Herman Russell's Big Hustle

Construction tools on table

H.J. Russell & Company began with an entrepreneurial young boy’s shoeshine stand in Atlanta and has grown into a nearly half-billion-dollar Black-owned construction and development firm with a national reputation.

May 20, 2024
Maggie Murphy - Construction Executive

“Any person that I knew of in the city of Atlanta who did anything ran it by Herman before they did anything else.”

These are the words of Anthony Dixon, senior project manager and 47-year veteran employee with H. J. Russell & Company. But ask anyone who knows anything about H. J. Russell, and they’ll say the same thing: The story of the company is the story of Herman J. Russell himself.

From humble beginnings in Atlanta’s Summerhill neighborhood came a young man with an unbreakable entrepreneurial spirit, who used that drive to forge an unlikely path to success in the Jim Crow–era South. What began as a plastering company in 1952 is today one of the largest Black-owned contractors in the United States, with Herman’s children—Donata Russell Ross, H. Jerome Russell and Michael B. Russell Sr.—at the helm (a natural fit for the family-focused firm).

Over its 72-year history, H. J. Russell has grown exponentially, contracted when necessary and persevered through segregation, the turbulence of the Civil Rights Movement and multiple economic downturns. Now, in the next five years, they’re poised to become a billion-dollar company.

But long before any of that, there was just a boy and a dream.

Reprinted courtesy of Maggie Murphy, Construction Executive, a publication of Associated Builders and Contractors. All rights reserved.


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