Success: Rudy Russo of Rudy & Kelly Academy

coastal virginia magazine success rudy russoOriginally from Pensauken, N.J., Rudolph “Rudy” Russo made his way to Hampton Roads by way of the Navy in 1952. His older brother, who was also a hairdresser, had an established salon in Norfolk. So when Rudy finished his four years in the Armed Services, he went to work with his sibling in 1956.

He worked there for 12 years before branching out on his own. He eventually took on a partner and expanded his business portfolio to 10 salons and a few beauty schools throughout the area. Today he is on his own, business partner-wise, with five salons and a Paul Mitchell-endorsed beauty school called the Rudy & Kelly Academy in Virginia Beach. As the owner and dean of the Academy, you can still find “Mr. Rudy” at the office every day except Thursday, which is the day he has set aside to work in the salon. He won’t tell you his exact age, but if you do the math, you can tell that he’s truly passionate about being an ambassador of beauty.

CoVa Magazine: Tell us about the Rudy & Kelly Academy.

Rudy Russo: When we started at Arrowhead Shopping Center in Norfolk, it was just the Rudy & Kelly Academy of Hair and Nails. We had what was called an “old school” method of doing things back then. After I bought my partner out, I was urged by an employee to update the business by looking into what the Paul Mitchell School System was offering. I was invited to Florida for a three-day seminar to learn about the school, and at the end decided to go into business with them. We’ve been affiliated with Paul Mitchell for about 11 years now.

CoVa: Sounds like that was a smart move.

RR: We’ve been very blessed, very fortunate. We have a tremendous staff of teachers here, what we call “Learning Leaders,” and it’s really a family business. My daughter is in charge of financial aid, my son-in-law does sales, my wife does finances, and my granddaughter works with getting the licenses and updating the training manuals. Plus the director and all of the Learning Leaders are like family. It’s really just one huge family.

CoVa: Has that been the secret to your success?

RR: I really believe so. If you look at an organization chart of our company, the owners are not at the top; the students are. I think if people know you care about them and that you communicate well with them, you’re going to be successful in what you do. Ever since I’ve been in business, all the students and all the Learning Leaders know that my door has been and always will be open to them.

CoVa: The Academy does more than just provide classroom instruction for the students. There are also services available for the general public.

RR: That’s correct. The students do nails, styling, perms, color ... you name it. It’s pretty much like a salon, only a little slower. But the students provide services mostly every day in addition to classroom instruction. We provide services during the day and night so we can offer flexibility that works well with everyone’s schedule.

CoVa: Besides having a brother here when you got out of the Navy, what kept you in Coastal Virginia?

RR: When my wife and I first moved here, it was very different from what we were used to. Coming from New Jersey, where we lived near the cities of Camden and Philadelphia, this was a big change for us. You have to understand that back then you could drive from Norfolk to the beachfront, and you wouldn’t pass anything but countryside. Obviously things have really grown since, but we still love the area, we love the people and we love the opportunities we’ve been able to cultivate here.

Read this article in full in the October issue of Coastal Virginia Magazine.

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