By: Adam White, @FOSAdam
A journey of 1,000 miles usually starts with a single step. Although these steps are important, it is usually the people that they are taken with that make the journey that much more enjoyable.
For Russell Houghtaling, Associate Athletic Director for Ideation at Oregon State Athletics that journey began a little over 10 years ago while a student at Washington State University.
“Washington State set me up for success because of the real world opportunities they gave me to not only succeed but to fail, all the while putting me around people and programs that invested in me,” he said.
After years of countless hours of work, long nights and exhausting weekends Russell’s passion for this industry hasn’t lost its luster.
“Like most folks that work in sports, I enjoy them and the passion that they bring out in people. I am a big believer that they bring out the best in people and they important role they play in personal growth and development.”
After stops at Western Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, the University of Washington and the University of Oklahoma, he had the opportunity to make the transition to Oregon State and lead the Ideation Team, a first of its kind in college athletics.
“I am just a pawn in a much bigger game. I was lucky enough to have gotten the role I am in now. The (Ideation Department) concept was in the planning for a while and I am fortunate to be apart of the first in-house ad agency in college sports.”
Russell credits the leadership of his department for their foresight and willingness to push the envelope in the creation of the Ideation Team.
“We are very fortunate to have an Athletic Director like Todd Stansbury, who urges us to be industry leaders as well as encourages us to be creative and forward thinking. Because of Todd’s desire for OSU to be at the cutting edge of college athletics, our Deputy AD of External Relations Zack Lassiter was empowered to act and create the Ideation Department.”
He also knows that the Ideation Team wouldn’t succeed without the amazing people around him, a group that he believes is one of the best in the country.
“The team that we have built on the external side is great. I would put their work and quality of character up against anyone in the country and I believe we would come out as one of the best. Luckily, we have great people in these roles. They are the gears that make what we do go.”
In his new role, he was able to hire half of his full-time team, a process that, when it comes down to it, relies on two things, the character of the person and if they are a lifelong learner.
“With them and with anyone that I hire the first thing I look at is what kind of person they are. Although tougher to judge in an interview setting, character is infinitely more important than skill set. The second thing I look for is someone who is willing to be a lifelong learner. At no point, can people stop growing if they want to be successful. The world is ever-changing and you have to always be evolving.”
While working, he credits a person’s ability to listen as one of the most effective workplace tools. “People’s ability to listen to one another and hear what other people are saying is paramount. In order to learn, you have to listen.”
Besides someone’s ears, he finds that a simple pen and paper are paramount in the office.
“A pen and paper are still such critical tools because our minds work differently when engaged with tactile experiences. Using a pen and paper is still an important way to think as well as activate the brain in different ways.”
With any new job, there are always challenges that come with the transition. For Russell, the challenges with transitioning from Oklahoma to Oregon State were mostly on the culture and fan side.
“With any transition, you are learning from one culture to another. Because so many things are different, it is about being nimble and being able to take what was excellent at your previous role and apply it to your current role in a capacity that fits and works seamlessly.”
Even though he never saw himself where he is today, partly due to the fact that 10 years ago his current position didn’t even exist, he has gained valuable experiences and lessons along the way. Many of these, in retrospect, he would share with his 20-year-old self if he could.
“I was simultaneously over-confident and afraid. I would tell myself that ‘it’s okay to be what you are.’ I was afraid that I would be found out as someone that wasn’t as talented, smart or capable as I presented myself to be. To overcompensate for this, I would act cocky and arrogant in order to cover up the fear I had. I would go back and tell myself that ‘it is okay to be yourself, be vulnerable and ask questions. It is okay to not know everything.’”
While the last three months have been a whirlwind for Russell as he made the move to a different city and a different role, he could not be more excited about everything that is happening within the Oregon State Athletic Department.
“I am most excited about a few of the student athlete initiatives we have on the horizon. Our AD is a true believer in us being in the education business and I look forward to seeing the initiatives on the internal side play out and really help our student athletes graduate and be successful years after graduation. As much as I am excited about the fun things we will do on the external side, I am mostly excited about the stories we are going to tell about what is going on for the internal side for our student athletes.”
While the Ideation Team is unique to Oregon State, Russell knows that it is going to take the power of everyone involved in the athletic department to drive the university and their student athletes forward.
“The Ideation Team is just another department within the athletics department. We are doing things that are very visible and very cool, we are doing them with the help of traditional departments, all of which are equally crucial to our success. We are a small part of the mix and, while we are unique to OSU, there are much bigger things going on in the athletic department than just what Ideation is doing. What is going to drive us forward is not just what one part of the department is doing, but what we are all doing together.”
Although his journey has been more than 1,000 miles one thing remains true, the people he has met, along with the experiences he has gained have molded him into who he is today, one of the most well-respected individuals in the industry.