Planting Seeds for Good
After career success, Patti and Rusty Rueff share a passion for giving back
"My life has been shaped by the willingness of others," tech entrepreneur Rusty Rueff says. "If people hadn't taken the time to help me, I wouldn't be where I am today. So it's really important to me to do the same."
Patti Rueff, Rusty's wife, agrees. "I got the volunteer gene from my mother, who taught me you should always give back, whether with your time or your money," she says. "She didn't stop volunteering until she turned 82!"
After successful corporate careers that took them all over the world, the Hillsborough residents now focus on making a difference.
"We think about giving back like planting seeds," Rusty says. "We don't always know what will sprout when we make a contribution, but we've learned if you nurture it, something good will grow."
The Rueffs have planted many generous "seeds," including their recent $1 million gift to Mills-Peninsula Hospital Foundation. "There's really no place better to invest than in the core of your own community," Patti says.
Despite his high-tech resume, including serving as CEO of digital music company SNOCAP and as executive vice president of human resources for the video gaming company Electronic Arts (EA), Rusty took an untraditional path to tech industry success.
Early on, he followed in the footsteps of his father, who gave Rusty his "funky" name in the hopes he'd become a radio disc jockey like him. And at first Rusty did, working as an on-air personality for six years.
But after completing his graduate degree at Purdue University, Rusty accepted a position with the Pratt & Whitney Division of United Technologies. "I picked the job because they were going to train me, and I thought that was so cool," he says with a laugh.
Two years later, he went to PepsiCo, where he worked for a decade. In 1998, he moved to the Bay Area to join EA. A "life-changing" experience, his seven years there opened many doors into the tech world. Now, Rusty writes two blogs and serves on five corporate boards, including Glassdoor.com. He also invests in a variety of startup companies and advises young entrepreneurs.
Meanwhile, Patti started her career as a secretary in Manhattan. She joined PepsiCo in 1974 where she worked for 24 years, serving as the executive assistant to the chairman of the board for 20 years.
In 1991 she and Rusty met when they were both working at Frito-Lay (a PepsiCo company) – they've been married for 19 years. After the couple moved to the Bay Area, Patti continued to work for PepsiCo as a consultant, traveling some 100 days a year to organize executive trainings and company meetings in destinations ranging from Africa to Russia.
"I had friends all over the world," she says, "but I didn't know anyone in my new neighborhood."
To connect with her local community, in 2001 Patti joined the Mills-Peninsula Women's Health Council, a group she's been active in ever since.
"We put on coffee talks to help educate the community, and these eventually became the Women's Health Luncheons," she says. "I've watched them grow from 200 people to 1,200, and it's been unbelievably gratifying."
Similarly, Rusty has dedicated much of his time to philanthropic roles, including as chairman of the GRAMMY Foundation and trustee president of the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.).
In perhaps one of his most time-consuming volunteer positions, Rusty served as coordinating national co-chair for "Technology for Obama." By Election Day, "we'd recruited nearly 10,000 members and raised more than $26 million for the President," he says. "It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life." Both Patti and Rusty also serve as teachers in the Children's Ministry at the church they attend in San Francisco.
Peninsula Health sat down with the Rueffs to discuss philanthropy, the arts, job-hunting and even healthy food.
PH: Rusty, in 2006 you co-wrote Talent Force: A New Manifesto for the Human Side of Business. Can you share advice for people looking for jobs or a new direction in their career?
Rusty: In today's competitive market, the most important thing you can do is articulate your own story and find a way to stand out. It's also critical to know how to build and utilize your network. If you don't understand how to use today's social media tools to stay connected and top of mind to other people, you're missing opportunities.
Getting a job can be an act of serendipity. It's like real estate – lots of people walk through a house, but only one person buys it. Frequently, it all comes down to timing.
PH: In this issue of Peninsula Health, we're addressing health and nutrition. How do you stay fit and maintain a healthy diet?
Patti: I love to walk, hike and do yoga – we're both very active. I'm also really into cooking healthy meals.
For health reasons, I don't eat meat, but I do eat fish. We consume very little dairy. But I'm Italian, so there's always room for dessert!
Rusty: I've been a long distance runner for 32 years, and I've completed seven marathons. I've also been a vegetarian for more than 20 years. To me, if you have a goal of staying healthy, then that helps shape all the decisions you make every day, from how much you exercise to what you eat and drink.
PH: You are benefactors to Purdue University's Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts. You've also been very involved with the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.). Why do you feel it's important to support the arts?
Rusty: Theater, music and art are things Patti and I share as interests. My parents took me to plays and concerts. It dawned on me at a young age that whether you are seeing a movie, viewing a piece of art or listening to a song, you're only experiencing the last 2 percent of the creative process. There's 98 percent more work that went into it, and that fascinates me. It's incredibly rewarding to help students and young artists explore and learn from the creative process.
We didn't view our donation to Purdue as a gift – we considered it an investment in students' futures.
Patti: We have a softness in our hearts for children and youth, and we find it very satisfying to give them tools they need to succeed in life. That's why we enjoy working with A.C.T.'s Conservatories, as we love to watch young artists fulfill their dreams.
PH:Recently, you made a generous donation to Mills-Peninsula. What inspired this gift?
Patti: We wanted to invest in our community and help improve health care close to home. I love the free mammogram program for women in need at Mills-Peninsula, and I felt that if our resources could help pay for equipment, then Mills-Peninsula could use more of their resources to give back to the community.
PH: You frequently use the metaphor of planting seeds when you talk about philanthropy. How do you hope your gift to Mills-Peninsula will "grow"?
Rusty: After we made our gift to Purdue, we learned a lesson around the power of example setting. We wanted to make our gift anonymously, but we were asked not to so our gift would encourage others. That's exactly what happened, and we've learned from that experience.
Patti: We hoped that if we stepped up to plant a seed at Mills-Peninsula, we'd inspire others in our community to do the same.
Also, we're so impressed with the new hospital. You don't have to go to San Francisco or Stanford for truly state-of-the art care. It's just mind-boggling to go to Mills-Peninsula and receive such personal care from expert doctors and nurses who have all the latest technology. Seeing how fabulous it is, we both thought, how can we not do this?
Community Involvement HighlightsRusty Rueff
- Coordinating National Co-Chair for "Technology for Obama," 2011 – 2012
- Executive Producer and Trustee, American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.), 2003 – 2013; President of the Board of Trustees, 2010 – 2013; Co-Chairman of the A.C.T. Strand Theater Capital Campaign, 2013 – Present
- Board member, the GRAMMY Foundation, 2007 – Present; Chairman, 2012 – 2014
- Mills-Peninsula's Women's Health Luncheon and Lecture Co-Chair, 2004
- Member of the Mills-Peninsula Women's Health Council, serving leadership roles including Vice Chair, 2001 – Present
- Board member, including serving as President, Hillsborough Auxiliary to Peninsula Family Service Agency, 2003 – 2013