After completing a major corporate acquisition, Meagan Thompson was working consulting gigs until a recruiter discovered her on LinkedIn. They asked her if she knew anybody who might be the right fit for vice president of accounting for Safe Harbor Marinas.
Right away, she knew it was a perfect opportunity: the leaders cared and integrated stakeholder interests with excellence and gratitude. “It was the environment, the culture, and the mission that really sealed the deal for me,” explains Thompson, who is now chief accounting officer. “It’s really exciting what we’re doing: to be a part of this hundred-year lifestyle brand and getting in on the ground floor. This has never really been done before.”
Safe Harbor owns and operates marinas across North America. In January 2017, when Thompson joined the organization, the company owned twenty-eight marinas. In 2022, it owns more than 130, making Safe Harbor the largest marina conglomerate in the world.
As an undergraduate, Thompson majored in liberal arts and intended to go to law school. She took a student job in a law office but couldn’t find an authentic connection to the work. Uncertain of her next steps, she took a break from school and found a job in sales and telemarketing.
“They saw something in me, and I fell into accounting,” she recalls. She began taking on accounts receivable and accounts payable tasks and discovered a natural aptitude for finance and reporting. More importantly, she felt synchronicity with the work and realized it was a path she could purse. Energized, she returned to school and completed a business degree.
“I really found myself drawn to the field and decided to pursue it,” Thompson says. “I love reporting. I can’t articulate why it connected with me, but it did.”
Since joining Safe Harbor, her marquee accomplishment has been the construction of an all-star accounting team. There were only five on the team in 2017; today, she oversees a total of thirty-six team members and has four direct reports. Controllers oversee finance and accounting managers, who are based geographically, with each overseeing eight to nine marinas (depending on size). While the workload has sometimes been daunting, the team strives to maintain a healthy balance.
One such challenge has been Safe Harbor’s acquisition by Sun Communities Inc. Announced in September 2020, the move meant that Safe Harbor would transition from privately to publicly held, with a number of consequent changes to accounting practices. Thompson and her team seized the opportunity to cut reporting time and statement time; and now, after a tremendous push, the team is working more efficiently than ever.
“The three-day close is really intense, but this team is the right size and utilizing technology to make improvements,” Thompson explains. “In 2022, we also released standalone audited financial statements five weeks earlier than we ever have before. That’s another accomplishment, and a testament to the team we’ve built.”
As the company grows, so does its responsibility to and stewardship of the environment. Safe, healthy waterways are crucial to the business, so Safe Harbor is taking major steps toward cleaner, more sustainable infrastructure. That means implementing electric forklifts, electric boats, and solar power, as well as recruiting technicians with those skills and ideals.
“Keeping the waterways clean and healthy is one of our core tenets,” Thompson says. “Our oceans really are the silent stakeholder in our company, so we keep that in mind with everything we do.”
They also help provide diverse communities with access to watersports. For example, Safe Harbor partners with the Boys & Girls Club of Newport, Rhode Island, to create opportunities for young people who might not otherwise be able to experience sailing and boating. They also collaborate with disability advocate organizations to connect disabled people with the water.
Community outreach is part of an integrated approach connecting members, local communities, the environment, and the workforce. “It all goes hand-in-hand,” Thompson says. “We care, and that approach aligns closely with me as a leader and as a human. I really think that will help lead us into the future.”
For Thompson, that means providing strategic guidance and support for individual locations and their needs. She recognizes this emphasis on community and generosity throughout her team and across the company. The familial feel was one of her initial draws to Safe Harbor; now, after navigating the early challenges of the pandemic, she’s certain that this is a group that takes care of its own.
She extends that to her own team by providing support for their next steps. Nine of her team members reached their positions through promotion; many more are pursuing master’s degrees and CPA certifications.
“Leadership has been extremely appreciative of our efforts over the last five years. They say thank you and mean it, and that means a lot to me,” Thompson says. “I try to extend that to my team, show them how appreciative I am by doing the little things.”
Safe Harbor continues to acquire properties across North America. Along the way, they’ll develop talent, hone best practices, and promote environmental responsibility. The team composition, which Thompson names her number one achievement, will continue to be her top priority. By picking effective people and giving them autonomy and respect, she hopes to keep pushing their success forward.
“One of the cultural tenets at Safe Harbor is constant improvement,” Thompson says. “We’re always looking for ways to do things better and more efficiently than we did before. I want to continue to prepare and support my team members to do great things.”