The mantra, “It’s not personal; it’s business,” applies to almost everywhere else but here on the Creative Coast.
In our January/February issue, we take a look at the big picture of Savannah’s business scene. Annabelle Carr digs deeper , however, and finds that—in Savannah, at least—although it’s business, it’s personal.
Jake Hodesh has a way of cheering me up. Just when I think I’ve found some gripe to cancel out the joys of easy beach access and shorts-weather in December, the former director of The Creative Coast shows me his Savannah.
“Decisions aren’t just made in the boardroom or on the golf course anymore—they’re made in the streets,” he told me. “Savannah’s up-and-comers are choosing to partner with other community-minded businesses that share their values on civic issues like education, sustainability and poverty reduction.”
This got me thinking: What other qualities make our business culture unique?
For unique it is. In fact, when speaking to the uninitiated, Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bill Hubbard often likens business in Savannah to a culture as faraway as that of Japan.
For example, “‘Yes’ may not mean ‘I agree with you,’” he explains. “It might just mean ‘I heard you.’ People may not challenge you when they disagree, and that can be confusing for newcomers.”
Why are we so reluctant to contradict one another in the boardroom? Maybe it’s the “small town” effect.
“Business and social life are very intertwined here,” Hubbard admits. “Networking is everything. In another city, you might send a team of people out, armed with business cards. Here, I say, send the same person. It’s all about building recognition and strong relationships. We know each other’s spouses, how our kids are doing on the volleyball team … and the return on that type of investment is huge. It’s also an enjoyable way to live and work.”
Such a warm, polite tradition can have its drawbacks. For example, too much emphasis on established relationships can stifle innovation and silence new voices. But Hodesh sees a healthy equilibrium forming.
“Savannah places unique emphasis on recognizing history and honoring ‘elder statesmen,’ and it’s important to be sensitive to that,” he insists. “At the same time, your work has to speak for itself. It’s best to keep a delicate balance between ‘kissing rings’ and changing the world. The most successful Savannahians do both.”
You know what else they do? Invest.
“The most important thing any Savannah business person can do is to participate,” Hubbard says. “Don’t stay home and second-guess. Network, get involved and try to understand the complexity of the issues—and then offer an opinion. You wouldn’t buy a car that way, so why form an opinion on taxation or government bureaucracy without doing your research? Invest your time in nonprofits and city stakeholder meetings.
“And think outside the county,” he urges. “Our economic base includes Liberty, Bryan, Effingham and Bulloch counties, along with Jasper County in South Carolina. We aren’t just the ‘sovereign state of Chatham’ anymore. We’re all in this together.”