As a kid fearless enough to catch snakes for people for $20 per snake, calm enough to ride on his bicycle with a snake on it, and audacious enough to sell those same snakes to the local pet store for $40, it was no wonder that Sean Jensen would grow up to be a Marine. And as a kid entrepreneurial enough to think that scheme up, it was no wonder that he’d eventually become the CEO of his own company, Polu Kai Services, at a mere 29 years old. Polu Kai Services, a global environmental and construction solutions company, has now made three consecutive appearances in Inc. Magazine’s list of 500 fastest-growing private businesses in the United States, and was named one of the top veteran companies in the DC Metro area by Washington Business Journal in 2015.
Polu Kai Services: Revenge of the Good Guys
After leaving the Marines, Jensen became a hard and loyal worker. However, when it was time for him to receive his well-earned bonus, his boss declined to give it to him. “Instead of going to war with this guy in court, I started my own company and got all the clients that I’d sold for him,” says Jensen. Money was a challenge. The banks weren’t loaning to him, but he took what was left of his 401k and opened a bank account with it, telling the banker that one day there would be a million dollars in there. The banker thought he was crazy. “But I meant it,” says Jensen.
Jensen’s way of doing business is simple. “Do a good job, and keep doing a good job, and document your good job,” he says. “Then use that to get to the next level.”
Don’t Be Greedy
The owners of other companies the same size as Polu Kai could pay themselves a million dollars a year, but Jensen’s salary is $185,000. “I put it back into the company, and I keep it there,” he says. He uses it to invest in his employees, sending them to training and schools. “My employees are the greatest investment I have as a business,” Jensen says.
Connecting His Roots to His Future
When Jensen and his two younger siblings were abandoned in the foster care system when Jensen was six years old, they were moved from New York City to Florida and adopted, receiving new names. Jensen searched for his birth mother, but it wasn’t until he was 22 years old that he received a letter from his adoptive mother that contained all the things that transferred through the adoption with him. “I was able to locate my birth certificate and a couple other items that had my original name, and I did the research and found my grandfather, which led to my mother, which led to me finding out that I was native Hawaiian,” Jensen says. In fact, his family had been native to the Hawaiian Islands prior to 1775. “Polu is blue, Kai is ocean,” he says. “If you’re going to be native Hawaiian, why not name it native Hawaiian?”
Helping Veterans Transition into Civilian Life
Jensen is the author of Sergeant to CEO: A Foster Kid’s Lessons in Family, Fidelity, and Financial Success, a book and story that has touched many lives, as evident by his online community of over 28 thousand followers. “I ended up writing it to give back, let people know that you can be a foster kid and survive, and you can join the military and transition out and survive, and you can start a small business and survive,” he says. The books talks about planning and preparing for the transition to civilian life. “If there’s anything I’d like to solve, it’s better preparing troops as they transition out of the military,” he says. That includes career veterans who mistakenly think they can just retire, and the one-tour veterans who come out with injuries and PTSD into a world where civilians don’t understand them. Many of them think they will just go live with their parents until they get back on their feet. “The parents don’t want you back in the house,” he says. “The military’s not there to budget your life anymore. You’ve got to budget your own life.” It’s tremendous shell shock.
Advice for New Business Owners
“If you’re going to start a business, make it sustainable,” Jensen advises. “It takes time.” Lucky for him, his superpower is patience. Lucky for you, you can be patient, too. “Take those swings, take those hits, but patience,” he says.
On the Horizon
Jensen would like to start his own nonprofit. He donates to several nonprofits now, including veterans groups, children’s homes, and food banks, and going one step further to make his own nonprofit would be nice. “[It] is going to take some time to put that together,” he says. Patience.
You can find Jensen at his Sergeant to CEO Facebook page. “My advice is free, what you do with it is your own deal,” says Jensen.