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At 16 years of age Cathy Hughes, founder of Radio One, was kicked out of the house by her mom when she became pregnant. She didn’ let her misfortune become a part of her downfall, she just trudged along and vowed to do something with herself and for her son.
Years later, after graduating from college and getting married she had an opportunity to buy a radio station with her husband. Although the marriage didn’t last, she was determined to make her business last. After 7 years of being in the red she finally was able to pull the radio station out of annual losses.
Along the road to success, she and her son slept on the floor of the radio station so that she could keep it going. Those were the trying years, the years when a lot of people would have given up, but she pressed on to become the first African American woman to head a publicly traded company.
Today she has the largest African American owned and operated broadcast company in the US, with projected revenues of $433 million in 2012. She has also diversified her brand and now has online and TV ventures that help keep her vision alive. She credits her son and the tough times with giving her the impetus to trudge through the bad times in order to get to the good times. In a candid interview, Hughes discusses (in detail) the challenges of being a teen mother and running a failing business. Excerpts from the interview are below.
Did you believe that life was over after getting pregnant?
Everyone in my world thought I should have an abortion, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t penalize another human being with the mistake I made, even though I realized I didn’t have the education and financial resources I needed. Having that baby forced me to put someone else ahead of my own selfish desires.
I became an entrepreneur because of him. One day, he had a fever and my employer said “if you walk out that door, don’t come back.” That’s when I decided I needed to be in control of my professional environment so I could be there for my child.
What was the most important lesson you learned as a teen mom that translated to running a business?
Focus. An elderly woman who provided child care told me the secret to successful parenting was to keep your attention focused on your children. And one of the key characteristics of an effective manager is to not have your attention distracted from your employees, goals and objectives. You have to keep your eye on the prize, whether that’s running a business or rearing a child.
How did you end up living on the floor of your radio station?
The radio station was a financial disaster for seven years. But I stayed focused on not losing my company, and that’s why I moved into the station and did whatever it took. I was willing to let everything go except my son and my business, in that order.
Did you ever think about giving up while sleeping on the floor?
Never, never, never. I was determined that my son and I would build a successful business. I’d tell lenders, “Do you think I’m going to let this fail when I’m sleeping in a sleeping bag, washing up in a public bathroom? I’m giving it my all.”
What was it like raising a son while living in the radio station?
I never saw him as deprived. He graduated from the best high school in D.C., went to UCLA and participated in all the things regular kids do. It wasn’t until I was about 55, when someone said to me “you were homeless,” that it hit me. I was down to 14 employees running a 24/7 business. I was glad we were in the radio station, because sometimes in middle of the night I’d have to get up and do something. –Read more by clicking here.