Rob Hessel is a small town guy with international dreams
Rob Hessel went on a trip of a lifetime this year. He took his grandmother, Mary Ellen Hessel, to Ireland to visit where his family originated. When he recounts the memories from that trip, his eyes tear up.
It’s a testament to Hessel’s personality — humble, humorous and honest.
It’s also evident in the business he’s built for the past eight years.
Source 1 Solutions, a managed IT services and outsourcing provider based in Clearwater, started off basically as a one-man show with no revenue and now is an international company on track to make between $13 million and $15 million in 2019.
When Hessel started to toy with the idea of establishing his own business, he met with an adviser from the United Kingdom and listened to him talk for about 45 minutes at a wine bar in Westchase.
“I was scared to death to do it and I’m telling him, ‘I need a partner.’ He said, ‘You don’t need a partner. You need money,” Hessel recalls. “He says, ‘Let me tell you something. Once you’ve figured out that you just need money, you’re going to despise having a partner. So, go find the money.’ It was great advice. I think I had $2,500 left to my name when I started Source 1 Solutions.”
What started as a small enterprise has grown substantially since then.
“We’ve grown 293 percent over the last three years. We did just shy of $9 million last year in the United States, and we’ll do between $13 million and $15 million in the U.S. this year. And we’ll do another million overseas,” Hessel says.
In fact, the latest news for Source 1 is the opening of a new office in Ireland.
“From a business perspective, it’s a great place for an American company to do business,” he says. “Ireland will be our European headquarters.”
But it hasn’t forgotten its Tampa Bay ties. On the local front, Source 1 Solutions supports a few charities, including the Community Services Foundation, Feeding Tampa Bay and Tampa Bay’s Dancing With the Stars.
Hessel, and his company’s dearest organization, is the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which supports widows of veterans or first responders by either paying off their mortgages, building them new houses or renovating their current homes.
The annual event takes place in Clearwater. Source 1 Solutions had 30 team members participate in the event in 2018 and the company plans to do so again this year.
On September 11, 2001, Siller, who was working with a Brooklyn fire rescue unit (Squad 1), had just finished his shift and was on his way to play golf with his brothers when he heard over his scanner that a plane had hit the north tower of the World Trade Center.
Upon hearing the news, Siller called his wife, Sally, and asked her to tell his brothers he would catch up with them later. He returned to Squad 1 to get his gear.
Siller drove his truck to the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, but it had already been closed for security reasons. So, he strapped on his 60 pounds of gear and ran through the tunnel toward the Twin Towers. He died that day.
“As we continue to evolve and grow, I’m sure our contribution back into the community will be bigger and broader than what it is today,” Hessel says.
In The Navy
Hessel admits traditional school didn’t seem to suit him.
“I was a really good athlete, so I was recruited for multiple sports for college. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that required attending the classes. After wasting some of my parents’ money, we knew that wasn’t going to be a good route for me,” Hessel says. “I joined the Navy as a fourth generation in military service.”
Hessel learned of his grandfather’s military service after announcing he enlisted.
“My grandfather was on the USS Indianapolis. He got the mumps and was pulled off the ship two days before the Japanese sunk it. That’s why it was never spoken of in our house, because there’s a tremendous amount of guilt that you feel from not being there because you feel you could have done something and the reality is, he probably would have died.”
Hessel stayed in the Navy for three years, until he was injured in a training exercise and honorably discharged.
“I had to have reconstructive surgery on my left knee, so no more sports,” Hessel says.
He says he’s grateful for the opportunities the Navy brought to him. It got him out of the small town and was the reason he landed in Florida. After his injury, he relocated to Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville.
The Hessel Name
Hessel was born in Pellston, Michigan, to young parents.
“I had an upbringing like you would expect it to be. [My parents] separated very early. I was spending a lot of time with my grandparents, who really helped to raise me,” Hessel says.
His mother remarried, so Hessel says he was grateful to have two dads, even if he gave his stepfather a hard time when he was young.
“When I tell you that I didn’t give him even remotely a chance of hope, I was such a jerk to him, and you can print that,” he says with a laugh.
Hessel graduated from a high school in the eastern Upper Peninsula, in a town called Cedarville.
“Interestingly enough, the town that backs up and sidelines with Cedarville is a town called Hessel, which is actually founded by my family,” Hessel says.
The Hessels come from Ireland, in an area called Glenarm.
“My grandmother is 86 years old. She doesn’t like to fly. She thought Michigan was like, everything the world was flat outside of Michigan. She couldn’t imagine leaving Michigan,” Hessel says. This summer I asked her, ‘Would you go to Ireland?’ ”
She said she would, and Hessel set up to plan a trip of a lifetime for her.
“I had to get my aunt involved because I knew she’d back out if I didn’t. So, I’m like, keep pressure on her,” he says. “We had zero information really. We had some pictures. So, it was really a scavenger hunt to go try to find what we could.”
Hessel said he was worried that his grandmother would be pushed too hard and wanted to make sure to take it slow for her.
“I told my aunt, ‘You know, she’s 86 and I was really worried about her energy levels and being able to get around.’ She was like a teenager. She wore us out,” he says.
One of their great finds was an old family tombstone, which Grandma Mary spotted.
“We found a farm that used to belong to our family. At one point she leaned over and she said, ‘Pinch me, so I know I’m not dreaming.’ I’m like, ‘Don’t do that again, I’ll cry,’ ” Hessel laughs. “We spent a few days up north. I took her down to Dublin. And then back to England, to meet some of my friends that I’ve developed over there and see where I came from in Windsor Castle, and all these different things.”
“She raised me. A lot of the good stuff in my life that I am today is because of her. I could never thank her enough for it. I dedicated my book, Safe City, to her,” Hessel says. “My aunt made a scrapbook of the trip for my grandma and made notes about where we were and what was going on at the time. I think she sleeps with it. My uncle told me everywhere she goes, she takes it and shows everyone.”
One of Hessel’s pet projects is his hotel in Costa Rica, called Hotel Trident.
“Growing up in a small town you always dream about traveling. It wasn’t by design, this whole thing in Costa Rica was just right place, right time and an opportunity,” Hessel says. “It’s been almost two years now, but we’re starting to figure it out.”
Hessel’s life at home is peaceful. He has two dogs and just moved into a home in Safety Harbor, with a large backyard he plans to host parties and cookouts in. He saw the backyard first and decided if the home inside was livable at all, he would take it.
He also spends about half his time at an apartment in England. He loves to see the world, but Tampa Bay is undeniably home.
“I’m absolutely in love with the Tampa Bay area. I choose to live here. I can live anywhere. I want to,” Hessel says.♦