Payne Hughes is the president and owner of Thrush Aircraft, Inc.
Payne Hughes was born to be a businessman. An independent, plain-spoken man, Hughes agrees he is much better suited to be his own boss.
In his most recent endeavor, Hughes purchased assets of the defunct Ayres Corporation in Albany in 2003, which had manufactured agricultural airplanes - or crop dusters.
Ten years later, his employees use computer-based 3-D design technology to produce the top rated and the newly-certified General Electric turboprop engines. Thrush is flying high with their airplanes sold throughout the world.
Hughes learned his standards from his father, he says, and does his best to “outwork” his best employees.
He’s tried retirement but it just didn’t work for him. Hughes took some time recently to speak with Herald reporter Jim West.
Q. What was your first job?
A. Probably about age 7 or 8 at one of my father’s printing companies back in the early 60’s. We were collating magazines. We walked around tables inserting one signature into another signature that eventually got stapled together for a catalog. I got 25 cents an hour for that.
Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first paycheck?
A. I don’t remember the first thing I bought. I always saved my money and loaned it to the employees. I’d loan four dollars and get five dollars back.
NAME: Payne Hughes
POSITION: President and owner, Thrush Aircraft, Inc.
FAMILY: Single with a son, Payne, Jr.
EDUCATION: University of Georgia, bachelor’s degree in Business Administration
Q. What’s the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?
A. Treating them with respect, pushing them hard but being willing to outwork them. Be at work when they get here and be here when they go home, and being very honest with them.
Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to operate your own business?
A. I’ve always operated my own businesses. In my entire life I’ve only worked for one real person outside the family. I worked for the State of Georgia printing office for four weeks before I quit and some part-time jobs waiting tables.
Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?
A. That would be my father. I learned a lot of hard work from him and what not to do.
Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?
A. That we’ve got to get rid of everybody in Washington D.C. Both parties, just throw them all out.
Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology – examples email, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. – what would you most like to see go away?
A. The automated phone systems. We have direct dial to everybody.
Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?
A. It would probably be an Excel spread sheet. That’s a gadget. It
breaks everything down into dollars and cents.
Q. What is your favorite tradition?
A. I don’t have that many traditions. We’ve started a tradition here at Thrush on Valentines Day, which is profit sharing day. We’ve had it for — this will be our third year.
Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?
A. My last book was by Brad Meltzer. CIA, spies, (John) Grisham, intrigue.
Q. I’m up and going by? And what is your morning routine?
A. I’m up and out of the house by 6:30 or 6:45 a.m. It takes about five minutes from the time I get up to shower and get out of the house. There’s no routine.
Q. What famous person would you like to meet, and why?
A. I come to a blank on that one.
Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?
A. Quail hunting, bird hunting, scuba diving. I try to get in several times a year for those things.
Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?
A. I don’t think I’d take any back because they helped shape my going forward and how I look at stuff today. There are none that I’d take back.
Q. Best thing about your job?
A. Actually finding new ways to do things. This factory has been in business since 1965, under different ownerships, and the standard, “we’ve been doing this since ‘65” is old and tired and so finding the new ways to do things differently and getting ideas from people and implementing them. We do implement them and the people feel like they’re part of the team.
Q. Worst thing about your job?
A. Dealing with any government agency.
Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?
A. Accounting. It helps analyze the business.
Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?
A. It would be nice to be able to effect change at the upper levels of the government. To make permanent moves and changes that would fix whatever is broken up there they don’t want to fix because of the personal whims of whoever they’re being paid by, which is the lobbyists and their private interest groups. I’d change corporate welfare, people welfare and country welfare.
Q. Finish this thought: “On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself …
A. I retired once and I got bored. I’ve tried it and it didn’t work.
Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?
A. A willingness to work hard. To work harder than your employees and lead by example.
Q. Crystal ball time: What’s your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?
A. When you get the 50 percent of the people who vote with their pocketbook because they get something from the government to a smaller percent. Right now it’s over 50 percent so I don’t know if it’ll ever go back.
Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?
A. 70’s, Country and Western.
Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?
A. It would be nice to see that Albany could go back to the wonderful town it was in the 60’s and 70’s, but I think it’s too far gone. It was a great place where you could ride bicycles. A lot of industry, a lot of small businesses, low crime. You could leave your doors open. I don’t think Albany will ever go back to that time period.
Q. What was the best vacation you’ve ever taken? Why?
A. I’ve been lucky. I’ve had a lot of good vacations. Probably taking my son to Africa for his graduation present and watching him take a lion with a bow and arrow. It was exhilarating. I’ve been to Africa about 18 or 20 times.
Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?
A. It’s tougher to get stuff certified through the FAA (Federal Aviation Association). It appears that anything that’s government regulated is taking longer to get the same stuff done.