Keeping on the sunny side

At our LA photo shoot, Andre Russell talks about his game, his suspension, and his future in the business of hospitality

Andre Russell, the international star and West Indies cricket all-rounder, is known for his electric presence almost as much as he is known for his athletic prowess and clutch performance on the field. Flamboyant. Superman. Yeah, he smashes sixes and wields a controversial black bat, and passionate is an excellent descriptor, but Russell is also a focused businessman with an eye toward the future.
You heard that right. The other Andre Russell is channeling all that energy and talent into the hospitality industry as both owner and investor.

CRICKET 101

Here in the U.S., our sports culture is dominated by American football, baseball, and basketball. But on the world stage, football (American soccer) is recognized as the leading athletic event. Cricket, which is rarely showcased in the U.S., is the second most-watched sport in the world. And Andre Russell is recognized as one of the sport’s best players.

It should be noted that football was his first sport, and it has been said that Russell could—if he wanted—also be one of the world’s best footballers.

Cricket is most often compared to baseball, but in addition to bats and balls there is bowling and wickets. Its history has all the drama, excitement, rivalries, villains, and heroes that we love to cheer or boo, weep for or yell at over the course of a day at the ballpark. Thus far in his career, Russell in his own right has two back-to-back world championships and one of the fastest 100s in the Caribbean Premier League 2016 season, completing his century in just 42 balls. Oh, and he has earned the distinction of being one of the fittest cricketers in the world.

For those of you who don’t know, a century in cricket is one of those milestones that players try to achieve. The threshold is to try to score 100 runs in a single inning. And Russell’s century came in one of the most electrifying innings ever.

The Twenty20 (T20) format—a short form of cricket—seems to fit Russell’s batting prowess. In the period from 2013 to 2016, he was “one of only two all-rounders to score 2000-plus runs and take 100-plus wickets in T20s,” according to ESPN cricinfo (www.espncricinfo.com). For a good ol’ American understanding, this means he can be compared to LeBron James or Steph Curry in the NBA, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers in the NFL, and Mike Trout or Clayton Kershaw in MLB.

I’m trying to make as much use of this year. When I’m back in action, I’ll be focused on my game.

In the 2016 World T20 Semi-finals, India posted a chase score of 193 against the West Indies. Only two teams in the history of World T20s have successfully chased a score as high. The West Indies did just that, issuing a crushing defeat for India. According to ESPN cricinfo, Russell did his part in the chase by “posting a career-best-score...after facing at least 20 balls for the first time in T20.” It was a shocking loss for India. Like the Red Sox being down three games to the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship game, only to win the next four and reverse the curse of the infamous Babe Ruth trade.

But, hey, losing to West Indies is at least better than losing to England. Or Pakistan. It’s hard to stay mad at Andre Russell, even after a drubbing. “After that game,” Russell says, pausing over a breakfast of huevos rancheros, which was not to his liking, and a triple-shot cappuccino, which was right on time for the busy day ahead, “Virat Kohli [India batsman and team captain] came into the room. I was taking off my stuff, and he came up to me and gave me a hug and he was like, ‘Yo, big man, you are unbelievable. You actually came and took the game from us.’”

THE MAN, THE BAN

It can seem like all of Russell’s standout performances are on the big stage. Yes, he is one of the elite, but his smile is bigger than his ego. When asked why he really seems to shine in critical games, Russell says, “I have been very blessed. I’m happy with how I perform. I’m happy with performing well, then OK, then well, then OK again. You’re going to fail in games, but why I got this name Superman is, when the team’s in trouble, a lot of times I put the game back in my team’s favor. I could have won the tournament in England recently. Before I went, the coach asked me, ‘Russ, what are you thinking about?’ And I said, ‘Coach, my role today is to get the team back in the game, and if I get out, then fine, but I’m going to go as hard as I can.’ And I got 48 runs off 18 balls. We needed 50 runs from 40 balls,” he explains. “I get out, and everyone on the field, they were like, this guy just took the game out of our hands.”

He does not completely shrug off his incredible skill as a cricketer, but still it is easy, when speaking with him, to forget that you are sitting across from one of the most gifted athletes in the world. He constantly tilts and turns any situation until he can see the positive. Even when training, he says, “If I say I’m going to bowl 40 balls, I might bowl 46 because I want to finish on a positive note.”

I think it’s a company that has the potential to grow significantly, so I decided to invest in VendorsDepot.com

Russell is venturing into the entertainment world as a musician as well as a record executive. He has built a recording studio in his native Jamaica, which is available for a select group of musicians to use when he’s not recording his own music. He’s currently working with acclaimed Hollywood-based Gemini Musiq, one of the producers of Justin Bieber’s album Sorry. “Gemini is a great producer,” he says. “I’m going to be creating some exciting music with him, and who knows? Maybe Bieber might jump on a track with me.”

He’s only been doing music for two years, but he says, “I’ve always loved to sing, and I’ve always loved music, and with the exposure I got from cricket, that gave me the confidence.” If you’re a fan of Russell, or a fan of reggae, be sure to check out Dre Russ on YouTube. You will not be disappointed. One might naturally assume that Russell was born with an extra dose of boldness, perhaps even at the chromosomal level. But this is not the case. In fact, Russell says that everything started with the courage he gained on the cricket field. He has also been boosted, he says, by “the love I got from fans.”

Every star knows to give a shout out to their supporters, but Russell is sincere. Walking through the late-night scene of the Living Room at W Hollywood Hotel, he does nothing to attract attention to himself. That’s not to say he doesn’t draw stares, but his demeanor is one of quiet self-possession. “That love,” he says, “makes it easier to perform in front of hundreds or thousands of people.”

I’m willing to have sleepless nights. Nothing comes easy. I plan to put in the hard work.

On January 31, 2017, as is widely known, Russell was banned for one year for three reporting failures in 2015—a huge loss for his team and for cricket devotees.The World Anti-Doping Agency requires athletes across all sports to inform their local anti-doping agencies where they will be for at least one hour each day in order to facilitate drug tests. But the suspension might just be a blessing in disguise.

THE PLAN

Russell has so much more planned for 2017 than just recording. He’s also in the development stages of opening his own restaurant: Russell’s T20, a restaurant and sports bar. The flagship will be in Jamaica, but he plans to have multiple locations around the world, including the U.S.

Cricket may not be big in the States just yet, but if anyone can create converts to the sport it is this guy.

In the short time since his suspension, Russell has turned his attention to business. “I’m trying to make as much use of this year,” he said. “When I’m back in action, I’ll be focused on my game.” Perhaps with a new U.S. following.

Russell’s T20 will be a classic sports bar concept, with a focus on showing cricket matches. And on the weekends, he says, the tables will be moved out of the way to create a dance floor. Faced with the challenge of designing a space that matches his vision, but which can readily be duplicated and franchised, Russell sought help from VendorsDepot.com, a new online sales platform offering traditional e-commerce, a place to request bids from suppliers, and design services—all for the hospitality industry.

Working with Vendors Depot gives him the hands-on opportunity to be involved with decision-making while trusting a design professional with the execution of his vision. “I can’t wait to see this one up and running,” he says of the first Russell’s T20, already under way. “I can’t wait to see the decoration, the interior design, when it’s finished.” His eyes sparkle. “It’s going to be amazing.”

Always thinking—processing, weighing the options—Russell grew curious about the supply side of the hospitality industry. Specifically, what was happening at Vendors Depot. As he became more involved, asking questions about services and learning what he needed to make the dream of Russell’s T20 sports bars a reality, it was only a matter of time before he agreed to be the brand ambassador.

But what no one expected was that Russell would go even one more step further. “I liked what I saw,” he says of becoming the brand ambassador. “I thought it was a great opportunity. I think it’s a company that has the potential to grow significantly, so I also decided to invest in the company.”

When asked what stake he has in Vendors Depot, Russell says, “It’s a primary role I’ll be playing in the company, but the amount is undisclosed.”

Music recording. Restaurant development. Brand ambassadorship. Hotel industry investment. Dreams of opening a sports shop to bring cricket and football equipment to students in Jamaica... Russell has a lot going on, but he is as deliberate as he is passionate. “I want to give it my all in this one year out of cricket,” he says. “When I’m back, the business will generate a return.”

He is philosophical about his suspension, if not downright positive. “Everything happens for a reason,” he says. “If I’m too busy playing cricket, I won’t have time to think about business. You’re never too young to think about these things.”

He pauses, thoughtful. They’re ready for the photo shoot, and the makeup artist lightly powders his nose. He could end the interview right there.

“I’m willing to have sleepless nights,” he says without prompting. “Nothing comes easy. I plan to put in the hard work and make use of this 12 months.”

The stylist helps him with a fabulous pink jacket, and a young woman trailing electronic dance music leads him into the California sunshine where the crew is waiting.

But do not fret, cricket fans. Russell will be back. He can’t wait to get back. Regarding all his new ventures, he says, “I know once I’m busy, the time will fly.” 

By Ashley Atkins