Mark E. Russell ’83 of Raytheon Technologies Is a Member of the 2020 Class of the National Academy of Engineering
By Madeline Bodin
Walk into Mark Russell’s office, and the first thing that catches your eye is a credenza filled with hunks of metal. Do not mistake this collection for mere junk. The objects are all early attempts for some of the technology that has earned Russell 36 patents.
“If you get a patent, you’ve solved a hard problem uniquely,” says Russell, who holds the position of chief technology officer and senior vice president of Technology & Global Engineering at the newly formed Raytheon Technologies Corp. The hunks of metal are testaments to hard work and good engineering.
In February, Russell received another testament to his worth as an engineer and the skill of the teams he has led — his election into the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). According to the Academy, the election process takes a year and is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer.
The National Academy of Engineering, founded in 1964, is a private, independent, nonprofit institution that provides engineering leadership in service to the nation. The NAE website states that its mission is to “advance the well-being of the nation by promoting a vibrant engineering profession and by marshalling the expertise and insights of eminent engineers to provide independent advice to the federal government on matters involving engineering and technology.” The NAE operates under the same congressional act of incorporation that established the National Academy of Sciences, signed in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln.
“When I looked at the other people in the elected class, I was humbled by the kinds of people in the Academy and that my peers elected me,” Russell says. “This is a big deal.”
In 2012 Russell was named an AIAA Fellow by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and an IEEE Fellow by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Then in 2016, he was appointed board member to the Defense Science Board.
But the 36 patents and 16 peer-reviewed journal articles with Russell’s name on them are just a few of the ways that Russell has solved hard problems in his 37 years as an engineer.
Russell came to UMass Lowell after growing up near Syracuse, N.Y. “I wasn’t really exactly sure where my professional career would take me, but I was very sure that education was the first step,” he says.
He worked his way through school with a job designing and building microwave and millimeter wave receivers at a local firm. “It’s not easy to work, go to school, go to the laboratory, get homework done, get good grades. The curriculum at UMass Lowell helped me figure that out. It taught me about hard work.” He and his twin sister, Karen, were the first in their family to graduate from college.
After graduating from what is now UMass Lowell’s Francis College of Engineering with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1983, Russell immediately joined Raytheon Company, a defense and security firm headquartered in the Boston area. Russell attended graduate school at UMass Amherst through the Raytheon Advanced Study scholarship program, earning a master’s degree.
Over the next several decades, Russell worked in design engineering, operations, field testing, and project and program management for state-of-the-art radar, missile and communication systems for Raytheon Company. He managed production facilities, directed the company’s surface radar engineering work, and its Radar Design and Electronics Center. He was elected an officer of the company and named vice president of Engineering, Technology and Mission Assurance in 2008. In that position, he was responsible for 45,000 employees working on more than 8,000 programs.
In April, after Raytheon Company merged with United Technologies Corp. to form Raytheon Technologies Corp., Russell stepped into an even bigger role. He now leads the new company’s Technology & Global Engineering organization — guiding Raytheon Technologies’ overall technological vision and strategy, including its engineering operations and investments in research and development.
One of the things Russell took away from his undergraduate years at UMass Lowell were time-management skills. “People ask me how I scale up, managing tens of thousands of engineers and thousands of projects.” Part of the answer comes from his days managing work, school, labs and homework at UMass Lowell. “You have to decide what you’re going to focus on,” he says. As an executive, “You have to get enough details to make sure the job will be done well, while giving people the ability to make things work on their own.”
“The No. 1 thing I do is pick leaders,” Russell says. “If I pick good leaders, life gets easier for the company and the job. So, my ability to identify and grow talent is probably the No. 1 thing I’ve done in my career and for the company.”
That is one reason why he remains an active alumnus of UMass Lowell. He serves, for example, on the Francis College of Engineering Industry Advisory Board, and is an advocate of the close relationship his employer has with the university, which is seen in such initiatives as the Raytheon-UMass Lowell Research Institute (RURI), a joint research facility focused on the advancement of innovative technologies.
One of the hunks of metal on Russell’s credenza representing a hard problem is about the size of a couple of iPhones stacked together. It is an early try at what turned out to be one of the most successful automotive near object detection (NOD) systems, or blind-spot detectors, and one of his patents. The challenges, Russell says, were to make the system small enough and inexpensive enough to be part of the average car. “It was an interesting challenge,” he says, especially for someone who had designed “radar systems the size of the infield at Fenway.”
Eventually, the hunks of metal became a working solution. Even better, the same hardware could be used for every sized vehicle, while software made it work for the particular length and height of the vehicle, he says. “It was fun,” Russell says. “I love my job. Everything I do is a lot of fun.”
Even as things change with Raytheon Technologies and for Russell himself, he keeps those reminders of past challenges close by. Those hunks of metal let visitors know something important about how Russell works the minute they step into his office. Russell says, “My favorite saying here is, ‘I’ll know you’re a good engineer if you worked on a hard problem.’”