Engineering entrepreneurism

Aug 5th, 2013

By Jackey Locke

Sarah Lynn Russell
Engineering entrepreneurism

While many engineers dream of becoming an entrepreneur, Sarah Lynn Russell (B.Eng. ’07), was no exception; however, becoming owner and manager of the family business was not something she dreamed of while completing her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at Memorial University.

“It certainly is a far cry from where I thought I would be at this stage in my life. I had no original intentions to be a part of the family company. My plan was to go back to school and become a veterinarian. However, there is something to be said for putting in a hard day's work for yourself, your family and your future. It comes with a sense of pride and accomplishment that I cannot compare,” said Ms. Russell.

Ms. Russell’s company, Distinctive Interiors, is based in Blaketown and was started back in 1994 by her father, Stirling Russell. The company specializes in a wide variety of wood crowns, window and door casings, chair rails and baseboards, accent accessories and wood flooring. About the time that Ms. Russell graduated from Memorial, her father was getting ready to retire so the timing was right for her to take over the family business.

“I was working as a project manager for a company in St. John's and my father was planning his retirement. Both of my older brothers own their own companies, one is in New Zealand and the other in Alberta, and neither of them wanted to sacrifice their careers and lifestyles to take over the family business. Since I was already in a management position and very familiar with the business having spent many summers here, I decided to give it a try,” said Ms. Russell.

Since taking over the helm, Ms. Russell has grown the family business and applies the knowledge and tools she acquired through her engineering education and work experience to her company’s daily operations.

“Having been given the opportunity to work in all different fields during my undergraduate degree through co-operative work terms, I was able to apply the basic operation procedures that I learned in other companies to my own company. This has helped organize our operations and take us to a new level. Through my undergraduate engineering degree, I learned the mechanics behind the equipment we use every day, which is helpful for troubleshooting and preventative maintenance. I may not be using LaPlace formulas, or calculating Eccentric Loads all day long, but I am constantly using management tools to apply new ideas to make my company run smooth and increase production efficiency,” explained Ms. Russell.

Ms. Russell continues to prepare her company for growth. Currently, the company is undergoing expansion of a new building and renovations to its existing building, which includes a lean manufacturing of the plant and implementing manufacturing management software, which will enable the company to expand into new markets and new product lines.

“I feel extremely lucky. This is home, and I love the position I'm in. As the company grows and prospers, I plan to put more back into the company and our well-deserved employees to keep them here as well,” said Ms. Russell.

Distinctive Interiors has a manufacturing plant, show room and office in Blaketown, and employs approximately 25 individuals from surrounding communities. Company products are sold throughout the island in various retail outlets and the company personally caters to contractors and developers in St. John’s, Conception Bay, Placentia Bay and Clarenville. To learn more, visit


Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science

230 Elizabeth Ave, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1B 3X9

Postal Address: P.O. Box 4200, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1C 5S7

Tel: (709) 864-8000