Marianne Russell has never let anything stand in her way. If there was a skill she wanted to learn, she took a class. If there was a career she wanted to pursue, she did it. If she was curious about a certain subject, she read books on the topic.
It seems her whole life has been a constant quest to soak up as much knowledge as possible. Russell has studied kung fu, psychology, horticulture and even obtained a certified nursing assistant (CNA) license. But it wasn’t until she came to GTCC that she found her focus and uncovered a dream she’s been carrying since she was a teenager: to become a cosmetologist and open her own business.
Through Guilford Technical Community College’s Cosmetology program, Russell sharpened her innate skills and received a solid foundation in all aspects of the cosmetology industry including hair design, skin and nail care, and business principles.
“They teach you everything you need,” said Russell, who received a certificate in cosmetology from GTCC in Dec. 2010. “The instructors really care about what you learn and they know a lot. If you listen to them, you do well.”
That’s certainly the case for Russell. Two years later, she went on to open Marianne’s Brows in July 2012. Located in Greensboro, Marianne’s Brows offers brow-shaping, waxing and nail care in a relaxing and elegant environment. But what makes the salon unique is Russell’s passion for helping others look and feel their absolute best. She takes the time to truly get to know her clients and to give them tips on how to enhance their features, whether it’s shaping the perfect brow or suggesting a particular hairstyle.
“I’ve always had an eye for beauty,” she said.
When you visit Russell’s salon, you get more than just a service; you get an experience. In addition to doling out beauty advice, she often finds herself offering life advice.
“It’s a mission to help other women,” she said. “We share experiences. They share with me their struggle.”
That personable, individual customer service stood out to Morris Boswell, department chair of GTCC’s Cosmetology program, when he observed Russell as a student.
“Marianne had many strengths while in school, but one of the most important was her awesome customer service skills,” Boswell said. “Marianne was an excellent student with exceptional people skills. While in school, I observed her professionalism, attention to details, integrity and her consistent positive attitude, a few of the important traits necessary to be a successful cosmetology entrepreneur.”
“It is so rewarding to observe this successful cosmetology entrepreneur and know that GTCC Cosmetology helped shape her future.”
Born Ho Minh Nga, Russell grew up in an upper-class family in South Vietnam during a time when the country was divided into a communist and non-communist state. Her father maintained a high-profile job as Speaker of the House – and later on became a cardio pulmonary doctor – while her mother looked after Russell and her two siblings.
Russell, the middle child, describes herself as “feisty” growing up. She talked back to her father and started skipping school in her teens when communism began to infiltrate her classroom, forcing her teachers to use only the books they allowed. Russell wouldn’t stand for it. “I’m the kind of woman who speaks up,” she added. That didn’t always go over too well in a culture where she says women were taught to be submissive and quiet. From an early age she said she vowed to herself “’That’s not going to happen to me,’” she recalled.
At age 31, she came to America on a tourist Visa and married her now husband, Rick Russell. The couple met through a mutual friend while Rick was in Vietnam teaching English as a second language. From the first day he met her, Rick says Marianne has been a “go getter.” When she first came to the United States, she didn’t have a license and didn’t know how to drive, so she asked him to buy her a bicycle. When he did, the following day she found a Chinese restaurant nearby and got a job waiting tables.
“She would spend her tip money to buy us food for the evening meal,” Rick said. “I knew then that I had married a tiger. … Marianne has the quality of stick-to-itiveness as I like to refer to it. She goes after something and does not quit.”
That drive is what led Marianne to where she is today. Coming to the United States, she said, made her appreciate freedom. Never did she imagine as a minority and as a female that she would be a thriving business owner.
“It secures your life,” she says. “It’s taught me how to help myself, help my family, help the community. It’s become a passion.”
For more information on GTCC’s cosmetology program, please visit http://www.gtcc.edu/programs-of-study/cosmetology or call (336) 334-4822 ext. 50055.
1614-A West Friendly Avenue, Greensboro, NC 27403
(336) 404-8000 or (336) 333-3307
— Published Nov. 3, 2014/By Carla Kucinski