A Conversation With: Charles Sowell, chief executive officer, SE&M Solutions Inc.

Jennifer Botchie Deinlein//October 31, 2022

A Conversation With: Charles Sowell, chief executive officer, SE&M Solutions Inc.

Jennifer Botchie Deinlein//October 31, 2022

How has your military training prepared you for your business today? 

The military taught me skills I use every day in my business, and then I try to teach those to new employees and in my team, so I manage by example. Time management is a critical part of the day. Time can really get away from you quickly if you don’t manage it well, so I need a military time management style. Certainly leadership comes into play in all aspects, whether (with) employees on a project or with clients. If I’m speaking at conferences or a professional development seminar, the military made me far more comfortable in doing that.  

In military service you come across such a huge number of true heroes, people who have given life and limb, who have made tremendous sacrifices or the ultimate sacrifice. For those of us who were fortunate enough to complete our service without those sacrifices, it is humbling. 

There are a lot of efforts to help retired military personnel translate their skills to the civilian workforce. What are some qualities you think are perhaps overlooked in these efforts?  

When I was in the Navy, I was an intelligence specialist first, and then I was a janitor, I stood watch so I had to carry a firearm and provide security services. These collateral duties provide a voice of experience most civilian employees don’t get. When you’re a civilian, you typically have a job and you do that job to the best of your ability. In the military, someone has one job, usually a primary duty that you join the military for, and then a whole host of other things. 

Being agile is another quality. I could switch gears without much warning and become a firefighter if necessary. As a military person, when the rubber meets the road, you do whatever it takes. It’s something I see almost every veteran has and they never talk about in an interview, like hey if you need me to be a software developer for my primary job, I just wanted you to know I can also do other things like document editing or helping with general things around the office if that’s what you need me to do. 

As a business leader, what do you think fellow executives can take from the military and apply to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in their businesses? 

The military excels at diversity, equity and inclusion because we recruit from a whole variety of backgrounds. We really don’t care what your race, religion, political bent is. When you come into the military, if you’re willing to serve your country, we need people of all backgrounds to do that. My branch specialty was intelligence, and diversity, equity and inclusion is even more important in the intelligence community, because if you don’t have people who can speak the language or know the culture of another country that we’re interested in, you’re really operating at a loss, and I find the same thing in the business world. I think veterans in general bring an experience in operating in a DEI and A environment many civilians just don’t have the opportunity to work as closely in. And I think that’s a real benefit for the business world. If I’m giving advice to business leaders, it’s don’t shy away from diversity, equity and inclusion from a political perspective; embrace it because of the value that it brings your business and the diversity of thought, experience, education, personal background, culture that you can’t buy through a degree program or you can’t get in in a job description. Having that employee base that really will give you a diversity of thought, diversity of innovation, based on their experience; it’s invaluable.  

What is your favorite sport to watch? 

I like tennis, one because I can somewhat play it okay. My wife and I like to get out and play tennis, although we don’t get to play as much as we would like to. I love to watch it, because, like at Wimbledon this year, you have the chance to see up-and-coming players who can just through sheer talent and sometimes incredible luck find themselves facing the No. 1 player in the world, and it is rare to see that happen in other venues. I love rooting for the underdog and seeing them at least hold their own, if not win.  

About Charles Sowell 

Charles Sowell, 54, started his own company, SE&M Solutions Inc., in the Harrisburg area last year. The company provides information technology and professional services to federal and commercial clients. Before that, he served various roles in government contracting for more than two decades. He retired from the Navy in 2015 as a Commander after 27 years of active duty and reserve service. 

Sowell earned a bachelor’s degree in international studies, with honors, from Old Dominion University, and a master’s in strategic intelligence from the Joint Military Intelligence College (now National Intelligence University). He also completed the University of Michigan’s business executive program in 2012. 

He lives in Camp Hill with his wife and their blended family of two daughters and a son, as well as two dogs.