Jeannette King is a Navy veteran, a mother and the president and chief executive officer of Strategic Resolution Experts Inc., which she founded in 2007.
Based in Martinsburg, W.Va., SRE provides management consulting and information-technology planning and support services to the federal government in 12 states.
King holds a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from Mountain State University and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix. She has more than 20 years of experience providing management and information-technology consulting services to federal civilian and defense agencies.
King was named the Small Business Administration’s Small Business Person of the Year for West Virginia for 2015 and the Veteran Champion of the Year for 2014. She was also a finalist in the JP Morgan Chase Women Veterpreneur of the Year for 2014.
In May, the Small and Emerging Contractors Advisory Forum presented SRE with its award of excellence, which highlights an organization that represents excellence within its community, the government-contracting industry and toward employees.
What was your background before starting SRE, and what prompted you to launch the business?
I served in the Navy for nearly six years, and came out and worked as a government contractor for various agencies such as the U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Federal Aviation Administration. I also did consulting for commercial companies such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I realized early on that I had a skill for solving complex problems for organizations in the realm of business and IT and, because I am a person who feels compelled to help people, I started SRE on the premise that I could help organizations solve those problems. I am also a single mother and wanted to ensure my son received the education that I feel is necessary for success. I am happy to say that he is attending the University of Sciences in Philadelphia this fall to become a doctor of pharmacy.
Who were your business mentors and how have they influenced you?
I have been very fortunate to have great mentors over the years. I met Cindy Castillo, president and chief executive officer of CSSI Inc., in 2007, and she provided me resources and information to help me break into the government-contract industry, and over the years is the person I still call when I feel I have a “crisis” that I just cannot solve. In addition, that year I met Heidi Gerding, president and CEO of HeiTech Services. Heidi and her partner, Jim Clements, provided me with valuable information on do’s and don’ts in the industry, and also contracted for SRE to provide them training. They don’t know it, but that small training contract kept SRE afloat and fed my son for several months.
I also met a retired Marine, Michael Parks, who worked for a teaming partner, and he told me one day that people underestimate me, and it was my secret weapon. He said when I walked into a room — a young woman (I started my business when I was 32) with blond hair and a West Virginia accent — everyone assumed I was not going to know what I was doing. (His exact words were, “They think you are dumb.”) When I would start to speak about technology and business solutions that I had developed to solve their problems, they were completely shocked, and it made them sit up straight and listen. He taught me to remember that and use it to my advantage.
If you don’t mind sharing, what worked and what didn’t as you started your business?
I always knew that people are the most valuable asset of any business, and it is very important to find the right people. I often see potential in people, versus what they are actually capable of, so I made some hiring missteps early on. Over the years, I have implemented a comprehensive screening process to ensure the people we hire are qualified, understand that we are about service to our clients, but also share in the core values of the company — integrity, quality and performance. I also think it is very important to have the right team of advisers: accountants and lawyers who know you, know your business and know what they are doing. I fired five accountants before I found Scott Blackburn CPA, whom I have been with for about five years.
Why locate in Martinsburg? How does the location help with your business operations?
I am from West Virginia and lived in Martinsburg when I started my business. I grew up in southern West Virginia, and while my family worked very hard all their lives, because of the economy, they struggled. I wanted to build a business in West Virginia that provides people with sustainable jobs and a means to take care of their families, minus the struggle. I stayed in Martinsburg because it contains a HUBZone, which is a federal small-business program that encourages businesses to locate and hire people from economically disadvantaged areas. This fits into my goals of providing sustainable jobs to people in West Virginia and now across the country. We have people in 12 states now, and some of those people are located in HUBZones in their states.
What needs are you looking to fill for your clients, and how do you go about assessing and filling those needs?
Our business involves solving complicated problems for our customers, so our contracts require highly qualified and experienced people. We always look first to veterans who have served in high-level advisory roles, because in the military, you have to be a problem-solver and understand the big picture, as well as the operational details. If we cannot find veterans, then we look within our own networks to find people who we know and trust before we go out to the general public. We have stringent hiring guidelines and processes that normally exceed what our customers require because we want to ensure we are supporting their mission — and many of our customers’ missions involve protecting the homeland and providing global security, as well as serving veterans. We take those responsibilities very seriously and ensure we find the right people to serve them.
Aside from the bottom line, how do you measure success? Has that changed since you first launched the business?
So, I am probably the worst “business” person in the world because the bottom line is not even in my top three priorities. What is most important to me is how SRE positively contributes to our employees, our communities, our country and the world. I feel like if we do the right thing, then the right things will happen, from a business perspective. When my employees tell me about finishing college, buying a house, putting their children through college and what volunteer work they are doing in their communities, I feel we are successful. When a customer tells me that my folks found a way to save them time, money or made a measurable contribution to their mission, I feel we are successful. For me it is about how we serve and the impact we make, versus how much money the company makes.
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