Wired for Success: John Russo ’95 MBA Targets Narrow Niche in Broadband
Before he became the telecommunications consulting giant he is today, John Russo ’95 MBA worked on his father’s farm, planting corn, picking okra and milking cows.
Then, he fried doughnuts in the Publix bakery.
While he was earning his bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Central Florida, he worked in the school’s admissions office.
He worked as a restaurant server, an assistant manager at Walmart Inc. and a salesman for AT&T Inc.
Through the varying positions in multiple industries, there was one constant:
“There are all these books written out there that say ‘You’ve got to do this to be good in sales,’ or ‘You’ve got to do that to be good in sales.’ I say ‘bull crap’—all you’ve got to do is work,” Russo says. “If you want to be good at anything, you’ve got to have a work ethic.”
It is with that work ethic that Russo founded Broadband Consulting Group (BBCG), today, the largest telecommunications consulting company in the U.S.—essentially, by accident.
For about two years, Russo was a door-to-door salesman for a startup cable company, where although the internet didn’t yet exist, he learned the ins and outs of telecommunications. From managing the door-to-door salespeople to pursuing the business of apartment developers, he wore many hats. He earned his MBA through Florida Tech’s Orlando education center and was promoted within the company several times before it was purchased by AT&T.
Shortly after, he learned that working for a large corporation was not for him, and he left AT&T to work for a fledgling dot-com company.
“It was the most fun year I ever had. I got to hire all my own people. I got promoted three times that year,” Russo says. “Then, three weeks after my twins were born, I got a call saying, ‘The dot-com company is a bust, the doors are locked and we’re in chapter seven bankruptcy.’”
He started searching and interviewing for jobs, but with a family to support in the meantime, he reached out to one of his apartment developer connections, asking to represent him in his cable and internet contract negotiations while he looked for full-time employment.
Not only did he agree, but he told his other developer friends—who told their friends, who told their friends …
“I kept growing and growing the business by default through referrals, and I said ‘Well, forget it. I’m going to make a run with this,’” Russo says. “To this day, I’ve never hired a salesperson, and 19 years later, we survive on referrals because we do a really good job for our clients.”
So, what exactly is that job? In short, technology advising.
Essentially, Russo and his team of eight keep up with the technology and advancements of the telecommunications industry so that their clients don’t have to—advising developers on how to best outfit their buildings for the cable, internet and phone services potential residents desire; consulting on how to retroactively update older buildings; and negotiating contracts with major cable and internet companies to ensure their clients get the best, most cost-effective deals.
“There are very few of us in the country that have found this niche and this level of expertise,” Russo says. “They love us because they need us. They truly need us because the industry just hasn’t caught up with technology.”
The specificity of its niche and technology’s constant evolution keep BBCG team members busy. While they work a lot of hours to keep the business thriving, all employees work remotely, are compensated well and have a say in company decisions—a business practice Russo learned during his studies at Florida Tech.
“Even though I’m the boss and I own the company, I still respect the opinions of other people,” he says. “You still want group input, and that’s what Florida Tech taught me.”
Ready to share lessons like these with the new generation of businesspeople, Russo recently joined Florida Tech’s College of Business Advisory Board and even spoke to a global business class in the spring semester.
As vital to his success as evolving alongside technology, Russo told the class, was doing so with his dignity intact. When pressured throughout his career to cut corners, bend the truth or take “the easy way out,” Russo always resisted, and today, he reaps the reward.
“Morals and ethics are very important in business; that’s how you get more referrals,” he says. “And that’s the most rewarding part: That it’s my company, and I shaped the company with my morals and ethics.”