This is My Story.
This is My Story.
Watch Mark’s Video
‘I bought my first piece of equipment at the age of 10’
At the age of seven, Mark Sauer’s family relocated from Detroit to a small farming community in Michigan, where his grandparents lived. His mother passed away not long after the move and the residents of the close-knit town became part of his extended family. His grandfather was the town doctor and his medical practice was connected to their house. Sauer watched him work hard and own his own business, but also saw a man who understood how to create a work-life balance. At night his grandfather would walk into the house, close the connecting door and leave his work behind to be with his family.
This left a lasting impression on Sauer, who at the age of 10 convinced his dad to help him finance a small tractor so he could start his own lawn mowing business. He worked hard throughout the summer, paid off the equipment, and got his first taste of being an entrepreneur.
‘Every job I’ve had gave me the experience to get me where I am today’
In high school, Sauer became involved in sports, as well as an industrial arts program, where he was able to take classes in a drafting room. At 15, he began working in a local machine shop, where he swept floors and eventually learned to work on and set up jobs on machines. It was then that he took the drawing skills from his drafting and design classes and applied them to his work in the machine shop. That helped him develop the ability to envision a part, put it to paper, and create it. Sauer said, “Every moment I spent in the machine shop was instrumental. A machinist took me in and taught me as if I was his apprentice.”
He went to college where he entered the geological engineering program, but then transferred to Western Michigan University and earned degrees in industrial engineering and mathematics. During his time in college, just as he did as a young boy and teen, Sauer sought out work to gain experience. While attending school, he worked as a millwright assistant and an engineering intern in a paper mill. He also worked within an office setting at a unionized industrial paint company. In these positions, he worked with his hands, helped write a paper machine preventative maintenance plan, and assisted with payroll and estimating.
‘I’d have regular coffee dates with the business owner’
After graduation, Sauer accepted a position as an industrial engineer with a large cereal manufacturer, where he was asked to step into the management program. It was there that he learned about supervising processes and participated on startup teams, including one that created an automated distribution center.
He then left Michigan and worked in process control and paper process chemicals in Ohio and Maine for a large process automation and chemical manufacturing company. Eventually he came to Oregon for a sales opportunity with a small chemical manufacturer and soon ended up in Georgia with the Atlanta-based company to assist the start of a product marketing and management group. At the small chemical company, he was promoted multiple times within the company, each time to a position that hadn’t previously existed. As he carved his own path within that company, he was able to develop positions and teams from scratch, feeding that entrepreneurial spirit he acquired as a kid.
However, his true education came from relationships with the several owners of the companies he worked for who showed a vested interest in mentoring Sauer. He said, “One owner and I would have coffee every week and I could see the passion in his eyes as he talked about his business.” Sauer continued, “Another taught me that it was important to hire people smarter than me, and in doing so I’d be able to assemble the right team for the results I’d want to achieve.” During this time, Sauer also sat in on meetings as the company purchased three other companies and learned about the business side of mergers and acquisitions.
‘I merged my passion for entrepreneurship with my love of manufacturing and farming’
Sauer and his wife began looking to relocate from metro Atlanta to a smaller city. An opportunity came up for a general manager at a small forestry products company outside of Savannah. “I went into the interview and there were 10 people employed there, so it was clear I was going to have to wear a lot of hats,” Sauer said. “My experience in engineering, sales, and process and product management, coupled with my background in manufacturing, the paper industry, and growing up on a farm made the job at Savannah Forestry Equipment a perfect fit.”
The owner of the company, an Australian, shared with Sauer a desire to return to his home country and focus on his other business. So Sauer developed a plan to purchase the company and in January 2000, two years after he started at Savannah Forestry Equipment, he assembled a team of two silent investors and two other active owners, to help him purchase the business.
‘We had to diversify’
“During the first year the team owned the business it thrived, but as the industry changed, our revenue started to drastically decrease,” Sauer said, adding, “I started to adjust the business, allowing us to take on more customized projects and even designed products with the customer on-site and in the field, based on their needs.” The company also needed to fill the voids of the seasonal market, so he and his partners began using their machine shop to fill outside orders.
At that time, the company conducted 95 percent of its business in the Southeast. Sauer and his team knew they’d have to branch out, so they changed the company name to Savannah Global Solutions, to signal the team’s larger vision for the company that was originally created to improve cultivation in the forestry industry. It was during this time that Sauer began to travel the world to focus on international business development, specifically trying to acquire contacts and contracts in South America, Asia, and Africa. Sauer said, “I’ve registered and maintained the SAVANNAH trademark registrations in multiple countries on 4 different continents.”
He said, “I thrive on traveling to places I’m not familiar with and learning how to navigate through the country and culture.” He continued, “I’ve slept in huts in the middle of Sumatra and stayed in Indian villages in southern Chile. It’s been remarkable to see the cultural variations.”
‘My skill sets are a mile wide and an inch deep’
Having a variety of skill sets has served Sauer well, but he still desired to do more. In 2012, Sauer bought out his partners and became the sole owner of Savannah Global Solutions. Sauer then acquired his first large international contract with a company in Brazil, formalizing a long term U.S. contract with that company. As part of the arrangement, the company provided Sauer business development support in its Brazilian facility. Wanting to expand their business to the United States, the Brazilian company contracted Sauer to assemble their first U.S. products in his Savannah Global Solutions facility.
As both companies continued to expand, they outgrew the Savannah Global Solutions space. “Bryan County, just west of Savannah, gave us quite a few incentives to move our operations to a more rural area,” Sauer said. The move to Pembroke, Georgia allowed Sauer to purchase 25 acres in an industrial park and put down roots for both his company, as well as his Brazilian client.
‘I’m a calculated risk taker’
The decision to expand his company internationally began to pay off and in 2014 Savannah Global Solutions was named Georgia’s Small Business Exporter of the Year. Today, the company exports 50 percent of its products to more than 30 countries, and recently incorporated a new business for trade purposes in Brazil called Savannah Brasil Soluções Agro-Florestais Ltda.
Sauer says he didn’t take a linear path to get to where he is today. But because of the variety of his experiences, a willingness to work hard, take calculated risks, and his entrepreneurial spirit, that non-traditional path allowed him to become the owner of a business in which he is able to maximize his creativity and forge his own way. As for his next steps, Sauer continues to make his business sustainable and at the same time handing off knowledge to his team, so that one day, those team members can take it over.
“As a kid, my domain was two miles on a lawnmower. Today it’s the entire world,” Sauer said. “I try to always have a vision of the door my grandfather would walk through at night, separating his daily business with his evening family time, and although that can be challenging, it’s helped me stay balanced.”
About Savannah Global Solutions
Based in Pembroke, Georgia, Savannah Global Solutions employs 30 people and is a leader in the forestry cultivation industry. Originally founded as Savannah Forestry Equipment, the company manufacturers equipment to address soil and site preparation needs in forestry and agriculture.
Located on the I-16 corridor, 30 miles west of Savannah, the company has easy access to the Port of Savannah, which helps to support the growth of its exporting business, with sales in more than 30 countries on six continents.