One West Virginia CEO asks all the right questions to take herself—and others—to the top.
Written by Laura Wilcox Rote
Jeannette King always wanted to own a business that would grow while helping others. In 2007 she started her journey with the launch of Strategic Resolution Experts, Inc. (SRE), a Martinsburg-based company that helps businesses of all sizes in the commercial and government sectors. Jeannette says she barely had a clue how to get a business off the ground when she started, but she wasn’t afraid to ask questions. She set out with a $10,000 tax return and little else. “I had no other money in the bank, and I’m not married. From that I’ve grown my company to more than $3 million.”
Jeannette continues to ask all the right questions, but now she asks them of her clients in an effort to improve their businesses. SRE does a little bit of everything for both government and commercial companies in the areas of IT governance, human capital and strategic planning, project and program management, and training. SRE also uses its organizational expertise to support charities for the country’s military, veterans, and their children as well as helping educational institutions globally. “One of my customers says, ‘Jeannette, you ask all the annoying questions.’ That’s what we do. We say, ‘Did you think about this?’ We help solve
At its core, the company solves problems at the strategic level. “If an organization has business processes that aren’t working—things that are costing them money—we come in and evaluate how they’re operating their businesses,” Jeannette says. SRE manages projects, implements solutions, and trains staff—the latter of which Jeannette says may be the most important. “Having computers is great, but if you don’t have people who can operate them, it does no good,” she says.
Jeannette may be CEO of a successful company now, but it hasn’t always been easy. Growing up, she split time between living in a trailer in Bluefield and a housing project in Baltimore. “I grew up with an appreciation for folks who work hard but don’t always make their way ahead,” she says. “I didn’t know I was poor then. I thought standing in the cheese lines was fun.”
Her family couldn’t afford to send her to college, so she joined the U.S. Navy instead. “I realized at a very young age that the only way I would get ahead was to get an education,” she says. “I knew I had to do something different with my life. I didn’t want to struggle like my parents did.” She put herself through college while in the Navy and finished her degree when she got out of the military, then as a single parent. She went from making $38,000 to $80,000 upon receiving her degree. “It was pretty amazing. It was like, ‘This is all I have to do?’”
After September 11, 2001, she took a job working at the Operations System Center for the Coast Guard in Kearneysville as a government contractor. After two years she left the Coast Guard to work as a consultant and worked for both government contractor and commercial organizations. In 2007, upon realizing her knack for quickly resolving organizational problems, she started her own business. “My passion is really helping people,” Jeannette says. “I wanted to start a business I could grow and use my success to help other people. I am very proud to say I am doing that to this day.”
Today SRE employs 20 people, and about half of those live in West Virginia. Bringing sustainable employment to the Mountain State is important to Jeannette, who herself lives in the Eastern Panhandle in Inwood. She takes great pride in being able to employ local people. When an employee bought a new house, she went to visit. “I saw his house and I cried. I’m so proud that I was able to help make this happen. It’s a big deal. He’s a young guy and he deserves this.”
SRE is a Woman-Owned, SBA Certified 8a / Small Disadvantaged Business. Jeannette is one of less than 300 non-minority 8as, but was certified because of her background and social disadvantage. “I’m from West Virginia. I was born economically and socially disadvantaged,” she says. Jeannette is used to outsiders’ frequent perceptions of her state, but she’ll always remember when a colleague told her being young, blonde, and West Virginian wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. “They expect you to be an idiot, and you blow them away.” She says the whole process has been—and continues to be—very interesting. “It is still a man’s world in government contracting,” she says.
She says growing the business has taken longer than it could have over the years, but she refused to work in any “gray area.” “Even if someone says you can make $1 million, you walk away from it if it’s not right,” she says. “That’s not worth it to me. I’d rather work really hard and struggle until I make it.”
Currently at any given time SRE has six to 12 ongoing projects. The company does a lot of work with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “What I love about what we do for the government is being a part of something bigger. Even if we’re not, say, in the security part of the work, what we do contributes to the security of our homeland,” Jeannette says. Sometimes projects are short-term and sometimes they take longer. “I tell my customers, ‘We don’t want to stay here for 100 years. We want to come in, find the problem, solve the problem, train you, and move on.” Then, she says, if SRE is needed later for an evaluation, they’ll come back and review. “Our business model is really to help them become self-sufficient. We want to teach them what we know so they can do the work.”
SRE also works with volunteer organizations like Final Salute, Inc., which provides housing to homeless female veterans and their children. “Female veterans are the largest growing homeless population in the country,” Jeannette says. “Being a single mom and growing up how I did, I realized that could’ve been me and that could be me in the future.”