Creativity in Business

Illustration by INKYBRITTANY // Photography by MICHAEL SCHALK

Meet the 2022 New Guard

Photography by MICHAEL SCHALK // Illustration by INKYBRITTANY
// Location: SCAD PEI LING CHAN GALLERY

REGARDLESS OF INDUSTRY, creative thinking is a critical tool required to lead others, overcome challenges and drive innovation in an ever-changing world. That ability — to go beyond the status quo — is what sets this year’s New Guard apart from their peers. Meet 15 of the city’s rising stars who not only leverage creativity in their day-to-day work, but who are daring to re-envision Savannah for the next generation.


BRITTANY CURRY
Graphic Recorder and Facilitator, InkyBrittany and Board Chair, Chatham-Savannah Citizen Advocacy

While attending the Toronto Summer Institute for Inclusion in 2012, Curry first experienced how graphic recording can improve communication and inspire change. Fast-forward a decade, and her passion for this skill has exploded into a booming business. She has partnered with the Savannah City Council, Savannah Greek Festival, TEDxSavannah and Tybee Island Maritime Academy — to name a few — and helped procure an estimated $460,000 in grant funding for community organizations. “Most people think I went to art school. My background is in interdisciplinary studies, giving me the ability to look at a complex situation from a variety of angles.”  


CRYSTAL AUGUSTE
Executive Director, Elevate Savannah

In 2021, Auguste left her role as the Program Director of Elevate Orlando, a privately funded at-risk mentoring program where she had worked for eight years, to lead Elevate Savannah. The local chapter currently serves more than 100 students at Beach High School, and thanks largely to Auguste’s efforts, is one of the most popular elective classes. In the program, mentors teach life skills, such as balancing a checking account and developing a resume. The response has been so successful that it is now moving into both Derenne Middle School and Hodge Elementary School. Still, Auguste is charged with keeping her staff motivated, engaging their donor base and working in the classroom — all of which require creativity. “We still see the lingering effects of the pandemic in student enrollment, engagement and academic achievement. Our team works diligently to find innovative ways to deliver our program components using technology in the classroom, mentoring after school and being intentional about meeting students’ social-emotional needs.”


NEAL HOLLIS, PHARMD, RPH
Owner and Pharmacist in Charge, Georgetown Pharmacy

“There are many situations that require me to be creative, such as making children laugh to keep them distracted while giving them a vaccine, or coming up with different ways to help patients remember to take their medication,” says Hollis, who purchased Georgetown Pharmacy in 2020. He and his staff administered more than 3,000 COVID-19 vaccines and more than 1,500 rapid COVID tests throughout the community, and solely provided vaccines and supplements to individuals traveling by cargo ships through the Port of Savannah. “I was able to meet the needs of people from all over the world who were working on these ships. Being able to provide that service to them was extremely humbling.” Amid the demands of the pandemic, his patient base has more than doubled in the past two years. “I am most proud of my pharmacy staff for trusting in me and the vision I had for the pharmacy. My staff found ways to streamline our workflow to make it more efficient and make the workload feel much more manageable.” As the Georgia Pharmacy Association Region 1 President, Hollis also advocates for pharmacists statewide, working to make strides in the industry as a whole.


JESSE DILLON
Vice President of Business Development, Savannah Economic Development Authority

Dillon knows dealmaking. “Business is personal — it is about trust and relationships. Every prospect is an opportunity to creatively approach the needs of individuals and companies that are interested in our community.” Not only was she a key player in finalizing the development of the Savannah Chatham Manufacturing Center — a 774-acre property developed by SEDA, the City of Savannah and Chatham County with SPLOST funds to accommodate advanced manufacturing — but she has also been instrumental in Hyundai Motor Group’s May 2022 announcement to open its first, fully dedicated electric vehicle and battery manufacturing facility at the Bryan County Mega Site. The latter is a $5.5 billion investment that will create 8,100 new jobs. “As a society, I am thrilled about the idea that collectively we can work smarter not harder. The amount of innovation at our fingertips is a bit overwhelming, but I look forward to our community embracing technology, automation and innovation in the workplace in a way that allows our community to foster growth in individuals.” In addition, Dillon currently serves as a board member for the Savannah Technical College Foundation and supports Over the Moon Diaper Bank. 


STEPHANIE JOY SWEENEY
Cosmetic Dentist and Certified Invisalign Provider, Savannah Dental

As the leader of one of the fastest-growing dental offices in the community, Sweeney is dedicated to keeping her patients smiling. She joined forces with Dr. Kevin Dickinson in 2020 and, since then, has brought on additional doctors to expand Savannah Dental’s technology and advanced service offerings as well as hours of operation. She is also adding a new location in Richmond Hill and working to become a certified Digital Smile Design (DSD) provider. Sweeney’s care for her community extends beyond the dentist’s chair, too. Her office created a Mardi Gras Golf Scramble benefitting Friends of Oatland Island, a nonprofit organization established to support the wildlife center’s staff and animal residents. When Sweeney is not working or volunteering, you may find this Tybee Island resident catching a wave. “Many people would be surprised to know that I am a surfer. I travel all over the world to find great surf!”


TAYLOR MATTHEWS
CEO, Sparkling Queens and FOOD Richmond Hill

As a military wife with a young child, Taylor Matthews had almost completely given up hope for having a traditional career — until she decided to venture out on her own as an entrepreneur. “I am proud of being confident enough to take the risk to start my own business.” She actually started two. Since launching in 2017, FOOD Richmond Hill has delivered more than 40,000 food delivery orders. In 2020, she also launched Sparkling Queens, a cleaning service that has grown to 18 staff members and serves 200 clients regularly. “I have a son with special needs, so I have a huge heart and big dreams for how I can have a greater impact on other families with special needs … There are several local families that we clean for free.” This super mom also serves as the administrative director at New Life Church in Richmond Hill, where she oversees the preschool. “I want to be remembered as someone who did things differently. I want to be known as a risk-taker who believed in herself — and hopefully, that pays off.”


MORGAN RAE BRYANT
Owner, Morgan Rae Boutique

During the pandemic, Bryant was truly unsure if she would be able to sustain her then-new retail business. “Trying to stay positive, showing up every day and practicing what I preached by shopping local and supporting other small businesses is what I can attribute to helping me get through,” she says. Bryant quickly adapted her buying strategy to overcome supply chain difficulties, meet unexpected new demands, incorporate e-commerce and engage her clientele virtually. The result? Averaging more than 50% increases in sales year over year, dramatically expanding her social media footprint and growing her team to nine employees and counting. Once a week, Bryant trades her trendy footwear for dance shoes to teach classes at the Gretchen Greene School of Dance, where she has been dancing since age 2. “Growing up, I had a front seat to watching many successful women in business make a positive impact in the community like Courtney Victor [of Glow Med Spa], Heather Burge [of the former BlueBelle Boutique] and Michelle Rouzer [of 40 Volume Salon] … I knew from a young age that I wanted to be able to have the same positive impact they did.”


ZERIK SAMPLES
CEO, Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity Inc.

“The Great Resignation, supply chain issues and skyrocketing prices of lumber just about brought our operation to a halt,” says Samples, who took the helm of the Savannah affiliate in 2020. Despite the odds, his team has successfully built five new homes for hard-working families. Now, thanks to dedicated volunteers and new staff, Samples says the organization is on track to outperform pre-pandemic production numbers. “Habitat is a household name, but very few have a full understanding of the affordable homeownership ministry. The idea the team and I championed during the past year is something I phrased, ‘Say it with your chest!’ More than ever, [we have] been educating the community on the true essence of Habitat — financial literacy and self-sufficiency through homeownership. Habitat does not give homes away.” While his career may be in the nonprofit sector, Samples’ good work doesn’t stop there. He stays on the go as a member of Rotary, the Savannah Jaycees, Georgia Southern Alumni Board of Directors and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, among others.


WILL THURMAN
Managing Broker and Owner at Berkshire Hathaway HomeService/Bay Street Realty Group

In 2019, Bay Street Realty Group entered the Georgia real estate market with gusto. Under the local leadership of Thurman, the company acquired Bob and Reba Lararmy’s successful Savannah-based real estate company, acquiring 35 new agents with more than $60 million a year in sales volume. Thurman and his team ended 2019 by opening a downtown Savannah office and then, in early 2020, announced their acquisition of Cora Bett Thomas Realty, adding another 45 agents and more than $250 million a year in sales volume between Savannah and Beaufort, South Carolina. “Our business did not stop during the pandemic; it accelerated. We had to adapt very quickly to the new market and seller demands and determine how to win the bidding wars for our clients.” Virtual showings, videos and 3D sketches of homes are just a few examples of innovations. Currently, Thurman is focused on Grand Harbor — a new neighborhood development coming soon to Skidaway Island. He also spearheaded company-wide giving to provide needed supplies for the Skidaway Island First Responders. “We love where we live, and we want to do our part.”


OLIVIA PARKER
Community Outreach Manager, Parker’s

The Parker’s name is synonymous with fuel, fancy snacks, chewy ice and charitable giving. Olivia Parker — daughter of Parker’s founder and CEO, Greg Parker — is focused on the latter. So far, she has established a partnership with the Red Cross Blood Mobile to host monthly blood drives, launched the Round Up for Charity campaign — vowing to match 25% of customer donations — and generated $125,000 for America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia and Lowcountry Food Bank in South Carolina. Then, the company made its biggest donation to date as a result of the Fueling the Community program, giving $74,000 to the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System. Perhaps the most impactful of all, however, has been the recent opening of Parker’s House: A Home for Women. “I want my generation and younger generations to realize that you can be a giver without giving monetarily. Dedicating your time, connections and ideas are just as helpful.”


SHANNON PHILLIPS
Vice President, Abshire Public Relations

A former broadcast journalist (and Associated Press Producer of the Year Award recipient), Shannon Phillips pivoted to public relations in 2018. Now, she leverages her unique perspective to take her clients’ marketing strategies to the next level with video, photography and social media. “The pandemic was uncharted waters for everyone. In the marketing world, the focus on a buttoned-up digital presence has been heightened for all businesses. As a company, we have revamped more websites, created more social media calendars and proved to our region the true importance of video during this time.” Phillips also witnessed firsthand how the pandemic sparked a sense of community and allegiance to local businesses. “Now your PR and marketing strategy has to be more authentic and organic than ever. People who follow your brand want to feel a sense of trust and connection with you.” When she’s not amplifying her clients, she coaches youth cheerleading, leading 20 aspiring athletes to achieve success both on and off the mat. She also lends her talent to the Savannah Jaycees, serving as Vice President of Communications, among other organizations.


DAVID “BOBO” MULLENS, III
Partner, Oliver Maner LLP

At one of the city’s most respected law firms, being part of litigation teams that have won decisions in front of the Georgia Supreme Court and Eleventh Circuit of Appeals is impressive. What’s more, Mullens has built a mediation practice from scratch. “To reach a successful mediation result oftentimes requires stretching the parties into thinking creatively.” Looking ahead, he is excited about continued technological advances in the fields of transportation and logistics. “These will be an accelerant of growth for the Georgia Ports Authority — a major hub of economic growth for Savannah and, for that matter, the state. The GPA is already the fourth busiest container port by volume in the United States, with no end in sight.” While the majority of his practice revolves around businesses, government entities and individuals he represents in civil lawsuits throughout Georgia, he is also proud to represent immigrants seeking visas or adjustment of status. “[I want to be remembered for] helping shape the law in a way that promotes transparency and predictability, and thus, fairness, for all.” Outside work, he serves on the Board of Directors of Brightside Child and Family Advocacy.


CAROLINE GREGORY, CIC, TRS
Client Advisor, Sterling Seacrest Pritchard

With a focus on transportation, warehouse and logistics and construction, Gregory is carving her niche in the commercial insurance space. “Insurance and the transportation industry are both male-dominated industries. I have worked the past few years on separating myself from other advisors and finding unique solutions for clients … I’ve become an expert in the industry, and have been able to use this to partner with my peers to help them grow their book of business in the transportation sector.” By adjusting to virtual work settings, she has also opened herself to more opportunities. “East to West Coast is now as easy as right down the street. I’m able to expand my brand to another client base that wasn’t as attainable before.” A native of Savannah, Gregory is passionate about giving back to her hometown via United Way of the Coastal Empire, Chatham-Savannah Citizen Advocacy, Gulfstream Student Leadership Program and Folds of Honor Golf Tournament. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed, as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society named her its 2021 Women of the Year.


ABBY WOLFE
Vice President of Commercial Banking, Queensborough National Bank & Trust Co.

With 300% growth in her book of customers in the past five years, Wolfe is one of the top producers at Queensborough. “Most people don’t think of lending money as a creative job, but I’m always thinking outside of the box to lend money in ways that cater to each client’s unique needs to help them reach their goals.” She is motivated by the hard work and dedication of the local business owners she meets. “Their success is my reward … It is so cool to know that future generations will be driving around Savannah and see a building or development I financed, or become a customer of one of my client’s businesses that I helped to start up, grow or expand.” When in doubt, Wolfe says she relies on the Golden Rule. “I try very hard to never turn down a loan request without educating a customer as to what they could do to allow us to move forward. That’s what I would want if I was in their position.” This philosophy carries over into her philanthropic work, where she serves as a board member for First Tee Savannah, plus volunteers for Folds of Honor and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.


TAAVO ROOS
President of New Construction and Project Development, Seabolt Real Estate

Originally from New York City, Roos moved to Savannah as a teenager and graduated from Savannah Country Day School before attending Armstrong State University (now Georgia Southern University), where he was a nationally ranked tennis player. Now, he stays light on his feet as a real estate broker, where he has broken all-time price records on Tybee Island. In 2021, he sold $29 million of real estate and is on track to exceed $35 million this year — landing him among the top 1.5% of agents nationwide. “I’m very much a numbers-driven person, and I think there’s creativity in that, too. There are opportunities everywhere in Savannah, but only if you get creative.” To Roos, the idea of blending the new and old is endlessly compelling. “With a booming city like Savannah, growth is inevitable and so exciting. It’s so important that we marry the two worlds carefully — the old and the new. That’s the challenge I take on daily as I work with talented builders, architects and designers who share that same sentiment.” And he still plays tennis — including participating in the Leukemia Cup Tennis Classic, helping to raise more than $4 million for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.



Special thanks to SCAD for hosting our honorees at the university’s Pei Ling Chan Gallery. Originally the Savannah Exchange Bank in 1928, the building was acquired by SCAD in 1989 and renovated in 1996 through a gift from the Pei Ling Chan Charitable Trust. Today, the space serves as a gallery showcasing work in a variety of mediums by SCAD students and acclaimed international artists, while the annexed Afifi Amphitheater and Garden for the Arts host lectures and performances. The spaces are available to rent for special occasions or corporate events throughout the year. To schedule a tour, email [email protected]

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