Trident Tech alum Jessica Sage never imagined that she would someday take over the family business, Charleston’s Rigging & Marine Hardware Inc. (DBA Carolina’s Rigging) with her brother, Skip. In fact, their father, Rick Sawin, was always very much against it.
“He saw too many businesses fail after the next generation took over,” says Jessica.
After graduating from Wando High School, Jessica was not sure exactly what she wanted to do, so she enrolled at Trident Technical College. It was there, while taking a class with TTC Instructor Michael Reed, she discovered an interest in environmental technology. Reed served as a mentor to her and strongly encouraged her to transfer to College of Charleston, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in biology.
Soon after graduation, she found success working for ArborGen, Inc., a provider of conventional and advanced genetics tree seedling products, and was named on a patented process of harvesting plant embryos for large-scale tree production. She enjoyed the multicultural exposure and her work very much.
Then one day over Thanksgiving dinner, her parents broke the news.
“My dad says, ‘Pass the butter. We are going to sell the business’ just like that,” says Jessica. “We were both shocked.”
Much to their own surprise, Jessica and Skip realized that they didn’t want to let it go - it was too much a part of them - so they came up with a plan to buy the business and allow their parents to retire.
“There was a lot to get through and we hired several consultants to make sure we didn’t lose the ‘family’ in the transition of the family business,” Jessica says.
Now her parents are happily enjoying their retirement and the siblings have been co-owners since 2011. They currently operate in three locations and have 40 employees. The challenge now is finding skilled employees.
“For a long time, everybody thought their child should go to a four-year school. Now we have a skills gap because nobody wanted to consider vocational training,” she says.
And as a graduate of Trident Technical College, she sees the value many technical programs can bring to the industry, “the training is here and the jobs are here, we just need folks to understand that you can make a very good living and not have to wear a suit and tie every day.”
Although Jessica prefers dresses, she always has her steel toed shoes under her desk. She is an active member in the Women Presidents’ Organization and the Maritime Association of South Carolina, and she was recently chosen as the 2017 Woman of the Year by Charleston Women in International Trade (CWIT). This was is a huge honor, as past recipients include Anita Zucker (Chair and CEO of The InterTech Group) and Barbara Melvin (SC Ports Authority).
Jessica says that not being groomed to take over the family business may have been the best thing that ever happened to her. Attending college and working in another industry gave her perspective and experience.
“I look back on my time at TTC as the beginning of everything,” she said. Jessica attended TTC with classmates from the closed Navy base that were working on a second career in life, so a diverse age group provided wonderful preparation for the real world work environment.
“It is the perfect place to learn who you are and who you want to be.”