by Cesca Janece Waterfield
Don’t expect Frankie Hughes to triumph too much in being named by Black Enterprise Magazine as one of the 75 most powerful women in America. Soft-spoken Hughes says, “They were nice to do so, but of course there are a whole bunch of people who are also on the list. But it is nice.”
Such humility may be partly due to her upbringing in the nearby small town of Ashland. After a mostly segregated education in public schools, Hughes went to Howard University, where she got her degree in Math and Business with highest honors. She then earned her MBA from Stanford, and worked at corporate firms including Exxon, Citibank and Salomon Brothers. In 1993, she founded her own firm, Hughes Capital Management, a privately held firm that manages approximately $1 billion in assets for institutional investors.
Hughes will be a featured panelist on Jan. 28 at the Greater Richmond Conference Center during the Women Who Mean Business Summit. Presented by the Metropolitan Business League, the day-long conference will offer workshops, networking and coaching sessions with top women business leaders including financial expert Suze Orman. www.womensbizsummit.com Hughes lives in Alexandria and in her free time enjoys scrapbooking and jewelry making.
Her secrets to success: I don’t think there’s anything magic about it, that’s the first thing. Tenacity ends up being really important; the willingness to work hard. And the third thing is a willingness to step outside your comfort zone.
Growing up in Ashland: I think I had two [goals], and I’m not sure which was first. The first was to get out of Ashland, Virginia. The second was to be financially self-sufficient. When I look back, I realize that [Ashland] was a great place to be and a good place to get a foundation. I go back to Ashland a lot and there’s a certain comfort. I enjoy going back there. Not to say I do anything when I’m there. Maybe that’s why I like it.
Dedicated teachers: Through the 10th grade, I was effectively educated in a segregated environment. We had some teachers who were not of color, but all of the students were. For me, I think it ended up being an exceptionally good environment. We had one teacher who at the time for me seemed like she was really old. She was at least a couple years out of Virginia State. There was a group of us at lunch time and she started this session: We would study math and science. It was just a really supportive environment. I remember a lot of teachers who took time out to make sure we had a really strong basis for learning and that we were properly prepared. We just saw it as something that they made really interesting. It seemed a really natural thing to do.
Landing at Howard: The idea of being in an environment where the only thing I had to worry about was the academic side seemed a really good thing to do. I had a desire to get away from Ashland so I knew I didn’t want to go to Virginia Union or Virginia State. I decided I wanted to go to Grambling [State University]. They had a marching band and so they were occasionally on TV. One day a [former guidance counselor] asked me what I was going to do. She said, ‘Why don’t you go to Howard?’ So I applied to Howard.
Natural progress: I didn’t go through school knowing that I would gravitate toward financial services. But my first job out of college was with a bank. Once I was in the field, that’s where I tended to stay.
Single Mom Builds Business with the Right Team
In 1986, Sharon Dabney Wooldridge was a student at VCU when she started a business cleaning homes and quickly built a loyal clientele. When her son entered high school, she decided to aim for larger goals, and with three employees, soon won her first government cleaning contract. “Going into this huge headquarters building at Fort Lee, it was quite overwhelming,” she remembers. But that was the turning point for Sharon and the Kleane Kare Team. Today the company employs 95 people and holds four national industry awards. It was among the first green janitorial companies in Virginia. Does her company’s success surprise Sharon? Not at all: “That’s always been my vision,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to continue to take it to the next level.” Sharon will appear at the Women Who Mean Business Summit, Jan. 28 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. www.womensbizsummit.com
Put passion first: I love cleaning. I have a passion. I hear people say, ‘I want to do this because I want to make money.’ Don’t do anything just for the money. If you have a passion, the money will come.
Essential to success: Perseverance, conviction, confidence. We as women, we tend to beat ourselves up. Learn how to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Don’t try to hash over things. I know myself, I can do that from time to time, but I pull myself back and move on. Confidence is important, and being bold, especially in a man’s world. We have to have that confidence to not back down and stand our ground.
Her advice to women who mean business: I’m going to take this saying, because it’s an old cliché: Just do it. Get out there and follow your dream and persevere. You’re going to have setbacks, but just don’t give up.
The network: One thing that has contributed to my success is having a close network of friends, family and organizations for support, encouragement and referrals. Also, a crucial key part of the success of your plan is to have the right team around you. I can’t tell you how important it is to have the right folks as key staff that help you and support you in your dream, and that they’re trustworthy, loyal and committed to your vision.
Time off: Around the holidays or weekends I take short little time-outs. I don’t take vacations. I’d love to, and I’m working toward that, but I take time-outs. I go to wineries. I like going to D.C. to shop in mini time-outs.
Family tradition: I come from a family of entrepreneurs. I think that’s part of that drive, turning passion into business. My dad, he owns grocery stores. My grandfather, he owned a farm. I have a great uncle who owns a frame shop and an uncle who owns a dump truck business. That’s where that entrepreneurial thing came from.
Sharon and son: He’s awfully proud. He’s a gunnery sergeant in the Marines. He’s going to make a career [of the Marines]. After he retires, he’ll only be 38 years old. He plans to come out and continue the business.