“On the Job With...” is a regular feature of Sunday Inc. Reporter Jim West talks with businessman King Hughes this week. Hughes is owner of Mid South Fence Co.
Q. If you were fresh out of school, what would you first do in searching for a job?
A. Well, I’d plan things out and I’d make sure to be polite. If I wanted a job, I’d make sure my britches didn’t drag the floor. Attitude is important. You have to show folks that you really want job — not a position — a job. I always figured a dollar was better than nothing.
Q. What was your first job?
A. An electrician’s helper. It was a good job and a good boss man in Montgomery Ala. I was about 17 years old. I ran conduit and dug holes and learned a lot. I had that job about a year.
Q. What was the first thing you bought when you got your first paycheck?
A. Probably a pack of cigarettes. Back then it was a pretty good feeling to have a pay check. If you walked away from that job, there would be 20 people waiting to get it. These days the government wants to take care of everybody.
Q. Who was your role model or mentor in your current job?
A. My older brother, Henry, was working for the Gibraltar Fence Company. He was the manager and he asked me to come work for him. That probably turned out to be a good thing. Everything always turns out for the best, one way or another. Henry was 14 years older than me. There were nine of us kids in the family. Me and Henry worked together for a long time and business was a pleasure. We were kin folks when we were at work and when we got off work we stopped being kin folks. No fussing or arguing. That’s the way it’s got to be. We worked at Gibraltar four or five years until Henry died in 1984 or ‘85.
Q. How has the recession affected your business?
A. Our business is off about 25 percent or so. I’ve been through recessions before, though, and I’ll get through this. The reason I can do that is I didn’t throw a bunch of money away when times were good. I just kept putting it back. I didn’t go into this head over heels in debt and I won’t go into the next one that way. We got some good customers and we appreciate every one of them. As long as you treat everybody the way you want to be treated, you’ll never have a problem.
Q. If you could turn back the clock on one aspect of technology (e-mail, Internet, cell phones, etc..,) what would it be?
A. Personally, I think a computer is the worst thing they ever came out with. A lot of folks thought it was the greatest thing in the world till this recession hit, and I think a lot of them changed their minds. You get too many people bidding for jobs. People from all over the country. They come down and start the jobs and then the bonding companies have to come in to finish because they (the bidders) don’t have the money. Now, my cell phone is different. It’s helped me more than anything else. It’s saved me money on jobs.
Q. I’m out of bed and on my way by . . .
A. I’m at work most of the the time by 6 a.m. and I’m on my way home by 8 p.m. if I’m lucky, If a gate’s not torn up or something. Folks want service and I’m here to give it to them. If you don’t do that, you won’t have anything and you won’t be anything. That’s all we have. Point blank.
Q. What is your favorite hobby or activity outside of work?
A. Most of the time I get in the car on Friday night and drive to my farm in south Alabama. I feed fish, and deer, I plant corn and work on tractors. That’s about all I do, but it’s rewarding and I’ll tell you why I do it. I take my grandchildren and my great grandchildren and they have a lot of fun. Every minute I’ve got ‘em out there — whether it’s hunting or fishing, whatever it is — it’s a minute they’re out of trouble. They love it. I take other people’s children too. All they got to do is say they’re ready.
Q. If you could take back one business decision in your career, what would it be?
A. I wouldn’t change a thing. I don’t want to say that every decision I’ve made has been good, but I wouldn’t take anything back.
Q. What is the best thing about your job?
A. I reckon I’d have to brag on my employees. I got some good women-folks up front and they do everything they can to make it easy on me, I think. I got two grandchildren we’ve raised right here in the office and that means a lot to me and Sue. It’s been a blessing to us. Without Sue, now I probably couldn’t have done any of it. That’s just the way it goes.
Q. What’s the worst thing about your job?
A. I don’t have one. There’s nothing bad about my job. I don’t let it be bad.
Q. What’s the most beneficial course you took in school?
A. According to what I’m doing here I’d have to say math.
Q. Finish this sentence: “On the first anniversary of my retirement I see myself . . . ”
A. I don’t think I ever will retire. I don’t want to retire, anyway — not until they roll me out and put me in the wagon.
Q. What is the one trait a business leader cannot be without?
A. You got to treat everybody like you’d like to be treated yourself. You got to have a good spouse and family members helping you make your decisions. I think it’s good to pray about those things, too.
Q. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your business over the past several years?
A. It’s changed tremendously. Mostly with things like electric gates and high-tech security kinds of things. Everything’s gotten higher in cost and lower in quality. If you don’t believe it, just take a look at your pants or shirt and anything else you buy. The U.S. has gotten to be a “service country,” and I don’t believe it can survive that way. It has to go back to manufacturing.
Q. What’s the best vacation you ever took?
A. We all went to the beach last week. Once or twice I might have taken two or three days off, but you know, I really feel like I’m on vacation every day. I took a week off several years ago. I wasn’t thinking right one day and just mentioned to Sue that maybe we should take a week off. Before I knew it, she had everything planned and ready. I was thinking about the business the whole time we were gone.