When Russell Walters began pursuing his MBA degree in 2015, he wanted a seat in the C-suite and wanted the business knowledge and credentials to get there.
This month, J.M. Burguieres Co., Ltd., (JMB) announced its Board of Directors has chosen Walters as the company’s new president and CEO.
“In my new role, I am responsible for leading the 145-year-old family-owned land-holding company in growth and financial success in the business lines of ecological offsets, agriculture, and minerals,” Walters says.
“This will consist of building on a solid business foundation, created by my predecessors, to increase earnings and growth of the JMB family of companies by seeking out new business opportunities, overseeing all aspects of corporate dealings, and evaluating the progress and resources necessary to achieve that success."
To achieve his goals as an executive, Walters is leveraging more than a decade of management experience, ecological expertise, and deep knowledge gained through the MBA degree program online through UL Lafayette.
Ecology to Business
In 1993, Walters graduated with a bachelor’s degree in wetland ecology from Nicholls State University, where he played guard for the Colonels football team for four seasons.
“I worked for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) right out of college and got into the natural resource business line,” he says. “It led to land management and other ventures throughout the course of my career. That’s the basis for what I do.”
After seven years at USGS, Walters was a project manager for Fenstermaker, multi-disciplinary consulting firm, for five years and a manager for regulatory and ecological services and vice president during a six-year stint at John Chance Land Surveys. Walters joined JMB Companies in August 2011.
When Walters enrolled at UL Lafayette in August 2015, he was in the on-campus MBA program, taking classes at night for a few prerequisites he needed as a non-business undergraduate. But attending in person proved to be a logistical challenge.
“It was great but difficult because of the demands of my job and family life,” he says. “The director of the MBA program, Mr. Viguerie, reached out to me in my second semester to tell me about the new Online Program. It almost sounded too good to be true but seemed to be a good fit, so I switched.”
The flexibility Walters gained by pursuing his degree online served him well personally and professionally.
“My favorite part of the MBA online at UL was the flexibility that it gave me with the other commitments I had in my life,” Walters says. “I was concerned that I would miss the opportunity to interact with other students. That was not the case. The courses are designed well to have lots of collaboration.”
Connecting, Growing Online
The online format also allowed Walters more time to spend with his wife, Amy, and their two children, Claire, now 21, and Reid, 17.
“My friends and family were very supportive,” he says. “Graduation at the Cajundome was a good experience, and I am glad that I was able to attend. One of the reasons I felt it was important to go back to school for an MBA was to lead our kids by example. We sometimes do our homework together.”
Despite not having been in school for many years, Walters had no trouble switching from a brick-and-mortar setting to an online environment.
“The transition to online was smooth,” he says. “UL Lafayette does a good job of integrating all of the technology where you can communicate and interact with fellow students, as well as professors and instructors.”
IBUS 540: International Business and MGMT 590: Policy Formulation, Strategy, and Administration were Walters’ two favorite courses, although the majority of the information in the online MBA curriculum was applicable to his career.
“The first course gave you a real diversified look at international business,” he says. “I especially liked the capstone course because it was a culmination of everything we did. The program, as a whole, gave me a better understanding of why senior management does certain things a certain way. That was the biggest takeaway. It was a fantastic program.”
Walters was also impressed with the responsiveness of the UL Lafayette faculty and the interaction he had with his classmates in the online format.
“The professors in the online program were better than any other professors I ever had,” he says. “It was amazing to me that I was able to do group projects with a small group of people with basically no direct conversation. It was all online with all of the integrated technology. It was pretty cool.”
An unexpected application of Walters’ online student experience was adapting in the face of COVID-19.
“Some of the things that were necessary to be successful in the online MBA program were being extremely organized and open to using the latest computer technology for learning, writing, and collaboration with instructors and project team members,” Walters says. “These skills became very important for adapting to remote business during the pandemic. Also, the MBA program provided me with a broad array of business fundamentals and increased my ability to apply and communicate them verbally and in writing.”
Trust and Teamwork
As a leader, Walters believes in the power of teamwork.
“Having an inclusive management style that encourages and facilitates progressive thinking by all levels in an organization is key to management success,” he says. “This requires a manager to have the insight to set clear goals and expectations without dictating every move. Good listening skills and the ability to ‘loosen the grip’ are also important factors in this success.”
Walters has seen that approach regularly pay dividends, which keeps his job fresh and exciting.
“The most fulfilling thing about my work is having the privilege to work with my team,” he says. “As the leader of a growing operation in a highly competitive business, we often find ourselves in some very challenging situations. Having team members who believe in what we do and who are willing to get out of their comfort zone to achieve success, despite adversity, is priceless to me.”
After earning his MBA degree, Walters’ goal was to become CEO. Having achieved his goal, he hopes to build on JMB’s strong history while fostering a culture of growth and trust among his team.
“I hope to build on the solid foundation that my predecessors have built over the last 145 years to protect the shareholder assets, expand the business in new directions, and increase the profitability of our existing business lines,” Walters says.
“Also, I hope to take the experience and education that I have gained in my career and share it with my team. In my opinion, being a good leader is about how well you can communicate your vision, knowledge, and ideas to your team. Gaining the trust of my team, clients, and stakeholders is the goal. When I achieve that the rest will fall into place.”
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