Putting People First


By Kelly Levine, Director of Marketing, Georgia Oak Partners

I spent most of my career working in the advertising business. If I were to take a guess at how many brands I have worked on over the years, it would definitely be over one hundred. They have ranged from local restaurants, to companies like Home Depot, and even agencies like the Department of State. Believe me - I have seen trends come and go, bad decisions made, and have even been lucky enough to work on an account that can make you laugh and cry at the same time.

Over the t last 10 years, social media and platforms like Glassdoor have given unprecedented transparency into what it’s really like to work for almost any given company. Employees now have powerful tools to amplify their voices regarding their employer – good or bad. We’ve seen the love employees have for companies like Microsoft, and conversely heard what folks like Frances Haugen thinks about her former employer, Facebook.

It is no surprise that after making the decision to leave the advertising world I find myself at a company like Georgia Oak. As a marketer, I understand that you can’t just talk-the-talk. Authenticity is the name of the game. Do what you say you are going to do, and always put people first. Georgia Oak understands this, and that is why I am here.

Question 1: What does it mean to be “people-first”?

The goal of a people-first approach is to boost an organization's employee engagement, retention, productivity and creativity. It is about making sure each employee has both the tools and clear lines of communication to reach their full potential. This clarity of vision benefits employees and companies alike.

This was an approach Georgia Oak was based upon when we opened our doors in 2011. GO understands that by supporting organizations from the bottom-up, you are able to build trust that is invaluable when you inevitably navigate change. If you are open and transparent about the challenges and difficulties to come, people are able to prepare themselves and commit to become part of the process instead of resisting it.

Question 2: When you look at your portfolio partners, can you provide an example of a people-first best practice?

A good example that comes to mind is Sailfish, which is a Cairo, GA based offshore fishing boat manufacturing company we invested in a few years ago. We first met the founder, Paul Hoppes, in early 2017. Paul was, and remains, deeply passionate about the employees of Sailfish - “they are family”, he made clear. As we spent more time with Sailfish they began to realize Georgia Oak saw the world the same way. We were also adamant about ensuring the success of the Sailfish family and growing the relationships he had worked so hard to establish.

Last year, Paul and Georgia Oak recruited a new CEO who shared these people-first ideals. He made it a priority to maintain a strong, cohesive company culture through employee engagement and empowerment. We saw an increase in productivity and employee retention from work he did establishing clear paths for professional growth . These advances, in tandem with the adjustments done to the rest of the business, have set Sailfish up for success for many years to come.

Question 3: Where are some areas that you are able to add value to your portfolio companies that put people-first?

The Georgia Oak group is a team of professionals largely assembled to support the growth of our portfolio partners. We have built a team of experts that can assist our portfolio companies on everything from marketing to finance to operations.

One great example of this is my role as a Marketing Director. I share similar processes in my work for GO as my cohorts at our portfolio companies. This provides me with the opportunity to share resources, discuss trends, and have branding sessions that would otherwise be done in isolation. Most small to medium businesses do not function with a full marketing team, it just doesn’t make financial sense, but with the wider network staying in communication with me, I am able to bring their ideas together for the greater good.

Question 4: Can you share an example on a larger scale?

An investment company we had engaged with was working on a major relocation project and were unsure how to do it. We did not wait until we closed our investment - our team was able to provide them with expertise on production flow, facility planning, and construction. With our help they were able to save a substantial amount of money in the facility move and the new facility should add about $1.5m of EBITDA.

At this point in our relationship we were not actually partners, but the value we were able to show was helpful in their decision to move forward with our partnership proposal. The work we did highlights our commitment to our partners and overall productivity.

Question 5: Any final words of advice?

The purpose of putting people-first is to align everyone with a common goal. Make sure everyone sees the company through the same lens no matter their title or pay grade. Additionally, knowledge is meant to be shared. Giving others the benefit of your expertise and past experiences is a formula for success. To do this, there's no better way than to focus on a people-first approach.

Kevin Headshot

Kelly Levine oversees the brand, marketing and communications functions of Georgia Oak as well as consulting our partner/portfolio companies. Before joining Georgia Oak, she spent 10 years working at Wunderman Thompson (formerly JWT). There she was responsible for the development and management of national B2B demand generation marketing programs. Throughout her career, she has worked on the accounts of major brands such as Shell, Intel, The Home Depot, Coca-Cola, U.S. Department of Veterans affairs and General Motors, just to name a few.

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Georgia Oak Partners makes equity investments in founder and family-owned companies. We have the flexibility to complete full buyouts or to invest as a significant minority equity partner. Georgia Oak’s team includes seasoned industry executives who work to support world class management teams of business services, manufacturing, and consumer companies. Rooted locally and connected globally, we are partners for owners who are deeply passionate about the legacy and growth prospects of their businesses.

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