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Navy Veteran Vies for National Small Business Person of the Year


Michael Cherock is Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania

SBA Small Business Person of the Year


In 2007, Michael Cherock was a one-man-band at AE Works, located in the basement of his house on Mount Washington.  A mere seven years later, Cherock has moved from basement to boardroom overseeing the activities of AE Works Ltd., an all-encompassing architectural-engineering firm that employs 31 people in three locations.  

Cherock will travel to Washington, D.C. to compete for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) title of Small Business Person of the Year.  That honor will be announced during the 51st annual celebration of National Small Business Week.  Cherock began his quest at the local level, when he was chosen as the Pittsburgh District Office Small Business Person of the Year.  The nomination package then was forwarded to the regional SBA office in Philadelphia to compete with the Eastern Pennsylvania winner to represent the state.

“This is such an honor and while I’ve never been a big award person, this is a heck of an award,” Cherock admitted. “I’ve asked my staff to be there to celebrate our hard work, because they are the people with big ideas who act on them.”

Cherock, the son of a Navy man, enlisted during his junior year at Norwin Area High School.  “The Navy was all I knew, along with electronics,” he explained.  “After my father’s tour ended, we located here and he was in construction.  I knew from a young age, that wasn’t a good fit, so I helped with electrical components which I transitioned into the Navy.”

At 25, Cherock, a submarine-qualified nuclear-trained power-plant operator, suffered a hand injury aboard the USS Columbia (SSN-771) and was discharged with paralysis in his left hand.  He then became the first member of his family to graduate from college, obtaining graduate and undergraduate degrees in architectural engineering from the Pennsylvania State University.

Cherock, who worked as a staff engineer   for local companies, said he felt “lost at sea” in the business world.

“I felt a leadership deficiency…the architectural engineering world was more about what we did versus how and why,” he explained.  “I remembered from the Navy that while a submarine is an engineering marvel, it’s the willingness of sailors working together that kept the sub working.”

Cherock yearned to create a business that mirrored his experiences in the Navy, but this captain didn’t initially have much of a crew.

“Two years after opening, we were a two-person shop and working non-stop,” he recalled.  “I met with Carl Knoblock, [former] SBA Pittsburgh district director and he guided me to GACO [Government Agency Coordination Office] and we began to pursue government contracting.”

In 2009, Cherock received a pivotal project that would sail his company into unchartered waters.

“We were contracted to install a new generator and several other infrastructure projects at the Armed Forces Retirement Home, located at President Lincoln’s summer home, and that project really opened up a new door for us,” Cherock explained.  “Government contracting coupled with private-sector projects provided us with more than enough work, in fact, we needed to hire five additional people.”

Cherock encountered a tidal wave when he looked to finance his projects.  He once again turned to the SBA.  With Knoblock’s assistance, Cherock was approved for three SBA Patriot Express loans, a now-discontinued SBA loan program that provided business loans to military personnel and their families. Those loans enabled AE Works’ growth.

Today, Cherock and his AE Works team occupy offices in Pittsburgh, State College and Silver Spring, Maryland, where he actively promotes his personal mantra – everything in the world, including business, is about people, teamwork, culture and camaraderie.  He and his crew continually give back to the community via working with local veteran organizations while Cherock has lent his “people-first” philosophy to a number of organizations, most notably, Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum, The City of Pittsburgh Mayoral Transition Team and the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania.

According to SBA Pittsburgh Acting District Director Kevin White, Cherock successfully transitioned from his military experience to a successful business owner, collecting many accolades along the way.

“He not only brought his military and collegiate expertise, but, that sense of teamwork and pride which empowers employees and has resulted in his tremendous growth,” White added.  “Most importantly, Cherock and his AE Works team remain committed to the area sharing their good fortune with many veteran groups.”