Our crystal ball is broken at The Lee Group, but fortunately we have something better in looking ahead to the new year. We’ve been a top staffing and executive search…
Their paths to The Lee Group vary, but Wes Ashworth and Sarah Fulton share this much in common as leaders of the Eastern Region’s premier staffing and executive search firm.
Evolving with the times is important, but equally so is The Lee Group’s commitment to its core.
Fifty years after the company was founded, people and purpose trump process. The Lee Group built its reputation on transparency, honesty, fairness and being authentic straight shooters with everyone it does business with, including its own staff. The refreshing family environment is part of a company culture free from politics, drama and corporate rhetoric.
The Lee Group not only gets it, it gets it right.
Ashworth picked up on that vibe starting with his initial interview with Principal Eric Kean. Still, back in 2014, he didn’t anticipate actually working there. He had a competitive salary with excellent benefits as a national sales trainer for an established company. Yet, he itched to do something more meaningful, prompting him to check out The Lee Group on the recommendation from a friend.
Kean piqued his interest when he asked, “Have you ever considered recruiting?”
Ashworth hadn’t. “I had zero experience in that area and didn’t know how it worked,” he admitted.
He and Kean talked for a couple of hours. In that span, Kean’s affable personality and witty sense of humor resonated with Ashworth, who left thinking he had found a kindred spirit.
“I really believed in what they were doing,” he said.
Ashworth signed on as an Executive Search Consultant. Today he is Vice President of Executive Search.
Fulton affectionately refers to herself as “the boss’s daughter,” after watching her father, The Lee Group President Walt Graham, grow the business into the industry leader it is today. While she worked as a Lee Group temp on and off during her years at Menchville High School and over breaks from James Madison University, she didn’t see a future for herself in staffing.
“I had great aspirations to be a lawyer,” she said.
Fulton applied to William and Mary’s law school but got waitlisted at about the time she met her future husband, Josh. Going to school out of state didn’t appeal to her, so she took a job in Newport News as a legal assistant.
One day her dad invited her to lunch, and over sandwiches at City Center, he asked for her help. The Lee Group had a small Chesapeake office, and the company needed someone trusted to grow the business there.
Fulton didn’t have to think long. “I mean, how could I say no?” she said. “He’s my dad and he wanted me to help with something.” Even with that, Fulton interviewed with a full Lee Group panel that included Kean. He stressed that they needed her to commit to two years, and that sounded reasonable to her.
“I was 23 at the time and figured I could do anything for two years,” she said.
That was nearly 13 years ago. Fulton started as Client Relations Manager in Chesapeake and today is the company’s Vice President of Operations.
Ashworth and Fulton have the reins to move The Lee Group forward to ensure the business remains just as relevant in the future as it is today. When Ashworth started, the company didn’t have a LinkedIn account nor was it active on social media. In addition to elevating The Lee Group’s profile, he introduced various software tools, automation platforms, and other resources that essentially helps staff be more productive and efficient in every facet of their job.
“The tools allow us to be more effective, but we haven’t lost the human element of who we are,” Ashworth said. “We’re always going to be about people above all else.”
Fulton created a custom online onboarding platform to improve operations. By being Graham’s daughter, she became the natural conduit for other staffers when they had concerns about efficiency.
“I was the buffer before people went to Walt,” she said. “By being in the trenches I had the ability to see what was working and what wasn’t, and I could fix that.”
From the start, Fulton had a knack for industrial staffing. The more challenging the placement, the better she was at it. In her role as Vice President, she is responsible for managing and growing temporary staffing as a whole.
“The really cool thing is I’m much more connected to the entire company,” she said. “It’s like having ownership of the company but with training wheels on. We’ll be prepared to be a really strong unit when the transition comes from Eric and Walt to Wes and me. I never want to be the type of leader who never leaves the owner’s box. I want to be involved in everything that’s going on.”
Ashworth and Fulton, just like Kean and Graham before them, are conscious of how impactful The Lee Group can be in changing lives for the better. When people find the right career fit, they prosper holistically. When managers hire employees that match their values and needs, the company is more productive. The hiring manager has less stress.
Weathering today’s labor shortage, The Lee Group has never been more relevant. Candidates are in demand, career switchers are on the rise, and companies have become more flexible than ever about remote working, eliminating many of the geographical boundaries that used to limit the talent pool.
“It used to be about finding people,” Ashworth said. “Anybody can find people. Today it’s more about getting the attention of top candidates, cutting through the noise, and getting the candidate across the finish line.”
Clients don’t hire The Lee Group to be an order taker. The Lee Group is a partner in the hiring process — a mentality developed by Kean and Graham and continued by Ashworth and Fulton.
Ashworth said in working what has morphed into his dream job “I have a life I didn’t know was possible. I want that for other people.”
“What makes The Lee Group The Lee Group is never going to change,” Fulton said. “The way Walt and Eric run the company is the way we want to run the company. We want to maintain a friendly, family, healthy work environment, and we want to partner with companies who feel the same way — safe, healthy, growth-oriented organizations that are well respected in the community. We wouldn’t want that ever to change.”
Ashworth learned in October that he had been accepted into the Pinnacle Society, the premier consortium of industry-leading recruiters in America. The selective group only admits members with extensive experience, documented expertise and a track record of excellence. Membership is capped at 80.
“I’m part of a group that’s best in class in their production and committed to doing things the right way,” Ashworth said, using the Pinnacle Society as an example that showcases the forward momentum and impact The Lee Group and Lee Group Search have across the board. “I see incredible things for our future.”