George Russo

Catering Business Owner

George Russo was raised immersed in the hospitality industry, his father and uncle having opened a small Italian pizzeria in New York City in 1954. Over the years, the business expanded into a full-service restaurant, and then an extremely successful on-premises catering facility. George is now a second-generation owner of the family business.

Graduating from New York Law School in 1982, passing the New York State Bar in 1983, George Russo served in the Queens District Attorney’s office for a length of time before beginning the solo-practice of law. During the course of maintaining his law practice, George discovered that one of his major strengths was developing the business itself, which prompted him to reconsider his legal career in favor of business ownership. In addition to the catering company, he found that title insurance was a perfect fit for him, and he proceeded to open his own title company in 2007. As the owner and operator of two businesses, George is able to remain effectively on-premises with both his catering and title companies. The two establishments are located across the street from one another, making it easy for him to ensure that both are running smoothly.

When not managing his companies, George Russo enjoys playing with his grandchildren, watching movies, and reading.

Where did the idea for your career come from?

The idea for taking up the mantle of the catering business came from growing up in it and working with my father and uncle when I was young. There was of course much personal observation and involvement with the family business.. With the title company operation, the idea came from being a practicing attorney. Through that work, I came to understand the role of a title company, what its business model is, and how it fits within the real estate transaction. That was more exposure than an idea.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

One of the things I enjoy most about what I do is that not every day is the same. There are always different challenges, especially in the catering business. There are different events, different schedules— sometimes an event starts early, sometimes it starts late. Typically, in the morning I read my emails and messages and go to a personal trainer three days a week. I usually get into work a little later than some because my catering business keeps me up late on weekends. I review the day, look at my to-do list, take care of incoming and outgoing communications, then head into the office. A lot of my day is based on communication, so I have staff meetings that are mostly administrative and managerial in nature. I work quite a lot of hours per week . I take each day as I find it, but the most consistent thing I do is to follow my to-do list, as it gets me closer to those short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals that I have set for myself.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I work on them. I like to use this quote that I heard from an inspirational speaker. ‘Imagination is a preview of life’s coming attractions.’ Imagination is similar to your idea. What is it that you want to achieve? What’s your goal? You cannot have an impossible thought. If you can visualize it then you can achieve it. After due diligence, if it’s something that you want to achieve then how do you bring it to life? You set a course, you write down short-term goals to achieve your long-term idea. Some ideas are smaller than others. For example, you could have an idea for approaching a new client. It’s all a process. You put it down on paper and follow it step by step.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The trend that excites me, and one that I also find challenging, is the way technology is moving and how millennials and those belonging to the generations that come after them view the business world and how they communicate and interact. That excites me because it’s a change from the old norms. How do I adapt and connect with this new generation of business leaders? It’s a growing pain, but it’s exciting at the same time to learn how to reach this new, younger, technologically advanced audience.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Communication with my staff, leadership, and creating a step-by-step approach to achieve my goals. That means a continuing process of daily and weekly lists designed to reach a particular goal.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would say be patient. Spend more time with your family. Work on your personal development and the business growth will follow. You are the business, and the business is you, so work more on yourself and understand yourself. Know your strengths and weaknesses, examine your gifts, and the more you improve, the more your business will thrive.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

What I find today is that people do not necessarily take responsibility for their actions. It’s undeniably true that our actions sometimes cause negative consequences and we learn from our mistakes, but I see a lot of people that externalize criticism. They don’t take criticism well. They don’t examine their own mistakes and learn from them. Reflection is incredibly important for personal growth.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Set your goal and, on a daily basis, examine where you are in relation to that goal. Ask yourself how you can get closer to achieving that goal this day. You can have many different goals, short-term, middle-term, or long-term, business & personal. The point is to constantly evaluate your position and adapt your approach based on where you find yourself at any given point.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

I was not always conversant in marketing my business. I knew how to work hard on my business, I got that lesson from my father, but I didn’t know how to brand my business. How do you market yourself and let people know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it better than others? It comes down to embracing marketing. I have the product, the proper motivation, and I believe I have my priorities in order, but my businesses grew much faster as I learned how to market myself. Effective marketing takes many forms including, but not limited to social media and in-person networking. In the catering business, my father’s marketing was just serving a good meal. In today’s world, you can’t exist by merely dealing with one client at a time. You have to learn to expand your outreach to a wider potential client audience.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

In my early days, I was prone to overreaching and I took some unnecessary risks. I needed to be wiser in choosing what goals were achievable to work towards. My failures were based on not respecting the process. I overcame that tendency by learning from my mistakes and teaching myself to be more diligent. I realized that I had to reconcile my reach with what was actually sustainable.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

In my industry, attorneys recommend title companies to clients. What I would like to see is clients, such as consumers in the real estate space having a greater ability to choose their own title company. If someone could develop an app that performs that function, perhaps by aggregating title companies and listing their rates and contact info, I think it would be a great idea for a startup.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The immediate thing that comes to mind is when I went to a meeting a couple of weeks ago. I was told about the book Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey. I only spent about $20 on the audiobook, but it was pretty cool. It was a recollection of his life and how he grew up. Embedded in his story were life lessons that really touched me because they were genuine, real and relatable.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Google and Outlook. They’re both platforms that allow you to be productive, effective, highly communicative, and efficient. I use them to manage my emails and text messages and they allow me to maintain a calendar to keep track of my appointments. Using these programs helps me to manage the in-flow and out-flow of information.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. When you scratch the surface, it’s biblical in nature. It’s basic message is, what you can visualize, you can achieve. If you can dream and imagine it, you can achieve it. Focus is energy. If you focus on something you put your energy into it and with a plan you can attain it. The book offers the psychological foundation for being aware of what’s happening in your mind. I’ll try to summarize its central theme: I can achieve anything I visualize. How do I work on my visualization and make it real? Once it’s in my mind and I keep thinking about it, I give it energy. I get closer to its accomplishment. That’s my goal, then I create the steps to get to my goal. It all starts with an idea and a thought process.

What is your favorite quote?

My favorite quote is by Winston Churchill. When he was asked what success is, he replied, “Success is going from failure to failure without losing your sense of enthusiasm.”

Key Learnings:

  • Visualize & imagine your goals. Making lists and sticking to them is an effective way to achieve the goals you visualize.
  • Sometimes we can be our own largest obstacle. It’s important to understand this and recognize when it is happening.
  • There will always be failures in life, but it’s important not to lose sight of your goals when those failures occur.