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On the Job with David Hardin

David Hardin is the CEO of Moulton and Hardin Inc.

David Hardin is the CEO of Moulton and Hardin Inc.

In 1988, David Hardin’s insurance company merged with Moulton & Lane to form Moulton and Hardin Inc., a regional company in the specialized field of employee benefits consulting.

With the retirement of his partner, John Moulton, Hardin kept the business name and has added an Athens branch. Hardin’s son and business partner, Paul, keeps it running.

Hardin may have a white collar position, but he thrives on spending time on the tractor working at his farm in Worth County. If he had to switch careers, he’d consider wildlife or forestry work.

Hardin recently participated in a question-and-answer session with reporter Jim West.

Q. What was your first job?

A. A newspaper carrier. I had a newspaper route and it was a great job because we had to do a little bit of everything. We had to deliver the papers every day by 4:30, we had to collect for the papers we sold. I think it taught me a lot about discipline and was just a great training experience for a youngster. I did that for about two years on a bicycle. I’m thankful it was the Atlanta Times and not the Atlanta Journal or Constitution because the paper was small and ultimately folded.

DOSSIER

NAME: David Hardin

AGE: 61

POSITION: CEO, Moulton and Hardin Inc.

FAMILY: Married to Elaine; two adult children, Paul and Heather

EDUCATION: Clayton State University Business Administration

Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?

A. The first thing I bought was a pellet rifle. My next-door neighbor had a pellet rifle and I had a BB gun. Together we reduced the squirrel population in East Point, Georgia.

Q. What’s the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?

A. I think we have to lead by example. If myself or my partner can stay motivated, lead by example, I think it filters to everyone, and my employees keep me motivated, too, sometimes. They’re good people. They all pull on the same end of the rope and that’s not been an issue with us.

Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to operate your own business?

A. I started in the insurance business in Atlanta in 1972 and I enjoyed it. I had a manager and moved to Albany in ‘75 to go with a local insurance agency. I felt that if I could do this work I might as well do it for myself. Things were not near as complex then with federal and state regulation and rules, needs for technology. I do believe it was easier then to start your own business.

Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?

A. I did. In Atlanta there was a gentleman, Gene Asher, who was actually a sports writer for The Atlanta Journal turned insurance agent. He was my manager in Atlanta and he was a great mentor. He’s still around, still in the business. He taught me some very important lessons (such as) successful people have to do the things failures refuse to do. It was a difficult but very poignant lesson. I still stay in touch with him.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?

A. I think that in a business, like a family, you want to live below your means and have some reserves, so that when trouble does come — and it will — you can be prepared. We have to work a little harder, a little smarter, and be creative.

Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology — examples e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. — what would you most like to see go away?

A. Automated phone systems. Some of them are acceptable, and some of them are terrible. The ones where you can’t get to a person and have to spell out your name and have to answer yes, no, and never get to where you want to get are so frustrating. We still answer the phone here at our office and I hope we continue to do that.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A. It would have to be my smartphone. You know, I started out with a car phone in a bag and went to a cell phone and now I have a smartphone. I love the applications there. I can get emails, text. It’s really a great tool.

Q. What is your favorite tradition?

A. My wife and I have six grandchildren and they range from age 13 down to 3. When the 13-year-old was born, we started going on a one-week trip to the Georgia coast. We’ve done that every year for the past 13 years and it’s become a tradition for our family. We all get together for the full week. I love Christmas, I love Thanksgiving, but that one thing we do as a family is really the icing on the cake.

Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?

A. I do a devotional each morning and I do read some. I’ve got a Kindle on that smartphone I was talking about. I just got through reading two of Lewis Grizzard’s books. He’s a Southern author. He was raised about 40 miles from where I was raised. I think he was a few years older than I, but I identify with a lot of what he says. I just get a bit a chuckle out of all his writings.

Q. “I’m up and going by...?” And what is your morning routine?

A. My alarm goes off every morning at 6 a.m., but I hit the snooze button three times. Then I usually sit at my kitchen table with my Day-Timer and plan the people I need to see, my set appointments, people I need to conference with and things that I need to do internally. I usually arrive at the office around 8:30 a.m. and hope to get a lot of what I’ve written down accomplished.

Q. What famous person would you like to meet, and Why?

A. It’s really hard to think of a famous person I would like to meet. I admire so many people and so many writers. A person who always impressed me was Ronald Reagan. I would love to have met that man. I think a lot of his political (ideas) and philosophies were similar to my feelings and I think he was a great communicator. There are certainly a lot of other people I would like to have met or would like to meet.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A. I have a farm over in Worth County. When I’m not in my business I’m there on a tractor. I’ve got some farm equipment and I enjoy planting wildlife food plots. I work with people every day and I love people, but I enjoy the solitude of the farm a great deal.

Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?

A. I can’t really think of one. I can think of about half a dozen. Most of our major business decisions have really worked well for us. We spent a great deal of money on a technology platform which was supposed to be a total cure for all insurance and benefits consultants’ needs, which totally didn’t work after about six months of work. That’s really a small mistake in the entire scheme of things.

Q. Best thing about your job?

A. I’d say it’s working with the people within our organization and our client base. We have very good people here who are quite knowledgeable and who really care about our customer base. We spend more time here than we do with our family members so we feel so fortunate to have a good work force. I really enjoy coming to work every day.

Q. Worst thing about your job?

A. Probably our independence. It’s an asset as well, but we answer to no outside ownership or influence. The entire focus of our company, the direction that we go in, our creativity, boils down to our innovation and the things we read. So I think being a smaller organization does have some drawbacks, too.

Q. “The most beneficial course I took in school was...?”

A. Beneficial from an academic standpoint would have certainly been some accounting courses — balance sheets, profit and loss statements — but in retrospect, I think some of the electives were really great. I enjoy history now, which I disliked immensely in school. But they made us read all that — history, world history and American history — and now I enjoy it so much and I appreciate those courses then, that pique my interest now.

Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?

A. I think because of my farm activities, I would love to be a registered forester or a wildlife biologist. For home gardeners there’s the Master Gardening course given by the University of Georgia, and I think there are courses called Master Wildlifer, that’s about an eight-week course and Master Tree Farmer, that’s about eight weeks. I took both of those. I really would like to do forestry work or wildlife biology work.

Q. Finish this thought; “On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself ...”

A. On a tractor in Worth County, planting crops and nurturing wildlife.

Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?

A. There are so many traits that a business owner has to possess, but I think two particular qualities — knowing and being focused on what your mission is, and then having the desire to help people in your chosen field. If you know what you’re doing and you care about your client base, I think you’ll be successful no matter what your field.

Q. Crystal ball time: What’s your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?

A. I would need a crystal ball, and I sure don’t have one. I think we’re plagued right now with a great deal of uncertainty. On a federal basis we have a terrible deficit and unemployment is still rather high. I think things have rebounded somewhat, but I we’re still in for a slow recovery. I do think things will continue to improve but at a very slow pace.

Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?

A. You would find a mix of music you wouldn’t believe. I have a lot of country music on there, a lot of classical music on there and a lot of pop. I really enjoy music.

Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?

A. I think I need that crystal ball again. I don’t know, I think we’re certainly a medical hub of Southwest Georgia. Hopefully, that will continue to grow and be a leader in our community. We’re so highly agricultural, too. I didn’t realize until I had my farm and became active in that just how big a financial role that plays. I would hope that would expand and be recognized, and resources contributed to the enhancement of agriculture in our area.

Q. What was the best vacation you’ve ever taken? Why?

A. My son, Paul, was working in Washington, D.C., for Saxby Chambliss and he arranged for us to come up there for about a week. We convinced our daughter to go with us. We were on what they call a VIP tour of about 10 people. The father of one of the tour members was on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We were able to go to Arlington National Cemetery and actually go into the barracks under the Tomb of the Unknown, which nobody really knows about or sees (although) it’s certainly not a secret. We spent an entire week up there and it was one of my favorite things. We went to the House and Senate chambers that a lot of people don’t get to go to.

Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?

A. Well, as employee benefit consultants, what we’ve seen is federal involvement in health care. I almost want to use the word intrusion. We’ve now got the Accountable Care Act. It’s very complex and it’s going to change our entire system. It is law and interpreting the rules and laws and knowing how the exchanges work — we’re really going to see a tremendous change in that entire industry.