Written by: Amanda Kelly
Gary Hughes, President and Managing Broker of Aspen Sotheby’s International Realty, used philosophical ideals and compassion to change the culture of a company. And he talks about philosophy so eloquently that one might unwittingly mistake him for a university professor or spiritual guru. Maybe deep down he is, but on the surface, Hughes is a successful real estate industry veteran with more than 30 years experience representing master-planned projects and luxury home sales.
In 1984, Hughes moved to the United States from South Africa and began a career in real estate that same year. Three years ago, he came onboard at Sotheby’s with a plan to change the company’s instinctively competitive culture. Aspen is a highly competitive marketplace with more than 800 brokers in the city alone. “When I got here there was a kill or be killed attitude,” Hughes said. “What I wanted to do was shape a philosophy of how we should work as a group. It took time but we’ve had an incredible three years.”
The thought influences at the forefront of Hughes’s company culture ranges from timeworn thinkers like the Buddha and Aristotle to modern-day savants like Tom Morris. “A great read for anyone running a company is Morris’ book, If Aristotle Ran General Motors,” he says. “I’d highly recommend they read and instill it in their daily life.”
Beyond the walls of his offices, Hughes describes an ordinary, yet nonetheless, fulfilling family life. Balancing his work life with hobbies such as hiking and golf in addition to the occasional family vacation is important to him. Hughes and his wife have two teenage boys and two older daughters—one who is still in college and another who has since graduated and started a career in real estate.
Throughout their children’s lives, Hughes and his wife have made a concentrated effort to expose them to countless volunteering opportunities in order to give back to the community and instill lasting values. The family volunteers once a month, cooking Saturday dinners at a local church.
“Volunteering is a huge part of why my children appreciate what they have,” he says. “They are able to see that there are other people that need help and that the more they can give the more fulfilled they will be in life. You really want to have children that understand and are smart enough to know that life doesn’t hand you anything.”
Professional Legacy Relies on One’s Relationships
Over time, Hughes says he has learned to appreciate how much he can still learn from other people. “Once you’re out of college, whether you’re working for a company or not, you’ve got so much more time to invest in yourself. To invest in learning and philosophy and understanding how the world really works. I’ve learned so much from other people and I never stop learning. That part is just incredible.”
He often goes “into the trenches” to get to know his employees—taking them to lunch and opening himself up to conversations to determine not only what motivates them, but also what makes them happy or unhappy.
“Leadership has to be grounded in a love for what you do and an appreciation for all your coworkers. It has a trickle down effect,” he says. “The whole concept is based on the ideal that everybody matters. Goodness is so critical in everything that we do that it is an investment that never fails. To sustain corporate excellence you must sustain these values.”
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