Sisters Callie Hughey Walker, left, and Katie Hughey Gatewood became co-presidents of Albany Real Estate firm Hughey & Neuman, which is celebrating its 60th year, on Jan. 1. (Special photo)
ALBANY — Even though there are more than two years difference in their ages, sisters Katie Hughey Gatewood and Callie Hughey Walker have an almost twinlike closeness that, if they talk long enough, they start finishing each other’s sentences.
Asked about that closeness, though, the sisters laugh at the notion that they’re so much alike, declaring their like mindedness comes more from yin-yang personalities than similarities.
“We’re complete opposites,” Walker, at 27 the younger of the two, says. “I’m a Type A personality, and she’s the creative one. At times, I drive her nuts. At times she drives me nuts.”
Adds older sister Gatewood, who at 29 is days away from delivering her and husband Crisp Gatewood’s second child, “She’s our dad; I’m our mom.”
The sisters’ declarations may well be true, but when they settle into their roles as co-presidents of the family-owned Hughey & Neuman real estate and property management firm, which is celebrating its 60th year this year, their differences become separate parts of a whole.
“I concentrate on the residential side of the business and on marketing,” Gatewood says. “Callie wears multiple hats, focusing on residential and commercial as well as the bookkeeping. We both play to our strengths.”
On Jan. 1, the sisters’ father, Bill Hughey, turned management of Hughey & Neuman over to his daughters, declaring they were ready to run the business that his father, George W. Hughey Jr., started with Carl Neuman in 1954.
“They were ready,” said Bill Hughey, who at 65 still climbs on roofs to trim potentially dangerous limbs from trees on property he manages. “They’ve proved themselves with their work ethic. If they weren’t working hard, I’d probably stick my nose into things more. This is not a 9-to-5, five-day-a-week business. If you want to be successful, when anyone calls on you, you do what you’ve got to do.
“The girls did their apprenticeship. They watched, listened, learned and understood. There was no doubt in my mind that they were ready. Trust me, signing over the stock of a company to someone else is not something you do lightly.”
It’s probably no big surprise that the Hughey girls both chose to return to the family business. Mom Sharon Hughey, who’s worked in Real Estate sales with Hughey & Neuman for almost 33 years, had taken Katie and Callie with her to show homes or to other business meetings all of their lives. When the girls weren’t at a showing with mom, they were usually with office manager Leslie McClure, who’s been with Hughey & Neuman for 30 years.
“I could never really wrap my head around mom showing a home in the afternoon while Katie and I might be sitting in a room at the open house,” Walker said. “But we were always with her. When we were old enough, we’d put out flyers, make copies, do the little things that we could to help.”
But Gatewood, whose daughter Fleming is 2 and whose first son is due July 13, said she’s gotten a better picture of mom’s life since she became a parent.
“As a mom myself, I have a different perspective than Callie,” she said. “I find myself in the same position she was in, and I’ve figured out that it’s a very tough balancing act. I look back now on what she did when we were young, and I’m thankful for that balance.”
George Hughey and Carl Neuman’s business was primarily construction-related in the beginning, but when Bill Hughey returned to Albany from the University of Georgia in 1968 and the next year was named president of the company, he expanded into property management. Before the Flood of ‘94, Hughey & Neuman had more than 30 employees and managed more than 2,000 rental units. After the flood, the company sold off the property management portion of its business and concentrated primarily on brokerage.
Today Hughey & Neuman is one of Southwest Georgia’s best-known real estate brokerages, dealing in residential, commercial, investment and farm properties and management on a small scale.
Katie Hughey Gatewood, who studied fashion merchandising and design at Auburn University, came back home from New York to be part of the family business eight years ago, giving up a possible career in an industry that she admits is one of her passions.
“I wanted to explore that interest because I’d always felt so passionate about it,” she said. “But I think I always knew long-term — even when I was working in another industry — that I would eventually get involved with the family business. I was so proud of what my family had built, and I grew up around it all my life.”
Callie Hughey Walker, like her father, attended the University of Georgia, where she studied business. Unlike her older sister, though, she always knew she would enter that arena.
“Business was actually my passion,” Walker said. “I kind of thought I’d be self-employed, own my own business, but in the back of my mind I think I knew I’d always be part of the family business.”
Walker returned to Albany and started work at Hughey & Neuman five years ago.
“I never dreamed they’d want to do this,” mom Sharon says of her daughters, and she immediately tears up. “They both got different degrees and had different interests. But I think they eventually both saw that maybe this wasn’t such a bad thing. I can’t help but think what a lucky lady I am.”
Being the boss — and having your employees be your mom and dad — could be daunting for many budding executives. But Gatewood and Walker say they’re comfortable in the role.
“Our dad actually made the transition pretty easy,” Gatewood said. “Probably the hardest thing we have to deal with is that we’ve had to make our personal lives part of our business lives. I know Callie sees having a family as part of her future, but we’ve agreed that we cannot be pregnant at the same time. We can’t take maternity leave at the same time. And we can’t take vacations together. One of us has to be here.
“It helps that we have very understanding husbands. They (Walker is married to Grant Walker, who is himself part of a family-owned business, Walker Brothers Heating & Cooling) allow us to be successful business woman and understand the late-night meetings or showings.”
Callie Walker said there’s no awkwardness in having dad Bill in the office.
“He’s been preparing for us to do this since he took over the company,” the younger sibling said. “It’s comforting to know that both mom and dad are there if we need them, but they’re not looking over our shoulders. The business is ours to run. Dad doesn’t have one foot out (of management) and one foot in.
“That’s pretty amazing when you consider how hard change is for some people, especially someone who’s been in this business as long as he has.”
Gatewood, Walker and both Sharon and Bill Hughey are quick to point out that the fifth member of their Hughey & Neuman “family” — McClure, who is a sales associate as well as the company’s office manager — is vital to its successful 60-year run.
“Some days she’s a babysitter, some days she’s a secretary, and some days she’s the president of the company,” Walker said. “She’s definitely like a member of our family. It’s important to have someone like Leslie that you can trust to do whatever needs to be done.”
McClure jokes that she’s completed the goal that she set for herself when she started work at Hughey & Neuman, hinting that maybe it’s time to move on.
“I joke with the girls, tell them I started work here to put my daughter through school, and now she’s graduated from college,” McClure said. “They just laugh. What they say — what we all feel — is that with all of us together, this works.”
With their elevated positions and their relative youth, the Hughey sisters appear to have grabbed the world by the tail. They’re enjoying success in a business they love, a business that’s in their blood. They have loving, understanding husbands who encourage them in their careers. And, best of all, when Callie needs to run an idea by someone in the industry that she trusts or Katie needs someone to look after Fleming while she runs to a business meeting … well, mom and dad are in offices just down the hall.
Even so, the sisters declare that their executive pursuits are secondary to the no-business-talk-allowed Monday dinners at mom’s house or the bond they’ve developed over their 27 years together.
“We felt, moving forward as business partners,” Gatewood said, “that there was one thing we needed to get clear up front. And that’s that this business does not define us. We do not plan to fail in our personal lives because of what happens in our business lives. We put the personal stuff first.”
Completing the thought, naturally, Walker adds, “We swore when we took over Jan. 1 that we would not be defined by our company. We’re still family. We’re still sisters. And no business in the world — not even one that’s been in the family for 6o years — is worth more than that.”