Sabo Made 'Write' Choice

April 18, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Mostly she has been the byline, not the subject of one.

For eight years Mary Ann Sabo covered the business community for The Grand Rapids Press.

But a little more than two years ago, she climbed over to the other side of the news desk and began writing for area business owners instead of filing stories about them. It was the second day of 2003, or 01/02/03 in a rhythmic numeric term, when she started Sabo Public Relations and fulfilled a desire she had held for a while.

“I have been in PR for a number of years. My first job right out of college was a news bureau director for a university in the South and then I worked at Lambert Edwards for four years. I wanted the opportunity to continue working in public relations and I felt it was time for me to try something a little more entrepreneurial,” said Sabo.

“I work with a lot of family-owned businesses in West Michigan and have always enjoyed hearing stories of the presidents and CEOs and how they or their parents or grandparents started the business. And I thought, you know, I’d like to try that for myself.”

Warner Norcross & Judd, Legacy Trust, Nicholas Plastics, Languages International, Koeze Co. and Daniel’s are a few of Sabo’s clients.

Veteran journalists, however, don’t fade away very easily, and Sabo hasn’t removed herself entirely from the world of business news. She writes a column called Family Business Matters for the Business Journal, a topic that is right, and write, down her proverbial alley.

Her monthly GRBJ piece centers on the type of commerce that became dear to her after she reported on manufacturing firms with distinct bloodlines.

“I got to watch from the outside how they operate, and I’ve always been very intrigued by the fact that they give so much back to the community. It’s not only providing jobs, but it’s really providing a lot of philanthropic opportunities for the community,” she said.

“I think that local ownership is really important. I think we’ve seen over the years that when ownership changes hands, that when a family doesn’t want to transition to the next generation or isn’t able to and there is, perhaps, an outsider who comes in, we see less of a willingness to participate in the community.”

Sabo, a native of Lackawanna, N.Y., a suburb of Buffalo, was teaching journalism at FerrisStateUniversity when her career changed dramatically. Andy Angelo hired her as a full-time business reporter at The Grand Rapids Press after working three summers for the daily newspaper as a faculty intern. Sabo considers that event her biggest career break.

“In my first year of working for Ferris, I thought it would be really nice if I could bring more professional experience to the classroom. I did three summers of faculty internships (at the Press) and then they hired me fulltime,” she said.

“I was there four years as a business writer and basically four years doing freelance stuff.”

Sabo earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee at the Martin campus and did her master’s work at OhioStateUniversity. She taught at FSU for three years and then accepted a Fulbright Scholarship to teach journalism in Romania for a year.

Sabo is a member of the Association for Corporate Growth and someone who has been very active in the community. But ever since she began working for herself, she has had to cut back a bit on outside activities.

“I was quite active doing board work prior to starting my own business and I’ve had to rotate off my board commitments, because being self-employed is just a lot more time consuming. So I’m doing some work on a pro-bono basis, but I don’t have any other board commitments at this point,” she said.

In her spare time, Sabo goes to the movies. As a film buff, she said she has appreciated the independent films the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts shows each week. “The Sea Inside” is her most recent favorite, a movie that was honored with the Academy Award for best foreign film. The Spanish film chronicles a quadriplegic who battles the government for the right to die with dignity.

“It’s an incredible movie; it was extremely moving and beautiful. It did deserve the award. I saw a lot of foreign films last year and it was probably one of the best,” she said.

Sabo also reads a lot, likes to cook and enjoys entertaining guests. Gardening has become a passion for her in recent years.

“It’s more vegetables than anything else, although I have been doing flower gardening. The woman who owned the house before me left it in beautiful shape. So everything comes up from year to year and all I have to do is weed,” she said with a laugh.

Sabo said she does miss covering the daily business beat, but enjoys helping business owners get their messages across to reporters, shareholders, employees, clients, and to the larger community. She also specializes in litigation communications and has co-authored an article about the process that has appeared in two American Bar Association newsletters.

“I really like being able to help with both the strategy and the implementation to make sure that what they’re trying to do comes across the way they’d like it to,” she said.

As for her immediate future, Sabo hopes that the coming years allow her to continue to grow right here in West Michigan

“I’ve been very fortunate that my business has gotten off to a very good start,” she said. “And I’d just like to continue doing the same work I’m doing right now, adding a few new clients and delivering good customer service to the clients I have.”     

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