The Inspiring Trajectory of Airbus Exec Krista Russell ’06 ’08MNM

Like many Knights, Krista Russell, Deputy General Counsel for Airbus OneWeb Satellites, desired more out of life than what she could find in her hometown.

Growing up in Pittsburgh as one of two children, Russell was a first-generation college student, and she wanted “to find a place to write her own story.”

Never mind that Russell kind of “boomeranged” back to the Steel City for a period of years after graduation, she is now back in Florida for the rest and best chapter of her life and raising a whole generation of mini Knights.

‘Unintentionally a Knight’

“I must confess my UCF story is a little bit unintentional,” Russell says. She had applied to the University of Tampa and the University of Central Florida during her senior year. The University of Tampa is a private university with about the same enrollment as Russell’s high school. UCF, of course, is UCF.

Despite being told her entire life that she should or would be an attorney, Russell was set on entering the music business; she wanted to combine her love for the arts with her natural affinity for business and entrepreneurial spirit by pursuing a double major in music and business.

Even though she had committed to the University of Tampa, it was just three weeks before the semester started when she had a change of heart. Russell describes the overwhelming feeling of wanting to “ be a small fish in a big pond, rather than a big fish in a small pond.”

Russell, all of 18 years old at the time, called UCF and said, “Hey, is there any chance you might still take me? I think I’ve made the wrong choice.” Her admissions director made a few calls and told her to pack her bags later that day.

In 2003, there were no virtual tours, and it was still difficult to find resources online. Nonetheless, Russell showed up a few days before the semester started, found a place to live, and managed to get registered for classes.

She had been an excellent student in high school which probably played a big part in UCF’s quick decision to allow her to enroll last minute.

“I missed out on some opportunities,” Russell says. “Because of my very late enrollment, I missed out on scholarship money and a chance to be in the Honors College, LEAD Scholars, or other similar opportunities for high-performing students. My first day of classes was the first day I ever set foot on campus, and I was trying to figure it all out on my own about 1100 miles away from my friends and family.”

She did find time for some fun, however, and recalls her time at UCF fondly.

kids and parents
Krista and her family bleed Black and Gold.

“My college years were atypical to say the least,” Russell says. “After my first semester, I had to pay my own way through school. I worked full time for a large church in Winter Park and started my own non-profit teaching voice and piano lessons to children and directing children’s musicals throughout Orlando. I was working 40-60 hours a week, depending on the season and how many shows I was involved with.  While everyone was enjoying football games and weekend events and parties, I was working. And despite missing so much, I had no regrets.”

Even though she missed out on some of the college experience, she did find a lot to do on campus.  She was a lifelong participant of martial arts, and met many of her friends came from the taekwondo club on campus. She also participated in Phi Alpha Delta, a dance club on campus, and mock trial.

Never Planned on Becoming an Attorney

About a year into her pursuit of a joint business and music degree, Russell realized that it wasn’t the music business that fueled her passion, but the intersection of two areas that she had an affinity for. She adjusted course and shifted her major to Legal Studies, although still having no intention of going to law school or becoming a lawyer.

In fact, she recalls sitting in classes semester after semester and her legal studies professors polling students about who was taking the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) or needed recommendation letters. Russell never once raised her hand.

“I thought that it was going to be really hard to get a job if I had the same degree as all these other people who were graduating from one of the largest schools in the country, which is why I chose the legal studies major over the business major,” Russell says. “I figured everybody thinks lawyers are smart, so it will be easy to stand out when I look for a job post-graduation in Business, plus it will make my parents happy. And I figured that as a lawyer, I could still work on my business. I still didn’t want to go to law school though.”

So, she stayed at UCF and – inspired by her own 501(c)(3) – was accepted into the master of nonprofit management graduate program which she completed in a year-and-a-half.

Around that same time, one of her friends – another UCF grad – was studying for the LSAT. Russell quite literally signed up to take the LSAT just to try to beat his score… which should tell you everything you need to know about her competitive edge.

It was mostly in fun, Russell recalls. She was motivating him to study, and just by studying for the exam, realized that she had an interest in the subject.

“I remember the day the scores came out. I was working out at the NASCAR restaurant at Universal Studios,” Russell says. “I called my mom because my phone didn’t have internet access to check my scores. She logged in and told me my scores, and I did very, very well on the test. So much so that law schools everywhere were trying to recruit me.”

Russell ended up going to Seton Hall University in New Jersey because she wanted to be in the greater NYC area. As to her friend? He had been waitlisted by Seton Hall, and Russell called the admissions office to tell them if they wanted her to attend, then they would need to take her friend, too.

You might not be surprised to learn that Russell negotiates for a living these days.

Despite her performance on the LSAT, Russell openly admits she was not the best law student.

“I wasn’t great,” she says. “Like, bottom half of the class, not great. I knew going in that I loved business, and I also knew I wanted nothing to do like working in a big law firm or anything like that. I was going to have to bend if not break the first-year law student rule and work in order to be able to afford to live, and so my priorities were a little different than traditional law students. I was hunting for jobs from the first day.”

Russell found a natural fit with her interests during law school. She worked for the concession and merchandising arm of The Shubert Organization, America’s oldest professional theatre company and the largest theatre owner on Broadway, through much of law school.

“I had different jobs,” Russell recalls. “I worked at a real estate investment trust reading documents before the CEO signed them, I sat in war rooms for earnings calls, and just got a lot of exposure to different businesses. I worked at Sony Music for the better part of a year and at a second career sports agency as well. I drove former NHL players around to gigs, guest hosted a Sirius XM radio show from time to time and negotiated tons of broadcasting and appearance agreements.

One of the the biggest opportunities she had came from her work on Broadway sourcing products, with the company sending her to China to learn how to manufacture polycarbonate plastic products.

Following graduation, she began her in-house practice working her way up the GC ladder at different companies; With her background in business, Russell is extremely adept at foreshadowing consequences. She talks to clients as not just as a seasoned attorney, but also as a businessperson who understands the risks they are facing. Russell worked for FedEx for five years as a senior attorney in its legal department and is currently at AirBus as a deputy general counsel, the penultimate legal role for the in-house community.

At her operating company within Airbus, the mission is to design and mass manufacture satellites for low-earth orbit.

A fun way that Russell introduces herself these days is, “I’m a #spacelawyer,” Russell says.

“I spend my time doing supply chain transactional work and chasing deals, and that’s really what I’ve always wanted to do. I just didn’t know that being a lawyer was going to be the way that I got there.”

It’s definitely the coolest title she’s had since she’s started her legal career, but it’s only one of her four jobs currently, she laughs.

As for her other jobs: Russell has been an adjunct professor at the University of Miami School of Law for the past three years, where she contributes to a first-of-its-kind transactional skills program. She runs a small executive coaching business specifically geared for in-house lawyers or those who wish to transition to in-house work. She partners with online legal services providers who reach out to her to test a certain product, after which she will talk on behalf of the product, almost like a legal influencer.

Russell is also sought after to speak on all topics- both on her substantive practice and other topics relative to in-house counsel- around the country. You can regularly find her guesting on podcasts and speaking at industry events.

Through her rise in her legal career (that almost didn’t happen!), Russell continues to focus on the art of the business.

“I really look at myself as a problem solver,” Russell says. “Whatever that thing was that was inside me at an early age that allowed me to convince UCF to admit me just a few weeks before the semester started, has apparently served me well. Maybe, my nontraditional path throughout my time at UCF – or just figuring out my next steps – can serve as an inspiration to someone who doesn’t have it all figured out yet. I think that kind of uncertainty is part of our collective humanity that ultimately connects us all.”

Russell welcomes connections from UCF students, particularly from the Legal Studies program, and looks forward to one day being part of one of the UCF Space Games as a legal studies representative working in space!

kids and parents on big ucf chair
Russell lives in the Central Florida area with her husband, Jamie, and their Brady Bunch- Kaylee (16), Enzo (11), Aston (7), Nico (7), Gabriella (6), Leandra (5), and Milana (4).


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