Podcast Episode 13: Honoring Ken Hughes, DHG Chairman

Ken Hughes, founding partner of DHG, will retire in June 2016. We celebrate his legacy and hope you’ll join us for a lively conversation with Chairman Hughes as he reflects on the history of the firm and shares a few words of wisdom that he has learned along the way. 


AGH: Hello everyone, and welcome back to another episode of our DHG Podcast series. I’m Alice Grey Harrison, your host and I love this venue because we get to hear from people about the things that matter the most to them; flexibility, careers and people. And today, I feel so fortunate to have with me Ken Hughes, our Chairman. Ken and I have done a lot of interviews over the years working on corporate communications, internal communications and we’ve had a lot of fun doing videos and I’m really sad because today probably is my last official interview with Ken as Chairman. He retires on June 1st and so thank you so much for being here and taking time out to speak with us today.

KH: You’re so welcome.

AGH: We’ve really had fun haven’t we?

KH: Yes, we have, even though you’ve tricked me a couple of times, it’s okay.

AGH: And every now and then, we had outtakes and we never shared our outtakes, but we had a great time doing videos all over DHG. So, one of the questions that comes to my mind that I think that would be of interest to our people is your influence on DHG and the origins of DHG and how it came to be. I know there are a lot of people over the years who have influenced who we are today, and you, of course, are a major influence. Will you share with us a little about your beginnings and your development of the firm and participation in the development of the firm?

KH: Well Alice Grey, I could go on for a long time, with a long career like this, but when I’m asked that, I often think of one kind of story when I left the confines of a national firm to move to Western North Carolina and go in partnership with Mitch Crisp and a couple others to form a small firm. And I remember opening an office in Asheville, going out and buying office furniture, a nice desk and a credenza, sitting down at that desk one day feeling very proud and had a panic attack. My panic attack was I had forgotten that to be successful, you’ve got to have clients and I did not have any clients to pay me at that time. So, that, if you want to go way back, would be the origins of my side of DHG.

AGH: But then along the way, there has been a lot of people who’ve influenced and other firms that we’ve merged. We didn’t just start and grow and grow. What are the other developments that have brought us to where we are today?

KH: Well, fortunately, we did figure out how to grow and we were successful and we continued that success by serving clients and hiring great people and suddenly, some probably 15 years later, we started figuring out that we could grow and we’ve started merging in other small firms. But really, the big, I think, milestone in my career and the evolution of the firm was when in 2004 when we merged Crisp Hughes Evans based out of Asheville with Dixon Odom based in High Point to form Dixon Hughes. We suddenly were thrust onto the national stage and become a top 20 accounting firm overnight. So that was one of the very best decisions that I can say that I was ever a part of is to create the beginnings of genesis of the firm we are today. Fortunately, we’ve continued that growth. It was a great time in the industry, in the profession. We had had the Enron scandals, the Worldcom, the Anderson, the Sarbanes-Oxley and suddenly, accountants were held in very high esteem. We doubled in size from that 2004 to 2008 and we continued on bringing in other talent. While we did several merges after that or combinations with firms in Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, Ohio, and others. We really had one missing link that we felt like to our geography which was Virginia and the DC area. We merged with Goodman based in Virginia in 2011, and that, in a very few short years, is how we’ve created Dixon Hughes Goodman, or as we like to be known, DHG. What that’s allowed us to do is build a top, and continue to have a top 20 accounting firm, that is very relevant in our profession today.

AGH: And I always feel very honored to be able to have these conversations with you and for our listeners out there, I tricked Ken about a year ago, doing what he thought was a campus recruiting video, but really, it was a video that we did to share and celebrate him at the Partner Meeting, but it was interesting. One of the things that Ken really reinforced with me, I kept saying, “What was your influence? How did you…” and really focused on him. He was very clear with me that it isn’t about him, that he just, I mean, he’s been our leader, but it’s all about the people and there are a lot of people who helped us to grow and thrive, and I really admire that in Ken. So, speaking of growing and thriving, as we move into the next phase of DHG, what would you consider the most important thing that we need to focus on to continue our path towards growth?

KH: Well, unfortunately, I get asked a lot, “What’s the one thing?” And I can honestly say, there’s never been one thing to do, but what I would say, if we want to continue to grow and thrive, we’ve got to go back to our mission, our values and our guiding principles, because that’s the blueprint and the road map of really what’s gotten us to where we are here today and what will take us into the future. So, when I think about building valuable careers with our people, helping our clients achieve their goals, I think about our values of trust, relationships, innovation, passion and then our five guiding principles of talent, leadership, growth, service, and performance. If we will focus on all of those things and the decisions that we make, if we allow that to guide us, we will continue to thrive for the next 20 years as we have in the past several years.

AGH: So if we begin to think back, if you were starting your career tomorrow, what would you like to know that you didn’t know back then?

KH: Well, I think that the real answer to that question is, I’m glad I did know then what I know now because I’m not sure I or we would have the courage to do what we did to get us to where we are today. So, I think that I just would say I’m glad I didn’t know then what I know now and I think that’s been much better.

AGH: So, here today, what are you most proud of regarding the firm and your career?

KH: I think what I’m most proud of is all the individuals and people that we have in our firm that make up DHG today. We have an incredibly talented group of people that have high standards and believe in what we do for the firm. So, I’m most proud of the individuals that we have. I am proud of the reputation that we have in our profession. We are highly respected in our profession, we’re highly respected by our clients, we’re highly respected by all the universities that supply our people, and so, I’m most proud of what we’ve assembled today and I’m really proud of the work that we do for our clients to help them be successful.

AGH: Wonderful, and today, what advise do you have for our leaders to carry us tomorrow?

KH: Well, other than follow the blueprint that we have laid out and continue to allow that to evolve as business changes, I guess the one thing I would say is, I’ve always thought about if you could figure out what keeps our clients awake at night and solve that problem, we will be indispensable to that client. So I’d like to share what’s kept me awake for many, many years and that is really four things. One is, how do we preserve the values and the culture of our firm as we continue to grow? Two, how do we recruit, develop and retain our world-class people? Three, how do we continue to invest in leadership, because I truly believe that strong leadership separates the average firms from the great firms? And last, let’s keep DHG a safe place, manage our risk and don’t do anything that harms the firm that we’ve created today.

AGH: Ken, I really hate that our time together is coming to an end, and truly, I feel grateful to have been able to learn from you and to work with you, and I can’t even imagine you retired. It just seems really odd. I don’t even know how to even picture that. So what are you going to do?

KH: Well, I really wish I knew specifically, but as you probably know, I always try to bring things down into something simple that I can remember. So, after leaving DHG, I think number one, I want to be the best ambassador for DHG in retirement than I am while I’m here. So, I hope that I will have opportunities to help others and DHG while I’m gone. But I’ve broken down what I want to do into five buckets, and I call it the Five F’s. I stole that from Kent Satterfield as I remember, but it’s really focusing what I want to do around faith, family, friends, fitness and finance, and so within those buckets, I’m not clear about all of those, but I’ll figure out within those buckets how I want to spend my time.

AGH: Well, that’s quite special and a really cool way of looking at it. Thank you for being with us.

KH: You’re so welcome.

AGH: And we are definitely going to miss you and thank you all for listening to Life at DHG, our premier podcast series. If you like what you heard, we hope you’ll tell your friends and colleagues. Be sure to check out our DHG blog for more great stories about Life Beyond Numbers. Join us next time for another edition of life at DHG.  

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