Velda Hughes, Owner and CEO of the Hughes Agency, Inspires CCES Students with Insights and Advice from a Remarkable Career
Eli Jordan, Graphic Design and Marketing Manager
On Thursday, March 16, CCES welcomed Velda Hughes to speak to 11th and 12th grade students about professionalism in the workplace. Ms. Hughes is the owner and CEO of the Hughes Agency, which she founded in 2001. Her husband Jackson, who attended CCES through 1968, and their three children Jackson ’99, Harrison ’03, and Anne Carter MacNabb ’03 are CCES alumni. Her grandchildren Anne Miller MacNabb ’33 and Carter MacNabb ‘35 are current students.
A 2022 recipient of the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, Ms. Hughes has been a force in the Greenville community, helping to raise money for projects like the Children’s Museum of the Upstate and most recently Unity Park.
Though petite in stature, Ms. Hughes’s confidence and personality made her commanding presence as she took the stage of the Rooke Theater. She shared a quick summary of her career, which began 45 years ago at the Greenville News -- a time when women were a scarce presence in the field of journalism. “I had an undergraduate degree from UNC and a graduate degree from USC, and the only job I could get as a journalist in Greenville was writing obituaries.” So how did she go from a job making $13,000 a year to owning a wildly successful marketing and PR firm, the Hughes Agency, generating $5 million in annual revenue?
While she could probably write a book or ten on the subject, Ms. Hughes said that her achievements were ultimately the products of two things – professionalism and hard work.
This likely sounded familiar to our students, who are expected to demonstrate these same qualities at CCES, or as Ms. Hughes described it “the best school in America.” Nevertheless, Ms. Hughes held the rapt attention of the room as she shared her advice on subjects ranging from eye contact and firm handshakes to being on time and dressing appropriately. “Do not come into my office for an interview in flip flops,” she said. “Walk in there and look good, be positive, and have a lot of confidence.”
Other topics were kindness, respect, networking, the power of a hand-written thank you note versus an email, and the importance of internships. “Figure out EARLY on what you want to do and start internships,” she said. “Don’t just babysit and lifeguard every summer.” (Fortunately, CCES students do get that opportunity EARLY, through the Summer Internship Program.)
During a lengthy and engaging question-and-answer session, students asked Ms. Hughes about networking (very important), her decision to start her own business (more flexibility as a mother), and even negotiating salaries (there are guidelines and data to help you). “But work hard,” she said. “Don’t be that person who is packing up at 4:45 and is ready to go. That gets on my last nerve.”
When asked, “What is the most fulfilling part of your job?” Ms. Hughes said that the flexibility of owning her own business had given her the gift of being able to “have a great family life and a great career.” She continued, “It’s not all about money. At this point in my life, a big part is doing the right thing and doing good in the community. I get up at 4:30 every day and I am at my office at 6:30 every day. And I love it more today than I did 37 years ago.”
She concluded her talk with a charge for all of our students. “This is for each one of you. I’m trying to look each of you in the eye,” she said. “Dream big and do not settle. You might have to start somewhere that isn’t what you wanted. I mean, writing obituaries was not fun. But I was the best obituary writer. I took great pride everyone I wrote. I would write one and send it to my dad -- a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist -- and say ‘look at this obituary!’ I was good at that. And then I became good at something else. So if you have to start in a job that is not ideal, just do a great job, the best you can, and then you’ll go do your best at the next thing until you end up where you want to be.”
Christ Church Episcopal School (“CCES”) admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at CCES. CCES does not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, color, national or ethnic origin, creed, religion, or sexual orientation in the administration of its educational policies, admission policies, financial aid, scholarship or other programs, or athletic or other school-administered programs and activities.