GROSS POINTE FARMS, Mich. Thomas F. Russell, former chairman and CEO of Federal-Mogul Corp., whose numerous corporate accomplishments and community involvement marked him as a true leader and proud member of America’s Greatest Generation, has died. He was 88.
Russell courageously fought pancreatic cancer for 18 months and died peacefully on Wednesday, June 20, at St. John Hospital in Detroit.
A native Detroiter, Russell joined Federal-Mogul in 1942 as a mail boy and following service with the U.S. Army in World War II, returned to the company as a cost accountant. Russell attended Rutgers University and graduated from the University of Detroit in 1948.
Russell’s career with Federal-Mogul spanned more than 40 years. From 1946 through 1967 he served in various financial staff and line positions. He was elected vice president of finance in 1964 and in early 1968 became vice president and group manager in charge of the aftermarket sales operations for the corporation. He served in that capacity through 1969 when he was elected executive vice president. A member of the board of directors since 1968, Russell became president in 1972, CEO in 1975 and chairman in 1976.
Russell was instrumental in leading Federal-Mogul to new sales and profitability levels in the 1980’s through his aggressive yet personal management style. He was nicknamed the “velvet hammer” by trade union rank-and-file members for his populist appeal and his tough yet highly personalized approach to management.
“He prided himself on his personal touch and he banked on it,” said Bill Adams, former Federal-Mogul president. “Tom’s goal was to be the world’s No. 1 low-cost, high-quality maker and distributor of automotive, industrial and aerospace parts.”
In a November 19, 1984, Detroit Free Press article, employees said that Russell knew] everyone by name, from the maintenance man to the cafeteria workers.
“He’s not standoffish, he doesn’t sit in an ivory tower. He’s involved not just making an appearance and he’s a bit of a character,” said Allen Jahnke, then a systems and program manager for Federal-Mogul. “He makes a habit of wearing paisley pants to golf outings. You wouldn’t know he’s a chairman when he walks through the building. He just doesn’t fit the stereotype.”
After retiring from Federal-Mogul in 1989, Russell served as chairman of Cross & Trecker Corp. and St. John Hospital and Medical Center, later St. John Health System. He was also a director of Comerica Inc. and Comerica Bank of Detroit, Consumers Power Co., CMS Energy Corp., A.O. Smith Corp., Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Renaissance and the Highway Users Federation. He was a member of the Advisory Board of Directors of the Detroit Science Center, and is a former chairman for the Partnerships for Education Task Force.
Russell was a member of the Executive Board of the Detroit-area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, serving as president in 1986. He was a member of the Board of Directors, Executive Committee, Capital Fund Division Committee and vice president of the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. In 1983, he was chairman of the Torch Drive and the Detroit Freedom Festival.
He also served on the Board of Trustees of the Institute for Economic Education, Committee for Economic Development, Citizen’s Research Council of Michigan and Business/Education Alliance for Productivity and Innovation Inc. He further served as a member of the Investment Policy Advisory Committee to the United States Trade Representative as well as the Select U.S./Canada Trade Panel.
Russell received numerous awards throughout his career, including the Automotive Hall of Fame’s Distinguished Service Citation Award in 1990. He was a recipient in 1985 of the President’s Cabinet Award for the University of Detroit, which in 1984 named him “Alumnus of the Year.” He also was one of Northwood Institute’s “Michigan Industrialists of the Year” in 1982 and earlier received that school’s “Outstanding Business Leader” award.
Russell’s survivors include his two sons, R. Brandon and Scott K.; and four grandchildren, Kelli, Blake, Tommy and Lauren.
A funeral service is set for 10 a.m. Saturday, June 30, at St. Paul’s on the Lake Catholic Church in Grosse Pointe Farms. Visitation is at 9:30 a.m.
Memorial contributions can be sent to:
Lymphoma Research Fund Acct. #444545
Wayne State School of Medicine, Dept. of Medicine Development & Alumni Relations
101 E. Alexandrine
Detroit, MI 48201
The Van Elslander Cancer Center at St. John Hospital.