Rusty Rueff on How Purdue Community Impacted His Successful Career

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This is a podcast episode titled, Rusty Rueff on How Purdue Community Impacted His Successful Career. The summary for this episode is: <p>In this episode of This Is Purdue, we’re talking to College of Liberal Arts alumnus Rusty Rueff, a philanthropist, investor and advisor.&nbsp;</p><p><br></p><p>Listen in as Rusty discusses art’s crucial relationship to humanity, leading the company Electronic Arts through the video game industry boom, his role in President Barack Obama’s second presidential campaign and how his mother’s mantra, “tomorrow will go a lot better if you lay your clothes out the night before,” guided his life and career.&nbsp;</p><p><br></p><p>Recognizing that many of his own life’s fortunes stem from relationships, experiences and opportunities born out of Purdue, Rusty also discusses why he feels compelled to give back to the University and what the Boilermaker community means to him.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p><br></p><p>You don’t want to miss this episode!&nbsp;&nbsp;</p>

Kate Young: Hi, I'm Kate Young and you are listening to This is Purdue. The official podcast for Purdue University. As a Purdue alum and Indiana native, I know firsthand about the family of students and professors who are in it together. Persistently pursuing and relentlessly rethinking, who are the next game- changers, difference makers, ceiling breakers, innovators? Who are these boiler makers? Join me as we feature students, faculty, and alumni, taking small steps toward their giant leaps and inspiring others to do the same.

Rusty Rueff: When you have a strong work ethic and you have to work for what you get, you're appreciative, you don't feel entitled. I believe that's part of the product that Purdue puts out.

Kate Young: Rusty Rueff has had quite an interesting career path.

Rusty Rueff: I guess the easiest way to refer to me is I am an investor, advisor, director, in startup ventures here in Silicon Valley. And then I also fashion myself to try to be as generous as I can philanthropist. I wear a lot of different hats. They're fun hats.

Kate Young: As Rusty just said, he's an investor and advisor. He's a philanthropist. He's founded companies and held CEO and EVP positions for several global entities. He serves on multiple corporate boards, including Glassdoor and he's chairman emeritus of the Grammy foundation in Los Angeles. He was appointed by president Barack Obama to the president's advisory committee for the arts for the Kennedy Center and was coordinating national co- chair for technology for Obama. Oh, and before all of these business and tech world accolades, Rusty spent six years in commercial radio as an on- air personality. He's also a proud Purdue college of liberal arts graduate. An interesting aspect to Rusty's story is that he didn't have the typical Purdue student experience. Rusty actually transferred to Purdue as a junior. I asked him when he first heard about Purdue.

Rusty Rueff: So my earliest recollection of Purdue was when I was in middle school and we had this basketball player from Jeffersonville high school named Wayne Walls that had taken the Jeff Red Devils to the final four in Indiana a couple of times. When he left high school, he was recruited by Purdue. He spent four years there. There HE was an all American basketball player at Purdue. And that was it. I mean, in Southern Indiana where I grew up in down by the Ohio River, there was this other school that people talked about all the time. That was the closer Indiana state school. And then across the river was the University of Louisville. And so this idea of three hours away from us in the corn fields up in the upper part of the state, you just didn't hear a lot about, but Wayne Walls was my first recollection of it. I originally went to Hanover College. So I spent two years at Hanover. My direction was I was going to go to Wabash. I thought I was going to be a Lily scholar at Wabash, turned out being that they gave 12 of them. And I was the alternate number 13. They said, oh, you still have a chance. And I'm like, yeah, really? Somebody's actually going to give up being a Lily scholar? Which was all expenses paid, room board tuition, a summer in Europe. I mean, yeah, that's not going to work, but I had put all my eggs in one basket and out of the blue, I got a call from Hanover College that said, hey, we understand all this has happened, would you want to come to Hanover? And I'm like, I got to go someplace. This is back before the days of when you decided your early acceptance schools and all that, we didn't do that. You didn't do that. So I actually went to Hanover for two years after my sophomore year. In my sophomore year, I was like, this is too small. I need some place bigger. I was a radio and disc jockey at the time. That's what I wanted to do. I was a communications major working at a little radio station in Madison, Indiana, and then also down in Louisville, during breaks and summers and things. And Purdue had seven commercial radio stations. That was a big deal to have someplace that had that. My girlfriend at the time was also at Purdue. She was a material science engineer. We started having these conversations about where am I going to go to get it? And it was like, well, seems logical. I'll go try Purdue. And I actually got a job on the radio before Purdue accepted me. So I was going there no matter what. There was a WASK AM and FM, that's how I ended up in Purdue. So I transferred there my junior year and then I ended up graduating and then I ended up coming back and getting my master's degree. So I got my four years in. I just had to do it in a different way.

Kate Young: Were you intimidated to come to Purdue as a junior?

Rusty Rueff: A little bit, because I had been a residence hall advisor at Hanover in my sophomore year, going into the residence halls and living in a dorm was not something I wanted to do. So I lived off campus my first year at Purdue in my junior year. I was really worried that I wouldn't be able to connect right. A big school. The big part of it didn't really bother me as much, but just the idea of, so how am I going to get involved? What am I going to do? And one of the first things I did was I got involved with old masters. I was a host in my junior year, and then my senior year, I joined the central committee and was in charge of the host and hostesses. And then that turned into being tapped for mortar board. So it kind of quickly came together, if you will. But I had to search out and try to find something to get involved with that I could create a network of friends because otherwise it was just my girlfriend's friends and me living off campus. So a little bit intimidating, just a little extra work too.

Kate Young: So Rusty came to Purdue and kicked his junior year off with the bang. But as you heard at the start of this episode, Rusty is no longer working in radio. I asked him what made him want to go into radio in the first place.

Rusty Rueff: I really did it because my dad was a radio and television personality in Louisville. And I'm the classic son, I wanted to do what dad did and just kind of grew up around all of that. Also, grew up a lot around the arts because he was very involved in the arts and involved in theater. After he got out of television and radio, he became a teacher in our high school at Jeffersonville, where he led the theater department. He led the radio and television little station that they had. And so a product of my environment, that's what I wanted to do. Now, once I got to the point where I graduated, I was working in Indianapolis. I realized it wasn't what I wanted to do, which was a little late in the game to figure that out after you've already got a degree and graduated, then I made the left- hand turn and went into business. But yeah, all I wanted to do, I guess my first words were daddy talks. And then I just wanted to talk like daddy.

Kate Young: Rusty shares more about a class that really stuck out to him during his Purdue experience. He says it was a great example of how life works in the real world after graduation.

Rusty Rueff: I had a course in my senior year, it was a script writing course and the professor, his name was Marf Diskin. I think I've got that right. I think he since passed, but that course was the closest thing to the real world as any class that I had because we showed up the first day, he went over some of the basics of script writing. He gave us a handbook on how to write a movie. And then he said, I'll see you at the end of the semester. And you could come in and speak with him anytime you wanted, but there were deadlines and you had to get this script written. That's the real world. The real world is you don't get a chance two days a week or three days a week, go in and have somebody check up on you. You're given a task and you got a long time to do it and you better get it done and you better not wait till the last minute. You know, I learned so much in that process for life. You know, it's where I first came up with this thing and I say to myself all the time I say to others, there's no stress in being early because if you wait to that last moment and try to finish something big like that, and don't have milestones along the way, you will fail or you'll turn in something that's substandard. I learned so much from that class and in a class that really wasn't a class. That was kind of one of those cool things that Purdue provided me.

Kate Young: If you can't tell already, Rusty is outgoing, friendly, and easy to talk to. It was no surprise that he gained a great group of friends and got involved in Purdue organizations right away when he started here. In fact, he was given the honor of speaking at his commencement ceremony in 1984. Here's Rusty discussing what he spoke about in that commencement speech. It's an old motto that his mom used to tell him.

Rusty Rueff: Well, I was very fortunate that I got to speak at my commencement, which was really cool. And back then they didn't have a commencement speaker, you only had present bearing spoke, and then there would be a student response. And I remember using this line because it's also one of those sort of mantras for me. My mother gave it to me when I was seven years old. She said," Tomorrow will go a lot better if you lay your clothes out the night before." I lay my clothes out the night before when I got to get ready for tomorrow, whether it's to go for a run or go to a meeting or go to church or go travel, I lay them out the night before because it starts you off without having to worry about things. I feel like that's what Purdue did for me. Purdue laid my clothes out for me for what was going to be my career and my life. And it got me ready, not only academically, but socially, and leadership wise from getting this chance to be a leader in old masters and being the president of the mortar board and being a staff residence hall assistant. I mean, it just got me ready. And I think that maybe other universities could have also done that. I'm sure they could have, but this is the one that I went to and this is the one that did that for me. And so I feel indebted for that experience. Granted, I paid for it. I paid to get that experience, but as president Daniels likes to talk about value. Value for me is when my cost is superseded and exceeded by the quality of that experience or that product. My Purdue product the value is really high because the quality that I received versus the cost was off the charts.

Kate Young: Purdue laid out Rusty's clothes for him. I love that. And we've definitely heard this type of idea before on the podcast, but not in these creative terms. Rusty tells us how he first dipped his toes into the business world. It was a job offer he got well sort of by accident.

Rusty Rueff: My first real business job was at Pratt& Whitney, which I actually got that job because when I was getting my master's degree at Purdue, I was in the international student services offices doing an externship and our director had not come in yet that morning, and the recruiter sat there and talked to me because I was the only one in the office. He actually said to me, I asked what he was doing. He goes, well, I'm from Pratt& Whitney and we're here because we're trying to figure out how do we recruit Chinese nationals who are getting education here to go back to China. And at the time, that's not what they wanted to do. They wanted to get jobs in the US and stay in the US and get their green card and stay in the United States. And I told her that and I said your strategy's wrong. Your strategy should be hire them here and then transfer them on assignment back to China. And he's looking at me like I'm a 21, 22 year old kid. Like what do you know? And I'm like, I'm sorry. And about that time, the director showed up and they went in, they had a conversation and on the way out, he stopped by my little cubicle desk kind of thing I had there and he said, do you have a resume? And I said, well, yeah, I do. And he goes, I'd like to take your resume back with me. And I said, okay, I thought maybe you'd be upset after our conversation. He goes, no, no, because I just got done meeting with your director and she said the exact same thing. And that's how I got my first job at Pratt& Whitney. But my first job was exactly one of the problems that I just got turned to describe because the best I could figure out about how to work was to go get an annual report that was a couple of years out of date. And then I go and I interview, it wasn't the culture. What they showed me was not the culture that it turned out to be. And so I show up, I got to wear a suit and tie, which everybody had to do back then, but it was beyond regimented. It was a world where you couldn't send a memo to the next level up without your boss editing it and approving. I mean, imagine in today's world where you couldn't send an email to somebody else without somebody editing it and approving it. That was the world I showed up. Now they made airplane engines and they were a big defense contractor and so they needed a lot of process, a lot of structure, you can't make mistakes. It was ingrained in that culture, but it was a huge shift for me, a huge shift. But in some ways you have to be a chameleon as it relates to work and if you've made a choice, I was always told anybody could do anything for two years. And so I was like, I can do this for two years. And so I became a chameleon to try to adapt to that culture as best I could. And then I was fortunate that I got recruited away to go to FritoLay fast moving consumer goods, company, marketing driven. You know, even though I was working in manufacturing and sales at the time in HR, it was just a much freer environment, which is what I enjoy. Maybe why technology was something in entertainment that I gravitated to.

Kate Young: As Rusty just said, he's touched a lot in the technology and entertainment world. He worked at FritoLay part of the PepsiCo family for 10 years and ended his career there as the vice president of international human resources. Rusty then joined the video game company, Electronic Arts or EA in 1998, and was responsible for global human resources, talent management, corporate services, facilities in real estate, corporate communications, and government affairs. So picture this, it's the late'90s and video games and computer games were just becoming popular. Were you there during this boom of video games?

Rusty Rueff: I was.

Kate Young: What was that experience like?

Rusty Rueff: It was like riding a rocket ship, but not inside, on the outside and just trying to hang on. I mean, the growth was so tremendous, and at the time you'd put out a game and it would sell five million copies and this was before it was downloaded. They were packaged goods at that time. You'd just put it out and it would sell and they would just keep selling and they would keep selling. And so we just kept growing and growing as a company. And I was so fortunate because anything that wasn't kind of nailed down, they'd say, well, or had needed to be new, Rusty, you take that, you go. So if I'd been in a more stodgier or a more established older company, like I'd come out of PepsiCo, you never would've got those kind of chances. It was like riding a rocket ship. It was so much fun. Growth is an amazing, amazing elixir. You know, it's intoxicating. It's not always good, not always good. You know, growth can mask a lot of problems. And then when you don't growth slows down, you go, oh wow, I didn't see that, man. Well, it's because we were always looking up there. We were never looking where we should have, but I would just encourage anybody if you get a chance to go work for a growth company, drop what you're doing, because you'll have an experience that you may never be able to replicate. I couldn't replicate that again. It would be impossible.

Kate Young: Okay. So after that experience of riding a rocket ship, Rusty led Snowcap as the CEO. Snowcap was the world's first end to end solution for digital license and copyright management services empowering record labels and individual artists to monetize their digital creations on popular sites such as MySpace and other social networks. With Snowcap, Rusty found himself back in that music and entertainment space, and Rusty wouldn't be a boilermaker if he didn't persevere after facing challenges, specifically some challenges during his time at Snowcap. When you've had all these experiences and all these different jobs within this business world. Is there a specific challenge that you had to overcome that really sticks out to you, and how did you overcome that?

Rusty Rueff: Well, when I became a CEO of the venture back company Snowcap. So I had spent, I don't know, 15, almost 20 years learning this HR stuff and telling other people how they should run businesses. And now it was on me. So everything that I had learned, now I've got to do it myself. Just because you think you know it, doesn't mean you really know it until you do it. Nobody in the old adage, you stand where you sit until you sit in the chair and the buck stops with you, you're the leader that everybody's counting on to keep a company funded, to keep a company's strategic growth going, to hire the right people, to make the right partnerships and business deals. Yeah. I don't care how much you think you know it until you do. I loved it. I mean, there's no doubt about it that I loved it. It's arguable whether or not I was good at it or not because it was my first time doing it. And maybe I really wasn't as good at it as I thought I could have been. I chose not to do it again because after the great recession we'd sold the company I just said, look, there're other things that I can do with my time. And I'd been fortunate enough coming out of EA that I had the resources to be able to make some choices. But I would say that those almost three years were as much as I could tell you felt like drinking out of a fire hose. You know, being a quarterback where you got 300 pound linebackers coming at you at 60 miles an hour and knocking you down, it felt like that for three years, it ended well, but I wasn't sure it was going to end well. And you never quite know when you're in that situation. It's why a lot of companies get acquired or CEOs that take their companies public at some point or another will decide to go do something else. I mean, CEO turnovers, I think average tenure is like less than three years, it used to be like five years. Well, why? Because it's a really hard job. It's a really hard job and I'm glad I learned it, but it was one where I felt all the pressure that one can imagine.

Kate Young: Rusty has had a lot of amazing and unique experiences, but I personally was the most curious about his experience with president Barack Obama and becoming coordinating national co- chair for technology for Obama. Rusty tells us about his involvement with starting and leading something that had never been done before during president Obama's second run for office.

Rusty Rueff: I had not really been involved in politics. I liked the idea that government was for the people and that government should be able to do good things, but really had not been a passion of mine. And so in 2007, I had gotten a chance to meet the then Senator, Obama, I guess maybe it was 2006, early 2007. And because I had Electronic Arts, at that time, the corporate communications and a number of different things reported through to me and I'd gone to Washington a few times. And actually I think corporate affairs was reporting to me at that time as well. So I'd gone to Washington and that was at a time that Hillary Clinton was really trying to push down video games. And so we had some meetings, we met with her and I ran into this really cool guy, Barack Obama from Illinois. I thought that, wow, this guy's going to go someplace someday. And in 2007 he announces his presidential election and they asked me if I wanted to get involved. And I said, I can't get involved because I'm running a startup. The world was about to fall apart with the great recession. And I was like, I got to keep my startup out of the dead pool. But if there's a 2012, call me back. So in 2011 in August, they called me back and asked me if I would fly over to Chicago to see the and I was at our home in Rhode Island. I went there and they wanted to create a thing called Technology for Obama to get digital technologists aligned behind the president, not only for fundraising, but for staffing of the team resourcing of new technologies. And they were looking for someone to be the national coordinating co- chair and they chose me. I hadn't done any of this stuff before, but I had the requisite experiences. The requisite experience was, first of all, I had time. At that point we had sold Snowcap. So I had time and was able to reallocate that. The second thing is that I had learned throughout my career that leaving from behind and leaving through others was extraordinarily productive as well as just a great way to treat other people. In a role like what they were asking me to do, where we ended up with 150 plus national co- chairs who were all powerful, all successful CEOs, political philanthropists, politicians, you learned if you want anything that everybody's got to feel like they're a leader and you've got to lead from behind. So I had this kind of in my skill toolbox, if you will. And the third part of it was is that I can coordinate things. I can take large groups of people and figure out how to marshal them all in a direction administratively stay on top of it and make everybody feel like they're moving in the same direction and feeling really good about it. So it was like the perfect storm. The Obama people didn't know I could do that. The Obama people just looked at me and said, well, this is a guy and he's got time. And we need somebody and he's got a pretty large network of people and he lives in Silicon Valley, he ought to be able to do that. They had no idea that I had the skills to do it. And it was a phenomenal experience. We were very successful on all fronts. And it kind of scratched my itch around politics. I did similar in the Biden campaign with innovators for Biden and was on the leader executive leadership team for that. But there's been nothing like that experience of Tech for Obama. And I probably will never get that again. So like one of those once in a lifetime moments, because we were starting something that never been started before, that was awesome.

Kate Young: In 2014, president Obama also appointed Rusty to the advisory board for the arts at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Arts. So after all of those career experiences, what's something that Rusty is really excited about at the moment? When you look at all the different projects that you're involved in, and like you said, all your different hats that you wear, is there a certain project right now that you're really excited about that you want to share with the listeners?

Rusty Rueff: So not so much as one, but a collection, a philosophy that I'm really excited about. So I spent a lot of years before I became a CEO and before I do the things that I do now sitting on boards and all that, I was in the human capital space. So I led human resources and plus a bunch of other things at EA. And then I came out of PepsiCo and Pepsi where I'd been an executive in the human resource function. One of the things, and in my hip pocket skill was always talent, acquisition, and recruiting. I loved it. I thought it was way beyond just staffing a company. I felt like it was matchmaking to the dreams of individuals to get them in a place where they could reach their full potential. And maybe they're not going to be there forever, but this will progress them and it'll make them better. And that to me felt very redeeming. I loved that kind of matchmaking. But what I saw happen for so many years is that companies and cultures of companies were not actually as transparent or as truthful as they needed to be. And candidates didn't always have the full story or a way of getting the full story. So when I was approached in 2007 to be the first independent board member of Glassdoor, I saw my first, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, there can be transparency. We can actually make this better so that people don't make a bad job change decision or a company doesn't make a bad hiring decision. If a company makes a bad hiring decision, it hurts the company, but what it really does, it hurts the individual. An individual loses their job after six months, they gave up another job. They moved, maybe their family moved with them. Their kids are watching all this happen and they didn't get it right. You know, it'll say, oh, the fit just wasn't there. It's not only damage to the individual financially, but their confidence level, how people think of them. Forever they'll be asked about what happened in that six months when you made that move. And they'll try to explain, but people be questioned. And then you'll see kids that were involved in all of that who go someday grow up and go, well, I don't trust companies. Well, why would they? Why would they? They saw what happened here. So I have been spending all of my time and energy that I have for investing in advising and starting new companies with the philosophy of can we please eliminate the bad, hire, the bad hiring? And if we did, we can make people's work and the idea of work so much better, and we wouldn't have these damaged individuals. And we wouldn't have companies that spend all this extra money. So I've got a number of projects now, startups, different technologies, and it's like a portfolio and they're all focused on the same thing, making that decision with all the data and information that you need so that you've made the best decision you can make to spare an individual in a company of what could be a disaster.

Kate Young: We all know now that Rusty has done a lot with his career after Purdue, and Rusty is still incredibly involved with this alma mater. He serves on the Purdue president's champions council and the college of Liberal Arts Dean's advisory committee. He was named a distinguished Purdue alumni in 2003, and Rusty and his wife, Patty, are also the benefactors for the Patty and Rusty Rueff School of Design Art and Performance on Purdue campus. Why was it so important to Rusty and his wife to give back to Purdue?

Rusty Rueff: So I've always said that I can tell what's important to people if I have two things, if you give me your credit card statement and your calendar. In fact, I could probably get it down to priorities in the right order because where we put our resources and where we put our time is what's important to us. And so, because I had received so much from the University and I was fortunate, I mean, I went to school in Pilgrims. I worked jobs, I worked on the radio. I did different externships to make a little extra money. I didn't come from means, I was fortunate to be able to have a skill like working on the radio that could really pay the extra and help me through. Becoming a residence hall assistant was a really big deal because at the time they paid room board and tuition, room board tuition, and$ 25 a month, which was a lot of money back then. So I looked at that and I said, I was really fortunate that all those things I had to be able to fund my way through, but there's so many kids where that's not the case. So what do you do? You give back in ways that you want to make sure that the institution can give every student the greatest opportunity that they can get. You want to do things where you can financially support the institution so that it can do things like what president Daniels has done and keep tuition flat for 11 years, which everybody said he was crazy, myself included. You know, when I first got to know him right before he'd been named president, but he hadn't taken over yet. And he was looking for this common denominator, and what is it that could really show that the university was moving in a different direction and he found it with this idea of value. So for me to be able to support an institution that does things like that, so that it can make it affordable for everyone to have the experience that I had, and even maybe a better experience because of the resourcing and support that myself and others have done, it's not a choice for me. It's almost like I owe it. I feel like I owe it. And so, yeah, it's just kind of the way it got down inside of me and it's not going to go away.

Kate Young: You touched on your dad being really into the arts and performing, tell us why you chose to give back in that way to the school as well.

Rusty Rueff: The visual and performing arts, because it's been something that's so important to me. You know, if you give me my perfect day, I would throw theater into my perfect day because I just love, love, love theater. I love music. I love literature. I love art, visual art. So all those things, again, I think are the product of what you're raised with. When I worked my way through my career and I ended up in video games, which is an entertainment medium, it just wasn't an entertainment medium that I knew about when I was coming through school and it was there, but it was like an arcade kind of nichey thing over to the side. But when I got to EA and got a chance to see where I thought the world was going and watching the next generation of kids, where every day was a great day when I was in video games because somebody turned 10 years old, and they would pick up that controller and instead of asking mom or dad what should I do? Somewhere between eight and 10 years old, you make your own decisions. They pick up a video game controller, that's all great. But there are certain entertainment mediums that can draw you away from other entertainment, mediums, like life theater, like live music, like going to a museum and experiencing visual art in a way that you don't experience any other place. That if we don't support those art forms, will they die? They may not die totally, but they will wither to the point that they won't become a part of our culture in our society. Life theater, music, visual and performing arts are a lot of places where you can see the reflection of humanity. You can see and learn about yourself through those mediums. And so when it became time for me to think about how I wanted to give back to Purdue, again, it was an easy choice for me because in some ways, who else is going to do it? I've got to do it because if I don't do it, then it might not get done. And I wanted to set an example. You know, it was very interesting. President Jet Ski was the president at the time and my wife and I sat with him and the head of development at that time as well, and we were going to give the gift anonymously because I knew that a gift of that size was going to cause me trouble. Family, friends, work relationships, people sitting there going, wait a minute, if he's got that much money to give away, then how much money is he making? And we said, we wanted to give it anonymously. And President Jet Ski said, if you're going to give it anonymously, I'm not going to take it. And we're like, you're not going to take it? He goes, no. He goes because anonymous never inspired anyone. You're young, you've been successful. You're passionate. You can inspire not only students and faculty from a gift that you give, but also maybe a generation to come who never thought about being generous with their resources and thinking philanthropy was something important. It was like the best line ever. I said, okay, we're good. We're good. We'll use our name. And let's go, I've raised millions and millions of dollars myself for other institutions. And I've used that line a bunch of times because anonymous, it's true, it never inspired anybody.

Kate Young: And not only is Rusty a philanthropist for his alma mater, he also stays involved in what's happening within the Purdue community. Whether it's speaking to a class about his experiences or impacting young entrepreneurs, he discusses what this special network of boiler makers means to him.

Rusty Rueff: Number one, it keeps you young. There's no better way to stay young than staying involved with a university or staying involved with education. I mean, you could do that in your local community too and people should. Just because their kids have graduated on and gone from high school or elementary school doesn't mean that you can't stay involved with the schools that they went to. So that's number one. Number two is I still think I have something to give back. Not only financially, but I've gotten a chance to be in a place in our country, in our world, that's on the cutting- edge and the cutting- edge of technology and what we've seen and what's coming. If I can share a little bit of that back with a little bit of pattern recognition to say, oh, I saw this in the'90s, it showed back up in the early 2000s. There's a version of it and it's coming now. Here's how it might work. And I can pass that along because experience is really expensive. But if I could pass it back along to the next budding entrepreneur, the next teacher who's going to go out and do that, or the next artist that wants to go and create, then I think that's what I'm supposed to do. And so Purdue is extraordinarily welcoming to any alumni that wants to come and give back with their time, just as much as their resources. And so I take advantage of every chance I get. I mean, one of the sad parts about the last two years with the pandemic is not being able to do that live. You know, I'm looking forward to this coming fall to be back on campus for the first time in a pandemic to get back to where I feel like I belong.

Kate Young: I like to ask our This is Purdue guests, what advice they have for current Purdue students? It's something I myself think about often too. Rusty's advice here was something that really struck me, and it's something so many people take for granted.

Rusty Rueff: The world gets so much smaller after one graduates from college, the world will never be bigger for you than the first day you step on campus at someplace, especially someplace big like Purdue. You know, once you graduate from college, you decide you're going to go work in a company, you've got functional expertise. They're going to put you in a department. You're going to be involved with the same people most of the time in a community, or maybe not in a community, in today's world, you might be working remotely forever, but you'll be involved in a community. Your friends will become the friends that you work with or very close proximity wise. Then someday you hope and you'll say to yourself, wow, it's a really big world, I should probably go and learn some things, travel, find some other things. You might look back and go, well, wait a minute, all pf that was at my fingertips when I was at Purdue. You don't know who you're going to be sitting next to, who they're going to be, what they're going to become, the experiences that you can have by staying connected with people, and you have no idea that the things that you won't find elsewhere in life, that if you go and experiment and you go to things that you wouldn't think you were going to go to, and you just try it once, that can become a lifelong passion. And you think about how many kids come through the university and they say, well, the only sports at two sports I saw is I went to some basketball games and I went to a couple of football games, but what about everything else? Or you go to the International Student Services Center and you go and you learn, you just say, hey, I want to know about different cultures and the next thing you know, you have friends that you'll learn not only about their lifestyles from where they're from, you'll learn about their food, you'll learn about what to do. And someday you'll go to that country and say I'm familiar because I had that experience. Take advantage of every single thing. I'd love to see the experiment of somebody who can actually from day one when they come to a place like Purdue, anybody they get to know, they collect their name, their email address, and their cell phone number and keep in touch with them over time. Because you could do that today. I couldn't do that. There was no way to keep in touch, because again, you don't know where people are going to go and how you can help them and what they might do to turn around and help you. I mean, I had no idea that when Bob Peterson and I were both staff residents in Young Hall, that he would turn out to be an Oscar winning... He was a cartoonist at the time in mechanical engineer, an Oscar winning guy from Pixar who I still keep in touch with. So you just have to think about all your time at Purdue. Every day is an experiment. Every day is a new collection of experience and a collection of relationships. And if you miss that, you've missed so much of what college is really about.

Kate Young: It's so true. You think you have all the time in the world to make new friendships, network, have new experiences and then poof, your four years is already up. So why is Rusty proud to be a boiler maker? What makes Purdue unique in his eyes?

Rusty Rueff: Well, I think it's in the product that it produces. So I don't really think I can remember any experience running into a Purdue alumni, young, old, whatever, that I didn't like them. And I think there's something about either being from or going to school in the Midwest, you learn to work. You also learn of long suffering if you're a Purdue sports fan. You learn that delayed gratification is something that one has to work for while the university doesn't espouse morals and values that they put into their students. I do believe that when president Daniels talks about grit and I think this work ethic, I think that is put there when you have a strong work ethic and you have to work for what you get, you're appreciative and you don't feel entitled. And I believe that's part of the product that Purdue puts out. If we didn't put that out, if we put out people and students that were not successes, both in their occupation, but also successes as being a parent or a civic leader or involved in their communities, then I probably wouldn't be as proud of it as I am. You know, you can be jaded and you can be blinded, but there's plenty of universities that I know and friends that I have that don't look back at their university or their college and have that same feeling. I think they've seen products that aren't reflective of what they're proud of. And I'm just proud of our product. May we continue just to produce more and more and more of it? The world needs it.

Kate Young: You talked about sports a little bit. What does that boiler maker spirit mean to you when it comes to our athletics community?

Rusty Rueff: I did say long suffering. I mean, there is a little bit of that.

Kate Young: That's true. That's true.

Rusty Rueff: I tweeted a few weeks ago that really the John Purdue club should every year when we renew our membership should really send us that Purdue branded defibrillator because at some point or another, we need it. I love the fact that I'm on this big text chain with a whole bunch of the mortar borders that I graduated with and just texting and being a part of the games and then I have football tickets that I never get a chance to come back to see. I've had football tickets for 25 years. One of my best friends from college uses them. He's put four kids through Purdue. So he deserves to be able to use them. I think athletics are also a part of the college experience. If you go to college and you don't experience athletics and don't understand what it's like to everybody in unison to be cheering for the same thing and to be putting all your energy into it and being on the highest of highs and the lowest of lows depending on, on how a game comes out, you've missed something so many places in the United States and especially in rural areas, they don't get a chance to do that once you graduate. So it's another one of those things that go back to the beginning go get every experience, but I love the Purdue spirit.

Kate Young: I completely agree. Experiencing all of those big 10 athletics rivalries and being surrounded by thousands of cheering fans at a place you love so dearly are the times I will never forget from my Purdue experience. Rusty leaves us with one last piece of advice.

Rusty Rueff: I would just say this, there are no easy answers to what life will be after you graduate. I would encourage everyone to think about whether you've ever been on a sailboat or know how a sailboat moves, don't have the expectation that your career or your life is a battleship, it's a sailboat. Which means that it attacks, it goes along with the wind in a direction and then the wind will shift or you have to shift and then it'll attack back and your life is this series of sort of diagonal moves. But what's most important is that you have a lighthouse. That you've got a lighthouse in front of you that you're sailing towards, whether it be a lighthouse for your career, mine was always to be back in entertainment and media. I got there. I attacked a lot of different ways to finally get back to that or it's to be the civic leader or it's to be the parent that you want to be, or the teacher that you want to be. It doesn't matter what it is, but if you've got a lighthouse, you will be able to attack your way to it. You won't always get it right. Sometimes you'll stay on a wind that's too long and sometimes you'll come off too early. But if you keep that lighthouse, you may not even be able to describe it yet, all you can do is just see that there's a structure out there in every few minutes or every few seconds, something flashes in front of you. But as you get closer, it becomes clearer and clearer. You know where I am in my life, I feel very fortunate. I feel Purdue was a big piece of that. My faith has been a big piece of that. My relationships, my wife has been a big piece of that. In the years to come when I land that boat, it's not exactly there, but it's pretty close to the lighthouse that I've been trying to get to for a lot of years. And so I would just encourage all of our listeners, every student, dream about that lighthouse, write it down, hold onto it, and attack your way there. The wind will be in your back. The wind will be in your sales. You can reach that lighthouse.

Kate Young: It was an absolute pleasure talking to Rusty. Okay. But we have one last question. Are you a boiler maker who says hail Purdue or boiler up?

Rusty Rueff: Hail Purdue, boiler up. We didn't have boiler up. That happened after Joe Tiller's wife started doing the boiler up thing. And it's actually how I can tell when somebody graduates. You know, if I see somebody in the airport wearing Purdue stuff, or I got my stuff on, I'll say hail Purdue. And if they say hail Purdue, they're my age. If they say boiler up, I know they're a lot younger.

Kate Young: If you are enjoying our This is Purdue episodes, be sure to leave us a review with your feedback and follow us on Apple Podcast and Spotify to never miss an episode. Thanks for listening to This is Purdue. For more information on this episode, visit our website at purdue. edu/ podcast. There you can head over to your favorite podcast app to subscribe and leave us a review, and as always, boiler up.


In this episode of This Is Purdue, we’re talking to College of Liberal Arts alumnus Rusty Rueff, a philanthropist, investor and advisor. 

Listen in as Rusty discusses art’s crucial relationship to humanity, leading the company Electronic Arts through the video game industry boom, his role in President Barack Obama’s second presidential campaign and how his mother’s mantra, “tomorrow will go a lot better if you lay your clothes out the night before,” guided his life and career. 

Recognizing that many of his own life’s fortunes stem from relationships, experiences and opportunities born out of Purdue, Rusty also discusses why he feels compelled to give back to the University and what the Boilermaker community means to him.  

You don’t want to miss this episode!  


Today's Host

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Kate Young

|Digital Content Strategist + Host, This is Purdue Podcast

Today's Guests

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Rusty Rueff

|Investor, advisor, philanthropist and benefactor of The Patti & Rusty Rueff School of Design, Art, and Performance