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a l u m n i



What dreams are made of…

A savvy business leader with social work sense reinvents family business

Story and photos by Emily Williams



S o c i a l W o r k

King Shaw (MSW ’91) was destined for life in his family’s farm implement manufacturing business—the King Plow Company, started in 1902 by his great-grandfather Clyde Lanier King. In preparation, Shaw earned an undergraduate degree in business from the University of Georgia in 1974. Just as he was poised to take over as the fourth generation of his family to run the business, the farm crisis in the 1970s and 1980s put production to a halt. After a dozen years at the helm of the company, Shaw saw his great-grandfather’s dream begin to crash down around him. “If you weren’t John Deere or one of the big ones you pretty much withered on the vine,” Shaw says. “It was clear what was happening—we closed the whole place in 1986. All my life I was told, ‘You’re going to run this business and you’re going to keep the family name on it.’ On a personal level, I was devastated that it came apart on my watch.” Shaw was at a crossroads he never expected to encounter. He reluctantly sold the family business and tried to move on with his life. The first change was his career path and Shaw dedicated himself to his new bearings— passing the GRE and getting accepted to the University of Georgia School of Social Work. “It was hugely important to me to go back to school. I wanted to be a therapist,” he says. “I wanted it more than anything.”

Timing is everything… Shaw entered the Master of Social Work program at the University of Georgia in 1990. While working in his first internship with an Atlanta community health program for the homeless, the person he sold King Plow to defaulted on the loan. A savvy businessperson, Shaw had arranged a deal with the new owners of his 165,000 square foot facility in such a way that if they defaulted there would be no recourse—they simply would give the property back. He created the deal with the hope of one day regaining ownership.

m a g a z i n e

“It happened faster than I thought because I was in the middle of social work school when it happened. I got it back and thought, ‘Now what am I going to do with it?’” Shaw quips. In the three years King Plow was under new ownership, one of Shaw’s artist friends rented space in one of the dilapidated industrial buildings. The brick structure, built circa 1900, is characterized by parapet walls on the outside and massive, exposed oak and heart pine timber beams augmented by heavy steel beams on the inside. High ceilings are punctuated by arched windows, skylights and large rectangular windows that make the most of natural light in an expansive interior. They agreed it could be a great space for artists. Meanwhile, Shaw juggled his new career with supporting his wife and three young kids and his plans to save King Plow. “As I was in social work school they were telling me things like, if you’re going to be part of a community then you’ve got to embrace whatever is important within that community,” Shaw recalled. The lessons he was learning at the School of Social Work not only applied to his new career, but to reinventing King Plow for a modern world. Shaw sparked interest in the buildings when he offered free space to local groups that were fundraising for AIDS awareness. At any given event, four- to five-hundred people visited the facility. Later he allowed artists to set up galleries in the event spaces in order to give them exposure and produce a creative tone for events. “It began to make sense. It was an amazing thing. It took on a life of its own. The artists and the arts community really embraced it. They really felt this was a neat place with a neat vibe,” Shaw says. With mounting interest from potential tenants and support from the mayor’s Atlanta Arts Blueprint for Action, which outlined the needs of the arts community in Atlanta, Shaw began devising a master plan. The new King Plow would rent and eventually sell space to artists and creative businesses for residential

UGA School of Social Work Magazine Fall 2014  

University of Georgia School of Social Work

UGA School of Social Work Magazine Fall 2014  

University of Georgia School of Social Work