EMERSON E. RUSSELL
* Born: Fort Pierce, Fla.
* Age: 69
* Background: Reared in Chattanooga, East Ridge High School graduate, studied polygraphy at Texas A&M
* Company: ERMC (Emerson Russell Maintenance Co.)
* Services: Security, maintenance, janitorial, landscaping
* Employees: 5,000, including 400 in Chattanooga
Entrepreneurs do things differently from others and they understand "the importance of what's worth chasing," Chattanooga's new top manager said Wednesday.
"We try to create jobs, try to do something different. That sets us apart from everybody else," said Emerson E. Russell, chief executive of Chattanooga-based ERMC, as he became the city's 31st Manager of the Year, selected by a collection of business groups.
Russell, 69, whose company employs more than 5,000 people providing security, maintenance, janitorial and landscaping services in 35 states, said entrepreneurs are visionaries and risk-takers.
"They think outside the box. They're creators," he told several hundred people at the Convention Center.
ERMC (Emerson Russell Maintenance Co.) traces its roots to 1972 and it now employs about 400 people in Chattanooga.
Charles Lebovitz, chairman of Chattanooga-based shopping center developer CBL & Associates Properties Inc., told the group that his company has done business with ERMC for over 40 years.
"I see ERMC as our go-to people," he said. "The whole team has our best interest at heart."
Lebovitz said Russell "comes up with more ideas, more innovation. He's an entrepreneur at heart."
Nick Decosimo, office managing shareholder in Chattanooga for the accounting firm Elliott Davis Decosimo and last year's top manager, said one of Russell's companies manages the baggage handling conveyors for Southwest Airlines nationwide.
Russell came up with the idea of locating his people in "hubs," rather than at each airport the carrier operates, so they can do the job more efficiently, saving Southwest a lot of money, Decosimo said.
"He could easily be Entrepreneur of the Year as well as Manager of the Year," he said, noting Russell buys and sells cars, is a developer, has a catering business and owns and manages a lot of real estate properties.
Russell, the son of a Church of God minister and an East Ridge High School graduate, said people ask him frequently how to start a new business.
"You've got to know what you're wanting to do, and get the right people around you and make sure you give them the proper tools, training, support and overall management," he said. "If you do all those things, it will happen."
He said he's also often asked why he does what he does and puts in long hours.
"It's not the money. It's the deal," Russell said. "It's making the deal work not just for me but for everybody involved in the deal."
Russell said an entrepreneur has to believe in himself and what he's doing to get other people to believe in him.
"You become an expert in every field, but to do that — the key to that — is to make sure you've got experts in each field who really know what they're doing," he said.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318.