Whether as an inspiring entrepreneur and leader of people, or as king of the one-liners with a love of tattoos, Nick Russell was a generous soul admired and adored within the Australian channel.
Following his tragic passing earlier this year, an outpouring of affection has flooded an industry mourning a unique and unforgettable man - one with knowledge and kind-heartedness in equal abundance.
Nick the individual was an affectionate blend of loyalty, generosity and warmth, with a dash of hospitality and a dollop of rib-tickling entertainment. Nick the professional was a creative thinker and outstanding commercial leader, shaped by a strong sense of business acumen and an unrivalled ability to create deep customer connections.
Combined, Nick was Nick – a husband, son, brother, friend and fearless leader. Selfless without question, cherished without hesitation.
For those who didn’t know Nick personally, the centrepiece of his industry success was the creation of Katana1, built in partnership with close friend and co-founder Ross Ogilvie.
Fitting that housed front and centre of the company website - appropriately under the banner of ‘why us?’ - is a commanding ‘why so serious?’ line of questioning. But don’t mistake this as rhetorical marketing, rather a rare and refreshing approach to customer engagement - 'if you leave, we’ll find you'.
Never has a company displayed such courage, confidence or charm and perhaps crucially, had the deep levels of expertise and wit to pull off such an approach.
The name Katana1 was born after a few drinks in 2011, aligned to the simple logic that clients are samurais, and a samurai is never without their trusted Katana.
“Building a company with Nick was like building Lego when you were a kid,” shared Ogilvie, speaking as director of Technology at Katana1. “Nothing was off-limits. Go where your imagination takes you. Smash it up and start again. Adapt and change it constantly. Love it to death and keep it proudly beside your bed. Most of all, protect it from being destroyed.”
From the first Katana1 office - aptly located in Nick's dining room - the decision was made between close friends and allies to “build a company we'd want to work at”.
“Trust your people, hire rock stars and don’t tell them how to do their job,” said Ogilvie, referencing the policy of gifting a Katana - otherwise known as a samurai sword - after a year of service. “Find clients you become friends with. If you have to work why not work with your mates? Design a branded t-shirt people actually want. Bring back the word 'rad’.”
As the co-custodian of such values, Ogilvie acknowledged that through the passing of Nick, Katana1 and the industry have lost a “best mate, superb storyteller and great leader”.
“We've lost a creative mind who would bring out the best in people and make any subject fun,” he added. “Nick opened minds and expanded views. He left us all laughing out loud. Thank you for your trust, guidance and love. You left us well equipped and we will continue on our great Katana1 journey in your memory.”
Aside from co-founding a leading technology provider in the form of Katana1, Nick’s unforgettable impact on the Australian market stretched back to the early 2000s, starting out as an account manager at Sun Microsystems before advancing into sales management roles at NetApp, followed by a short director stint at Bridge IT Solutions.
King of the one-liners, lover of tattoos
As a fellow Sun Microsystems alumna, Cathy Conroy cited Nick’s early focus and ambition as standout qualities, “soaking up everything that was thrown at him” to pass the graduate program and start a career in financial services, under the mentorship of Colin Timm and Stuart White.
Yet professional approach aside, an industry personality was blossoming.
“This was when he started his ‘love’ of tattoos,” said Conroy, now head of alliances across Asia Pacific and Japan at Cohesity. “One night the graduates convinced Nick to get one and after much time browsing through various brochures for inspiration, he ended up selecting the barcode on the front of the magazine which was inked on the inside of his lower leg.”
Naturally acting as a leading highlight for employees, customers and partners for many months to come, Nick then secured a role at NetApp and encouraged Conroy to follow suit.
“This was when Nick really developed his sales and leadership skills and was no longer viewed as a graduate,” she said. “He was able to show his flair for customer relationships, developing and maintaining a partner ecosystem and delivered revenue growth year-on-year, achieving club recognition each time.
“Most of this success was due to the way he could and would connect with people - he had an incredible ability to make people relax, get them to laugh and feel comfortable in his presence.”
After soon moving into commercial sales management at the storage vendor - and as a way to ensure his rapid rise up the corporate ranks was considered ‘believable’ - Nick would lie about his age, even to his own team members at times.
“He would always fear that customers would reject him due to the lack of greys on his head,” Conroy remarked.
As a constant devourer of business knowledge - reading executive books such as Blue Ocean Strategy - Nick committed to taking the plunge and launching Katana1 with Ogilvie.
“Fortunately, it wasn’t ‘Pie Face’ or a ‘Curves’ gym franchise, which did attract his attention for a couple of months,” Conroy joked. “Nick was very special; I miss him dearly and know there will never be anyone like him again in our industry.”
Having also first met Nick when he started out as a graduate working for Sun Microsystems, Geoff Wilson was paired up as part of a commercial team selling to Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
“It was a great time in both our careers and Nick was an awesome guy to work with,” recalled Wilson, now leading the commercial charge at Quinticon. “We got to know each other well and I gained a huge amount of respect for him.”
Upon launching Katana1, Wilson was asked by Nick to provide coaching on the art of setting up a services business yet over time, "it wasn’t too long before I was learning from him".
“I really respected Nick,” Wilson added. “He always made me laugh and always left me feeling inspired. While we didn’t spend a lot of time together over the more recent years, I will forever miss being able to catch up with him.”
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