John Rothenberger, the son of a dairy farmer, has entrepreneurship in his blood. The founder of an IT product reseller company at the age of 26, Rothenberg changed his career path after 9/11. He founded and now runs the company SE Solutions, a specialized company that brings a business dimension to strategic and technical solutions and enables successful transformation for Federal Government Agencies. Last week Rothenberger sat down with WashingtonExec to discuss working for one of the first IT product reselling companies, how his company acquired Evolution Technologies and why he loves to give back to his Alma mater, James Madison University.
WashingtonExec: Please describe your background and how it led you to start SE Solutions.
John Rothenberger: I essentially grew up in Reading PA part of a 75 year old family dairy business. Therefore, we talked a lot about small business issues at the dinner table. I graduated from JMU in 1988 with a degree in business. I had a goal of starting my own business for as long as I can remember and started my first business Clover Technologies, later renamed Aspire Technology Group, in 1993 at age 26. We were one of the first IT product resellers who direct shipped product to commercial customers. We did very little federal business. We also had a network services arm that specialized in Directory Services and solutions such as single sign on. That business was sold in March of 2000. Then 911 hit the DC area. I watched the smoke coming out of the Pentagon and felt moved to help our nation and fight back in someway. Turned out the best way was for me to do that was to do what I had done before. I wrote a business plan aimed at bringing innovative people and solutions from the private sector to agencies involved in helping the federal government improve our nations homeland security. The timing was very good and an intel agency sponsored me for a facility clearance on the promise that I would bring the best and the brightest high end consultants and engineers who were solutions oriented from the private sector. Eight months later we had our facility clearance and our first customer was DHS HQ in late 2003. Hence, our name, Strategic Enterprise Solutions or SE Solutions.
WashingtonExec: Where do you see SE Solutions in the next five years? Ten years?
John Rothenberger: Our purpose is to serve the Federal Government through innovation and the delivery of expert solutions that help government improve our nations homeland security and defense. We recently refreshed our strategic plan through 2015 and fully expect to be a preeminent and widely respected, “go-to”, if you will, program support services company focused in the homeland security market. We will do this by integrating technology with management consulting services to deliver expert program support services. We have been building a reputation as a winning team of deeply knowledgeable consulting and technology people committed to bringing technology, innovation and proven best practices from the private sector. We recently completed the acquisition of a fine, small, boutique consulting firm called Evolution Technologies, EvoTec brings emergency management and response capabilities and communications standards expertise to SE Solutions. They have a lot of experience at FEMA and S&T. We also have a real focus on employee development and I believe have an innovative Talent management program inside SE Solutions. This program focuses our leadership and employees to co develop skills and capabilities in talented individuals and align this development with our strategic corporate growth plan. We are very committed doing more with less by creating innovation inside SE Solutions and also bringing innovation from the private sector to our Federal customers. In ten years, it is too hard to tell in today’s climate.
WashingtonExec: You seem pretty connected with your Alma mater James Madison University. Why is that?
John Rothenberger: In 1998, I was the youngest member of the Executive Advisory Council for JMU’s college of business. Over the years of judging business plan competitions and playing an industry advisory role to the college at JMU, I realized that there might be a need for an advanced undergraduate focus on entrepreneurship and business creation. Along with the support of the Dean and another professor, I co-created and co-taught a senior level class called “Venture Creation.” This class focuses on the creation of a viable business plan and the actual launch of a start-up. It has had huge success and last year, the class launched four start-up businesses at the undergraduate level. These are the kind of efforts that will bring our country back to the forefront. I currently serve as the Entrepreneur in Residence and the chair of the Center for Entrepreneurship at JMU. So, I am connected because I want to give back to a school that provided a great experience for me, mentoring and coaching student like myself, and helping to stimulate entrepreneurship and create innovation for this struggling economy.
WashingtonExec: If you could travel back in time to any moment in your professional career and give yourself a piece of advice, what would that be?
John Rothenberger: Think big, go big, or go home. I’m kind of joking about the go home part, but my message here is don’t let your fear, insecurity and emphasis on control limit you from thinking big and making large, growth oriented decisions and goals for yourself and your business. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish when you don’t let fear or need for control dominate your decisions making.