The New Guard 2018

Meet the 2018 New Guard, the next generation of entrepreneurs, business leaders and innovators who dream and dare to make our city better, day by day.

Photo by Malcolm Tully

Jesse Cole

Owner, Savannah Bananas Author, “Find Your Yellow Tux: How to be Successful by Standing Out”

Why a book, and why now? I believe everyone and every business has something that makes them stand out. I’m passionate about helping people reignite their passions and be the best version of themselves. I’ve been fortunate to find that in my life and the Savannah Bananas.


Photo by Beau Kester


Nicole Pope

Attorney, HunterMaclean

What advice would you give young women with an interest in law? One: Look for strong female mentors who will advise you through obstacles and guide you to success. It will pay off in dividends. Two: It is important to understand that we can be mentors and mentees simultaneously. As you learn, be prepared to pay it forward along the way. Three: The number of women lawyers continues to rise, but realize you may be the only woman at the table. Be comfortable with that, and have confidence in your voice.


Photo by Parker Stewart


Weslyn Bowers (Lady Mahogany)

Founder, Blessings in a Bookbag, Inc.

what was the process of creating blessings in a bookbag like? It was definitely a labor of love. Between collecting food, creating relationships with schools and parents and building a strong foundation in the community, it has been a lot of hard work, but worth it. For over nine years, we have made major strides in helping kids increase school attendance, improve test scores, and improve their overall health. The mission has always been to not just feed their bodies, but also their minds.


Photo by Beau Kester



Tatiana Cabral Smith

Community Collaboration Coordinator, Step Up Savannah and Owner/Designer, Tatiana Cabral Smith Jewelry

A portion of your jewelry sales support building a new well in Wachuge, Ethiopia. How can small businesses like your own fuse advocacy into their practices? I know so many generous artists who donate to causes they feel passionately about. This may not always look the same from one brand to the next. As a business owner, if you cannot donate funds, your time as a volunteer can be equally valuable to organizations doing important work. You could be a great mentor to someone who needs guidance, or design a specific product inspired by a cause you wish to advocate for in order to spread awareness. Business owners could reach out to organizations they want to help and simply ask what they need and how they might collaborate. I am excited about growing as both an artist and an advocate.


Photo by Geoff L. Johnson

Mark Wilcox

Partner, Sterling Seacrest Partners, Employment Benefits Practice

How would you describe your customer service style? My service style is fairly simple: be extremely responsive and competent. Our clients want to know that we are addressing their needs and issues in an efficient, capable manner, whether it’s through consultation, relieving them of a task or providing a more efficient process. My primary objective is always to make my clients’ jobs easier. I believe emotional intelligence is a crucial component of my service style. Empathy and understanding are valuable characteristics to provide great service and meet clients’ needs. 


Photo by Parker Stewart


Christine Fournier

Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Joselove-Filson Advertising Agency

What’s the best part of your job? I get to be a wife and mom and do that to my best ability while also fulfilling my professional dreams through work. I am lucky to be in a work environment that allows me to be flexible. Our team is cohesive, compassionate and considerate — we look out for each other in the most important ways possible. We also have amazing clients. They are a varied and dynamic group, and I feel honored that they choose to work with our firm. Lastly, I love this community. Savannah is so unique and chock-full of creative professionals. I am happy that I get to be part of that every day.


Photo by Parker Stewart


Emily Jones

Morning Edition Host and Reporter, Georgia Public Broadcasting

What does the future of public radio look like to you? In practical terms, I think we’ve seen that people want to hear good stories and will keep listening to them even if they’re not listening on actual radios. But if we want people to listen, we have to keep diversifying the stories we tell and who’s telling them. It’s something that takes conscious work to address. The other thing that’s essential for public radio is keeping our focus on our communities. All of us who work at public radio stations are part of the communities we serve, and we and our listeners feel really connected to each other. That gives us an incredible opportunity to do important, local work that resonates with listeners. It’s easy right now to get wrapped up in the rollercoaster news cycle happening at the national level, but I think it’s key for public radio stations to keep prioritizing stories close to home. Ultimately, we have to continually ask ourselves what serves our listeners best.


Photo by Geoff L. Johnson

Kate Haslam

Manager, Hancock Askew & Co., LLP accountants and advisors

What are your passions  outside of your job?

Outside of work I love traveling and spending time with my husband, Mark and our daughter Gwyn. I’m also passionate about serving my community through volunteering for nonprofit organizations such as March of Dimes, Junior League of Savannah, and Savannah Influencers, where I serve as president of the board.


Photo by Parker Stewart


Russell Canady

Owner, Indulge Coffee and President/CEO, Urban Savannah Chamber of Commerce

Do you have any tips for young entrepreneurs who want to dive into professional networking? 

Be prepared. Practice what you want to convey to those who don’t know you. Practice in front of the mirror over and over again until you are comfortable with how you will introduce not only yourself but whatever product or service you provide. Once you have it down and it’s time to network, relax! Don’t be staccato or robotic when interacting with others. It’s okay if you don’t hit all your points. Have a way for people to get back in touch with you — business cards are always great. I use a digital business card so I don’t run out.



Photo by Beau Kester


Matthew Lipman

President, CreekFire Resort and Campground

How do you re-energize the classic RV camping experience? 

Figure out what people want in a vacation nowadays. Whether they’re from up north or up the road, they want to get outdoors and relax with family and friends around a campfire or pool and disconnect from the everyday, fast-paced grind.


Photo by Beau Kester




Vandana Murty Abrams

Associate Attorney, Bouhan Falligant, LLP

What initially drew you to your profession? Family. My grandfather was a successful attorney in India who helped hundreds of people in the town he practiced in and my father is a professor of criminal justice and sociology and has studied the impact of the law his entire career. I was surrounded by lengthy legal discussions (and lectures — my dad gives a whole new meaning to loving what you do) at the dinner table, in the car and even on vacation while growing up. My sister and I were the only kids who had sentencing guidelines when being grounded based on the offense we committed. After rebelling in college as a pre-med student, I eventually circled back to the law. Becoming a lawyer just made sense. After interning at different district attorney offices in metro Atlanta during law school, I knew that litigation would suit my interests and strengths.


Photo by Parker Stewart


Gina Peper

Vice President of Sales & Marketing, North Point Hospitality

This is a fast-growing time in Savannah’s hospitality industry. How can we successfully maintain our “Hostess City” reputation? Savannah has a long history of being considered the Hostess City of the South. The entire Savannah community plays a part in maintaining our hospitable reputation. Whether you are a downtown resident whose family has been here for multiple generations or you just arrived last month, we all contribute to the character of the city and how it is perceived outside of this community. We frequently hear from travelers staying in our hotels, “People are just so nice here!” Whether you are walking down the street or speaking to a fellow shopper, each one of us should embody the “Hostess City” epithet. I would challenge each individual in our community to ensure Savannah maintains its reputation for warmth, hospitality and a generous spirit.


Photo by Geoff L. Johnson

Chris Smith

Co-owner, Zunzi’s Takeout & Caterng

How did you find your way to where you are now professionally? I graduated from University of Florida with a degree in finance and entrepreneurship. My plans for law school took a hard turn after dining at Five Guys Burgers and Fries with family in 2005. We signed a franchise agreement for seven locations in coastal Georgia and South Carolina. The next 10 years would be spent flipping burgers and shaking fries while creating a passion for the restaurant business. Five Guys was a fantastic experience, but I knew I could do more. I always loved Zunzi’s and regularly asked the founders if they would sell or franchise. After years of persistence, I got the call I had been waiting for. My partners and I purchased Zunzi’s at the end of 2014. I like to go all in with whatever I do, so I sold our Five Guys locations in 2017 allowing me to put all of my energy into Zunzi’s. We now have a location in Atlanta and are working on plans to franchise Zunzi’s in the Southeast.




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