ETS Solutions helps turn profits into purpose through core values and a mission to change lives.
By Jennifer Morrell
Mike Russell’s journey in starting Kennesaw-based ETS (Elite Telecom Services) Solutions began in 2002, when he was told that his son — then age 5 — had a brain tumor. This led to a decision to become a business owner to spend more time with his family. It also led to a serious consideration of his purpose as a company leader and as a father, which he refers to as his “why.”
Russell was more than prepared for the business end of this endeavor. A Salisbury, North Carolina, native, he attended UNC-Chapel Hill and then received a master’s in accounting and finance from Kennesaw State University. He was able to apply his degree and 15 years of law firm management experience to create ETS. The mission: to implement the sturdy principles of family values, customer service, technical expertise, and community service.
“I needed to own a business, so I could spend as much time as possible with my family,” Russell says. “I looked at franchises and restaurants but was intrigued when I reconnected with a high school friend who had just purchased an internet company. He offered me a job selling residential DSL [digital subscriber line], which I rejected, but this meeting led me to an agency who told me they would train me and provide the resources needed for me to do technology consulting.”
With no experience, no capital, no training in consulting or sales, Russell took a leap of faith. Long hours spent networking and branding the ETS name during the company’s first five years paid off and rapidly grew the business’ voice and presence in internet markets.
Today, Russell leads his team through the core values of faith, family, community service, client experience, and trust. These values reflect what he considers most important to guide the actions and decisions of his company. He says he is “blessed to be a blessing,” and this philosophy drives his business.
Rather than hiring based on talent, Russell says he now hires people based on their alignment to the culture. The pandemic and economic recession helped him realize that the people he hires need to share a culture with the ETS Solutions team. “When I started hiring for culture, it turned profits into purpose, and I found people with a passion,” Russell says. “When they understand the passion and see the ETS Foundation Grant Wall, it helps them understand how many kids we have helped so far. We have funded grants for two underprivileged kids to go to Georgia Trade School for full tuition of $10,500 to become professional, certified welders. We are here to change lives.”
Founded in 2019, The ETS Foundation is designed to provide grants to underprivileged people for educational expenses, primarily in the trade industry and is an extension of ETS Solutions commitment to serving the community. Russell shared that the vision of the ETS Foundation is to transform the landscape of educational support to ensure every individual has the opportunity to meet their full potential.
One of those students, Robin, is well on their way to a great career. “I’m planning on going to Trinity Rails; they repair and make train carts,” Robin said. “My career path has been impacted by the ETS Foundation because without their generous funding, I wouldn’t be able to be in this career path at all!”
Russell’s answer to the “why” has evolved over the last 20 years. Living in Kennesaw and learning of his son’s diagnosis, he discovered that his “why” was his family. He writes about his journey in a book he authored, “70/50/10 – The Journey To An Entrepreneurial Legacy.”
ETS Solutions serves more than 300 clients in 2,000 locations. One might assume the achievement is in these strong numbers. But the “why” Russell was seeking came from a different source — the integration of faith. “The largest evolution in our company was adding faith to our core values,” he says. “We now market ourselves as a faith-based technology consulting company whose mission is servant leadership. We do this through daily guidance with our ETS family such as a company prayer board and encouraging spiritual growth, coupled with contributing twenty percent of our annual revenue to community non-profit organizations and The ETS Foundation.”
Twenty percent of a company’s annual revenue is nothing to sneeze at, and Russell and his team take great pride in the ability to serve various organizations. ETS partners with CURE Childhood Cancer, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Inspiredu, TechBridge, High Tech Prayer Breakfast, and Atlanta Technology Professionals. Russell used his experience and networking opportunities from Leadership Atlanta to form The ETS Foundation.
During the last two years, the foundation has helped high school graduates with expenses in the culinary, automotive, and welding industries, partnering with organizations such as The Georgia Trade School, Marietta High School Career and Technical Education Program, and the Cobb Innovation & Technology Academy. ETS Solutions’ goal is to fund the foundation with a $1-million endowment to help hundreds of underprivileged people every year.
The business of business
“The first ten years focused on phone bill auditing, saving clients on their phone and internet services,” Russell says. “Ten years into business, I rebranded to ETS Solutions to include cloud and security consulting. Five years ago, we added technology project management, technology expense management, and M&A technology due diligence.”
Russell credits a six-step ETS UserXperience® with separating his company from other technology consulting businesses. The six-step system provides a well-rounded technology consulting solution approach for any size client. He also credits core values — faith, family, community service, client experience, and trust — in the building of a solid foundation for his clients.
“ETS Solutions specializes in multi-location technology consulting helping clients consolidate vendors, increase services, and save monthly costs,” he says. “While we have clients of all sizes and industries, our primary focus is on the following vertical markets: senior living and multi-family communities, non-profit organizations, and medical, legal and construction companies.”
Russell realized during his first year in business that community service would be a major key to success. He joined all the Cobb County business associations and area chambers to give back to his community. “While I realized my participation was making a difference, my company was not completely meshed into the community service spirit,” he says. “Over the past few years, we have incorporated non-profits into our technology events, so we are always giving back. We will be holding our 3rd Annual Servant Technology Concilium (www.etsconcilium.com) in August. We will donate the proceeds of $10,000 to The ETS Foundation and Inspiredu.”
The accolades are plentiful: Russell is a Leadership Cobb 2006 and Leadership Atlanta 2017 alumnus. He also was honored with the Technology Service Provider of the Year Award from Atlanta Technology Professionals, as well as the TechBridge Sig Mosely Entrepreneurial Leader Awards in 2021.
Russell’s nature of giving back seemingly never ends. Having worked so hard and seen such success, he can offer advice to any business owner. “Every business owner should have a Business Maturity Date,” he says. “This isn’t a date to sell the business, to retire or to hand over leadership. It is the date when your business gives you the time, money, and significance you want. Each of these come in various forms and fashions, but if you have that date set with your goals, you will hit them.”
Today his son is cancer-free and Russell enjoys spending time with his family and traveling to see his North Carolina Tarheels. He has enjoyed giving back to the community through his past membership and participation in Marietta Kiwanis, Leadership Cobb, The Bill Thrash Kennesaw Teen Center, Cobb Relay For Life and serving on three boards at Kennesaw State University.
In addition, Russell enjoys his everyday engagement with his ETS family of employees. He and his entire team are dedicated to filling the ETS Foundation Grant Wall with grant recipients. The “why” is well understood: helping people as a result of the hard work put into ETS Solutions. On that Foundation Grant Wall, each team member has his or her name on a plaque to symbolize the moment when a life is changed forever through work at ETS.
Russell says the futures of the company and The ETS Foundation are unlimited. He and his team will continue to build successful client relationships focused on the company’s core values, keeping them updated with current technologies. Moreover, the ETS group has a purpose-driven focus on their “why,” every day.
Editor’s note: In celebration of 20 years success leading to 20 more years of servant leadership for the Foundation, ETS Solutions is honored to waive technology consulting fees for all new clients over the next 12 months. Contact Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how ETS can help your business and receive your complimentary written Technology Assessment at www.etssolutions.com or www.theetsfoundation.org.