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Zac Brown’s Southern Ground: Where Passion and Cause Collide

by Janet Farley, Contributing Editor

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A Good Fit for Veterans


“It makes sense from Zac’s standpoint that we respect and honor active duty and retired [service members] by hiring them. It not only makes sense, but it fits for us from a cultural standpoint,” says Harold Earls, President and Chief Operating Officer of Southern Ground. “The way our military goes about training our men and women from a work ethic and loyalty perspective fits with our culture. We’re all American. We work hard. We play hard.”

Beatty agrees. “Working at Southern Grind gives you the unique opportunity to work freely with others in an autonomous environment, with great flexibility. You have the opportunity to strategize with other team members to get a job done,” Beatty says.

“In the military, we are taught to follow processes and procedures. When you get out of the military, adapting that mentality to a smaller organization can be challenging. There can be a lot of multi-tasking going on, so focus itself can be the challenge,” Beatty says. “It can also take some time to get used to an unstructured environment after having lived with such a structured one.”

And then there’s the whole perspective change to contend with as well.

“As a civilian, perspective is key. What we do on the job today is just what we do. At the end of the day, no one is dying, losing a limb or a brother. We come back tomorrow and continue working,” Beatty says.

“Being in the military helped to instill within me a sense of urgency to get the job done correctly,” he continues. “I learned how to prioritize and put things in perspective to the situation. Those traits continue to help me today.”

Despite the differences between a day on the job in and out of uniform, Beatty thinks that Southern Grind is a good fit for veterans. “Veterans have an excellent work ethic and a solid foundation of core values that are often lacking in others. They show up on time and they are disciplined. They add a real strength to any workforce,” Beatty says.

He says teamwork is another important concept within the SG family. “[In the military] it’s like a family and family is protected at all costs,” Earls says. “That’s how we feel here at SG, so it makes sense for us to invite folks into our growing family who think that way and believe the same things we do.”

Southern Grind, not surprisingly, seeks employees who are motivated, excited about doing a good job and who possess a solid work ethic.

“Our biggest growing areas are within manufacturing. We are constantly hiring folks for Southern Grind who can run CNC machinery or who can assemble and/or sharpen knives,” Earls says. We can train the right people to do those jobs, but it does take someone who is able to live a fairly rigid and disciplined lifestyle.

“We also look to hire individuals for woodworking, too,” he adds. “We need people who have worked around machinery before and who can use CNC machinery to fabricate metal and cut wood.”
It definitely helps if you are a highly skilled and experienced machinist with specific experience as a CNC operator, a G code programmer and/or a 7-access lathe operator.

Job Search Advice


Both Jones and Beatty offer up numerous and valuable job search suggestions to job-seeking veterans.

“Start your transition early, be it at eight months out or one or two years out. Explore other career fields. Don’t be afraid to lean into a field that is different from what you were doing in the military,” Jones says.

“If you are targeting a job as a skilled laborer, then investigate apprenticeships. If you are leaning towards a white collar job, then start going to school,” he adds.

“Prepare financially for your life after the military. I’m not talking about balancing your checkbook here but really having a grasp on your financial situation,” he continues.

“Have confidence. Push those strengths you obtained in the military such as leadership,” he advises.

Beatty agrees.

“Start the job search process early, definitely while you are still wearing the uniform itself,” Beatty says, adding that there are a lot of resources available to you as you transition out.

“Reach out to companies like Bradley-Morris, Inc. (BMI) to help you find a job. They don’t charge you for their services and they know where the jobs are located and they are out there,” he advises. Beatty landed an earlier post-uniform job through BMI before coming to Southern Grind.

“Consider going on to college,” Beatty says. “I made that decision for myself and it has served me well.”

“Don’t lose your sense of discipline. It is something that employers will want to hire,” he adds.

Beatty advises veteran job seekers to familiarize themselves with and learn industry-appropriate skills. “For example, if you want to work in accounts management, know how to create and manipulate an Excel spreadsheet,” he says.

“Be aware of the cultural workplace differences between life in uniform and life out of it. For example, learn how to communicate as a civilian in the work place,” he adds.

“You cannot swear at people and talk to them as though you were a drill sergeant. That type of communication may work in the [military], but it doesn’t translate well at all in the civilian workplace,” he cautions, admitting he learned that lesson the hard way.

“It might help you to think faster than you talk,” he continues. “Count down a few seconds before you speak and really think about what you’re going to say. Focus on the message you are trying to communicate. It might also help you to train yourself to talk to others as though you were talking to your mother or your sister. I know I would never swear in front of mine.”

Beatty also suggests veterans go a step further once they are employed in a civilian career. “I’m not the smartest guy out there, but I try harder,” he says. “If everyone is leaving work at 5 p.m. and the work isn’t done, I’ll stay until 7 p.m. to make sure it is completed.”

Jones has a message for employers in general, too.

“Hire veterans. You may be tempted to hire a dozen 26-year-olds who have college degrees, but hit the pause button for a minute. You can also hire a few 26-year-old veterans who may or may not have a college degree, but they can bring a considerable skill set plus experience to your organization,” Jones says. “Veterans are just as or even better suited to such opportunities, but you have to give them that chance.”

In addition to positions in manufacturing, positions in leadership may also be available with Southern Ground in the near term.

“I’ve been working here with Southern Ground now for eight months. When I started, most of the leadership was here, and we began to build out from under that. I’m sure in the future, there will be other management opportunities available,” Earls says.

“For example, we are currently in research and development of a new company called Alexander Brown. It is in essence the flip side of our Shelly Brown line of women’s jewelry and leather products, only it is for men. In about six to eight months, it will move out of R&D and into an official business unit. At that time, we will need someone to lead that business unit,” he says. “We will definitely need to hire more leadership in the future.”

Janet Farley is a career consultant and author of “Military Life 101: Basic Training for New Military Families,” (Rowman & Littlefield, July 2016).


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