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Tech company founder draws on military experience to lead during the pandemic

Tech company founder draws on military experience to lead during the pandemic

Rob Hessel, CEO of Source 1 Solutions, credits his service in the U.S. Navy for letting him successfully lead the IT management company during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lessons learned about resilience, culture, teamwork and chain of command kept the Clearwater-based firm on track and growing, Hessel said.

“What I did in military didn’t translate over from a skills perspective .. but the values, the work ethic and the things I learned about leadership in the military did translate into the business world,” said Hessel, speaking in advance of Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

Related: City of St. Pete to honor local vets on Veterans Day

Hessel founded Source 1 Solutions in 2011. The company specializes in monitoring, managing and maintaining enterprise infrastructure for enterprise and mid-market organizations around the world.

Hessel said he drew on what he learned in the Navy about an “equal footing culture” to shape Source 1’s approach to working globally. He pointed to his experience in boot camp, where everyone was wearing an identical uniform.

“Everyone is on a level playing field. There’s no class. There’s no educational difference. There’s no background difference. Everyone is even at that point and you start from scratch. That’s a clever thing the military does to get everyone on the same page, letting go of stereotypes and preconceived notions about people. Everyone gets treated the same, everyone looks the same, and you have to make or break it based on who you are as a person,” Hessel said.

That’s key at Source 1, with employees in 18 countries.

“We have all different cultural backgrounds in the company … and being exposed to that early on was a good thing for me,” he said. “You have to be able to work and understand and relate to all cultures and backgrounds.”

When the pandemic hit, Source 1 – along with many of its clients – shifted to working from home for an extended period of time, so Hessel focused on the company’s culture to keep workers connected.

“We had to get very clever about keeping people aligned, keeping people focused on what the vision and values of the company were, and we had to how to translate those things to people by good communication when we couldn’t be sitting next to them,” Hessel said. “I focused on my communication to the company as a whole, not just the management or senior leadership team. Here’s where we are at, here’s where we are going, here’s how we are performing, doing anything we could to keep that interaction going so everyone understands up and down the chain of command our mission, vision and values and that we were going to be OK.”

Chain of command is paramount in the military, he said. “You need to know the mission and you need to understand the mission and you all need to be going in the same direction. Variances from that are not tolerated. They are not even optional,” he said. “For example, I did Friday status update calls with the entire company. It was about letting everyone know the company was fine and we had a very serious mission. It’s not just providing an IT service, but a lot of new customers came to us who had never worked remotely before so we had a very serious mission of getting them ready to have a work from home workforce.”

Eight months into the pandemic, Source 1 Solutions now is taking a hybrid approach to its own work.

“I’m a big believer in the office. We’re an on-premise type of company. I think a lot of companies will get back to that eventually. There are a lot of benefits to having people in the office. Not everyone is meant to work from home,” he said. “But we’ve had to think about things we never thought about before. It used to be a badge of honor to come into the office if you were sick because you still had work to do. Now we realize how important it is not to come to the office if you are sick and how bad that could be. That’s a big shift inside our company.”

Hessel sees veterans as an invaluable asset in the workforce.

“The experience you get in the military, especially resiliency and being able to cope with stress, are some of the key characteristics of people that come out of the military, no matter what job they were doing. They’ve all had to go through a certain level of training,” he said. “Ex-athletes and ex-military not only make great employees and team members, but they make great entrepreneurs. They’ve been through hard times. That’s part of military training, making you uncomfortable and making you adapt, stay calm and resilient. Those are characteristics that you need to be an entrepreneur.”

Source 1 Solutions, with about 150 employees, including about 60 in its Clearwater office, has been recognized nationally and locally as a fast-growth company. The company had about $11 million in revenue last year and Hessel expects $15 million to $16 million in revenue this year.

Source 1 has been on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies for three consecutive years, including in 2020, when it ranked No. 1,251. The company also was named to an Inc. Private Titan, an award established to recognized the 1,000 largest and most inspiring private companies across the United States.

Related: Top execs at Tampa Bay’s Inc. 5000 companies on their best business decisions

Channel Futures included Source 1 on its MSP 501 list for the first time in 2020, a list that highlights the most elite of IT firms. And last year, Source 1 received the Honeywell Community Services award, recognizing the company for the value it puts on serving and supporting the local community. All full-time team members at Source 1 are encouraged and allowed to take off four hours a month with pay to support an approved charity.

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