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Set a Vision and Stick To It

It was 1 April 2012, we had just closed on the sale of ignition to Havas Sports and Entertainment. We needed a break and a place to helps us reflect on the past and set our new vision for the future. What could be a better place than Lake Placid, NY during “mud season?” This is a season of transition for the earth, but also a season for transition for us. Through cloudy days and wet earth, Spring emerges fresh and full of new life and flowers. That was our destiny as well.

We had a five year non-compete with ignition as part of the transaction terms, and Susan was adamant that we do not do a single thing to compromise our integrity. As Dill had been an Entrepreneurs in Residence at UGA Terry School of Business for five years, along with many volunteer days with Susan with the students, we knew we loved helping the youth of our future, and we were good at it. The only real issue was Athens is almost a four-hour drive from the farm (and we sold the airplane when we sold the company.)

Upon arriving back to the farm in South Georgia in May we reached out to Dr. David Bridges the President of Abraham Baldwin Agriculture College (ABAC) to see what we might do to help students in South Georgia. We set up a meeting with Dr. Bridges, and it changed our lives. Dr. Bridges explained that a perfect storm had just occurred. The Dean of the business school had retired, and he needed a Dean. Susan told him we would be interested if we could be Co-Deans and our dog Campbell could come with us to work every day.

In five weeks, we moved into the Dean’s office in Conger Hall and began creating a vision for the school. First, we felt we needed to name the school. As it turned out so did Dr. Bridges, and the longtime benefactors of ABAC, the Stafford Family, was the perfect fit. We moved into Lewis Hall in the just renovated front of campus that spring and the school was named The Stafford School of Business.

Next, we created Stafford Hall a community of 140 students living on a wing of the on campus dorms. Each student received a $500 room allowance per semester and the Team created activities for the students. The most important activity being the team’s commitment to feed the poor in Tifton on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The Stafford Hall team raised money to provide a Thanksgiving meal for hundreds of families. Five years later, Stafford Hall is a much smaller group; however, a small group of dedicated students continue the “Manna Drop.” In the Fall of 2016, this group raised over $20,000 to help feed those in need!

While all this extracurricular activity was happening, Susan worked with our amazing faculty and wrote the curriculum for the BS Business degree. She and Dr. Bridges pushed the curriculum through the University of Georgia system in record time. We had a four-year degree in Business and Economic Development! A perfect program for students who wanted to build and manage their own small businesses throughout the country.

We were also able to create an International Study Program that sent students to Vietnam and in year two across Europe stopping at Coca-Cola Country headquarters learning the nuisances of selling Coca-Cola products in different cultures.

We also taught hundreds of students Marketing, Family Business and a Seminar class on being Intrepid Spirits to meet the shadowy future without fear and conquer the unknown.

The lesson here is to set a vision and keep after it…even in the face of bureaucracy which can make certain the best ideas may never see the light of day. Records can be broken and lives changed with a vision, a focus, and a can do attitude.

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