Sarah Fulton didn’t grow up planning to go into business with her father.

In fact, The Lee Group’s Vice President of Operations enjoyed writing so much that she majored in media arts and design at James Madison University.

“I was thinking I could write stories that went on air, like television reporting,” she said.

By her senior year at JMU, she had to fulfill requirements in business and law, classes her more creative peers dreaded. Fulton found them appealing and a better match to her personality. Law school seemed like a logical next step.

A gap year to study for the LSATs added a new wrinkle. Fulton got engaged and later waitlisted at William and Mary’s law school. She didn’t see herself leaving Virginia to pursue three more years of school, so she began working at a Newport News firm as a legal assistant.

A lunch invitation from her dad turned into a career-changer.

Sarah is the only girl among three and the eldest of Walt Graham, President of The Lee Group. He had watched Sarah excel at everything she did. At Menchville, she graduated eighth in the class.

It was never a secret that “I like to be exceptional in whatever I do,” she said.

Sarah admired her father’s work ethic, watching him and his partner Eric Kean grow The Lee Group into one of the East Coast’s premier staffing and recruiting firms. They bought the company in 2007, unfazed by the recession. But the sales program was struggling. The Lee Group needed a manager with accountability, someone Walt and Kean could trust without having to handhold.

Sarah seemed like the perfect fit to be Client Relations Manager.

“I genuinely love people,” she said. “I’m super curious. I’m open minded to both sides of any perspective. And I trusted the process, that when I said we were going to do it, people would see the value. I knew we had a great recruitment team and believed in what we were doing to deliver the service we were selling.”

The Lee Group grew and so did Sarah, transitioning into Branch Manager in the Chesapeake office after filling in a hole there. That was selling of a different sort, and she realized she was pretty good at working with employers to fill their openings.

“I love a challenge,” she said. “From there I just started learning more about the staffing side of the business and never really stopped selling.”

Walt and Kean remained hands-on and mentored Sarah at every step. “I was constantly getting feedback from them,” she said.

But they also afforded her the luxury of making changes. Sarah implemented a digital onboarding process that streamlined recruitment. She prioritized marketing as the internet revolutionized the way we do business.

Outside of work, Sarah’s life became busier when she and husband Josh became parents in 2012 and added a second son in 2014. As her boys Hunter and Shane have grown, she’s juggled their activities with a demanding job, a balancing act she credits her familial support system for helping her pull off.

It’s also made her understand the flexibility that working parents need. “We are a 100% family friendly organization at The Lee Group,” she said. “If I was ever in a pinch, I knew I could bring the kids to the office and everyone here is encouraged to do that if necessary.”

Sarah, named Lee Group Vice President of Operation in 2020, is also a swim, baseball and soccer mom who doesn’t forget to carve out time to take care of herself. She’s addicted to exercise almost as much as she loves lip gloss — an indulgence reflected in the assortment in her purse. She binges on reality documentaries along with “Stranger Things.”

While she unwinds with stressless beachy novels, she almost always has a nonfiction book going at the same time. She fell in love with the book “Grit,” an empowering read that stresses that mindset is as important as the mind in sustaining success.

Fulton knows her future will be continuing the legacy started by her father and Kean.

“The way I look at it is it’s really an honor to be able to potentially own and run a small business,” she says. “It’s heavy at times. It’s a ton of responsibility. But I recognize how special an opportunity it is to be part of a small business that’s had its own little way of impacting the community we’re in. I work with people I love. I do what I love. I want to give that to everyone who is around me, too.”

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