Mike McGraw did not lack work or life experience when he decided to pursue a management degree in the early 2000s as an ex-military, non-traditional aged student. After serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment out of Fort Benning, he started working at Kipper Tool Company in Gainesville, Georgia. When he learned that the company offered a tuition assistance program, he decided to “catch my education up to my experience.”
In a human resources class, McGraw recalls one of his favorite professors asking students to raise their hands if they had ever hired someone. Several hands went up. However, when the professor asked if anyone had ever fired someone, he was the only one to raise his hand. “This is really simple,” his professor said. “You have never been a manager until you have gone through a whole HR cycle, from hiring to firing.”
The lessons he learned in his courses helped McGraw excel in his career at Kipper Tool. Kipper Tool provided additional tuition assistance so that he could continue his education and pursue a MBA degree. Unfortunately, tough times brought on by the 2008 recession started hitting the company. In 2010, McGraw was faced with having to inform many hardworking employees that they were being laid off. Kipper Tool laid off 25% of their workforce that year and another 25% the following year. By 2012, it was his turn. “I never saw it coming,” he said. “I was part of the fourth set of layoffs. It was really rough, and I never expected it.”
McGraw knew there was no time to waste in terms of finding another job, but the economy was still struggling. He found that employers for many of the jobs for which he was applying felt that he was overqualified. After working for one of Kipper’s suppliers for a year and given the opportunity to purchase the business, the owner decided not to sell and instead laid him off. With a wife and a new baby at home, things were getting serious. Fortunately, his luck started to change when three things occurred in quick succession. First, he and his mother decided to buy a convenience store. Then, several people suggested that McGraw meet with a franchise advisor. Last, he crossed paths with a man who had a business to sell. Zero opportunities turned into many opportunities, a change in circumstances that McGraw gladly embraced. “Regardless of all the education and experience, everything I have made a decision about has been based on an emotion, a gut feeling I have had, good or bad, that I believe comes from a higher place,” he said.
Although he grew up working in his family’s auto salvage business, McGraw had never really thought about owning his own business until so many pieces came together and pointed him in that direction. The convenience store did not work out, but through this new focus on small business ownership, he soon became the proud owner of a staffing franchise called PrideStaff. He also became part of a partnership through which he owns and runs Ranger Manufacturing. Both PrideStaff and Ranger are located in Gainesville.
McGraw encourages current students to never burn bridges. “A former employer could end up being your client in the future or a current client could be your employer—you just never know,” McGraw said. In fact, his former employer, Kipper Tool Company, is now a client of Ranger Manufacturing. He could have let resentment grow between himself and his former employer, but he chose not to let that happen. That approach has served him well.