By BRADEN LAMMERS
Hughes Group Inc., which started out digging basements and laying sewer lines in 1937, marked its 75th anniversary in Jeffersonville where the family business continues to thrive.
The company celebrated its 75th year in business recently at its headquarters at River Ridge, with Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore honoring former company President George Hughes Sr., who received a proclamation making Nov. 8 “George Hughes Sr. Day.” State Sen. Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville, also offered the company a Certificate of Achievement from the Indiana Senate.
Passing on the family business
George Hughes Sr., 87, has been retired for years, along with two of his sons that followed him into the family business, George Hughes Jr. and John Hughes. His remaining two sons, Jeff Hughes and James P. Hughes, still work in the family business, with a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The company was founded by Edgar H. Hughes, George Hughes Sr.’s father.
“We don’t encourage or discourage family members from coming into the business,” said George Hughes Sr. “I’m more or less a cheerleader [now],” he said of his role in the company.
But over the years, George Hughes Sr. helped diversify the company, getting into highway construction, and even building gas stations and sewer plants at one time.
For the next generation, they too, have had to work through each rung of the business.
Corey Hughes, real estate manager with the Hughes Group and George Hughes Sr.’s grandson, said like other family members in the company, he started as a laborer and has worked through Hughes Group’s subsidiaries before moving into a supervisory role.
Even if you are family, a role at the top is not guaranteed.
“I think it’s harder for a family member in the business because you’re under a microscope,” James P. Hughes said.
“It’s real important for us as you’re coming up through the company to set an example,” Corey Hughes added.
While he said he always wanted to be a part of the company, he admitted it’s not always easy.
“It’s sometimes challenging to work with family,” Corey Hughes said. “It’s nice to work with family, as well. I have a huge sense of pride in everything we do. Even though I’m not an owner, I have ownership [in the company].”
Ben Hughes, field worker for Hydro-technologies and another grandson, and Anthony Lee Miller, field worker for Hydro-technologies and a great-grandson of George Hughes Sr.’s, are both in college and working toward a larger role in the company.
Miller said by working your way up through the company you get a sense of everything that goes on in the business.
Ben Hughes added, “it’s very cool that all of our companies can do a job without outsourcing it to somebody else.”
Hughes Group, Inc. is now a holding company with 15 construction-related subsidiaries, including general contracting, real estate development and specialty subcontracting services and at full-staffing employees about 250 employees. Those specialty services include asphalt milling, hydro-demolition, modified concrete and utility construction.
The specialty contracting services the company offers are unique to Hughes Group said President and CEO James P. Hughes.
“It takes four pieces to do this kind of work,” he said. “We’re the only company in the United States to have all four pieces.”
The process is an advanced process to repair asphalt on roads and on bridges. The company first mills the roadway, then the hydro-demolition process uses high pressure water to break away old concrete without damaging the steel underneath, then the company will repour and smooth out the new road surface.
James P. Hughes said the company repaired a bridge in Memphis, Tenn., over the Mississippi River, that took about three months to complete. A conventional repair for the same work could take between nine months and two years, he said, depending on how much of the bridge was closed and how many people were working on the bridge.
He added that the hydro-demolition process is about 10 times faster than using a jackhammer and does the equivalent work of 60 jackhammers. The modified concrete the company uses, that includes a latex material, lasts about 30 years.
The changing technology has changed the dynamic of the company since George Hughes Sr. was at the helm.
“The administrative people and supervisory people are doing twice as much as they did before because of this technology,” he said. “It’s gone from a labor intensive to an equipment intensive business.”
But James P. Hughes added that the company’s focus still remains its employees.
“People make it go, people are still your most valuable asset,” he said.
Spreading it’s base
Because the company has diversified, James P. Hughes said they have been able to thrive in the last few years when many businesses were faced with hardships through the recession.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” he said. “The reason why we’ve been very fortunate is we saw a long time ago, and we’ve been doing it for about 25 years, that we can’t operate in just one area doing one thing. The stimulus years were very good to us because we were positioned well.”
And the Hughes Group also works in several different states across the country through its multiple businesses to maintain its revenues.
The company hasn’t been entirely immune to the changing economic conditions.
James P. Hughes said the company has to do more volume of work to make the same money that it has in the past. While the growth in sales has increased and is expected to increase about 15-20 percent next year, he estimated the company’s annual revenues of between $40-60 million annually will remain stagnant or drop.
“I think the reason we’ve been so successful is money has been a secondary goal,” he said.
Passing on the legacy
After 50 years directing the company, George Hughes Sr. has a legacy that his children and grandchildren are attempting to carry forward.
“The three things about business, you have to be honest, you always have to take care of your people and give back to the community,” said James P. Hughes. “He instilled that into us,” he said of George Hughes Sr.
The other thing the company has carried forward is to continue to be innovative.
“You need to change with [those contracting the jobs] and if you don’t change with them, you’re going to get left behind,” James P. Hughes said. “Some people are fearful of change. The way we look at it is change creates opportunity. This area’s going to blow wide open. Economic development, housing, it’s probably one of the best places for people to be. In 10 years you won’t recognize this area.”