguished Alumni Council to provide practical feedback from the working world. After all, he says, that cross-sector experience helped prepare him to help keep one of the world’s top pharmaceutical companies and consumers safe.
“I’ve seen the world many times over with Eli Lilly. I’ve met fantastic people all over the world and I couldn’t have done it without the background I got at O’Neill and the lessons that prepared me for a different way of thinking and a better way of relating to people of all nations.”