From the desk of President Leslie K. Guice

Life's Lessons from a Successful Entrepreneur & CEO, Bill Hogan

Nov 19, 2013 | Guest Feature

Fall commencement was held last Saturday in the Thomas Assembly Center where 304 graduates were awarded their degrees and became the newest group of proud Louisiana Tech alumni.  We were honored to have Bill Hogan, President and CEO of Bank of Ruston and a great supporter of Louisiana Tech, serve as our commencement speaker. Here are some of the highlights of his inspirational address. Hogan, BillWell – you made it.  Whether you are graduating early or maybe with one extra quarter, you have now demonstrated one of the greatest qualities in life – perseverance.  It’s what got you here, and it will now take you to new places in a world that is filled with opportunity and a world in which the rewards are great for those who apply themselves, who give back, who are adaptable and available, who are a positive influence, and who are innovative. I thought in our brief time together this morning, I would share a few stories with you about my journey and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.  I started out as an engineering student at Oklahoma State University and quickly realized that I was on the wrong seat of the bus.  So I swiftly moved into the business school and dreamed of being an investment advisor (commonly referred to as stock broker in the 80’s). One of my favorite memories while a student at OSU, was when my sister urged me and a buddy to take a poultry judging class with her as one of those “why not?” electives.  We took the class, made the team and went to the National Poultry Judging competition at the University of Arkansas.  The next thing you know we’re at the podium accepting individual awards and as a team won the national championship in front of Don Tyson (of Tyson Chicken.) Life Lesson #1:  Have an open mind and don’t give in to those preconceived notions about having to know it all.  With proper instruction and leadership along with a desire to compete, you can excel in areas in which you have no prior knowledge. Ok, so moving on from poultry judging.  I spent several years after college working in the trucking industry.  Many of you will be moving in to that first “real job” much like I did.  For some of you, your career path will be a clear and direct.  For the rest of you, your career path will be more varied.   Either way, that first job is such an educational and valuable experience. We all have to start somewhere! My father invited me to move to Ruston and join him in his real estate development and construction business. As luck would have it a local lumber yard that was troubled became available and I purchased it.  I aligned myself with the brightest people in the industry and learned the business.  I built a new location and, in our first few years, grew from $1 million in annual revenue to $4.5 million, and ultimately to $12 million in annual sales. In October of 1998, I made a trip to Indianapolis with two of my employees to one of our big trade shows.  On the return flight, we were 9 minutes from Ruston, flying low under clouds with light rain.  Before we left Indianapolis, there was an issue with getting the airplane fueled properly.  As we flew along the engine started to lose power and I immediately realized that we were out of fuel.  We descended very rapidly, and made a very hard landing in cow pasture – at about 60 miles per hour.  We were incredibly fortunate – minor injuries, a mangled airplane and a life changing mistake that left us all very thankful to be alive.  After the accident I was interviewed by an FAA investigator and I took full responsibility for the accident.  The FAA investigator said that in all of his years as an investigator that he had never had anyone freely admit that they were at fault and take full responsibility for an accident.  He said that because of my honesty that there would be no mark on my record and that our visits over the past four months would serve as my remedial training.  Life Lesson # 2:   Understand that your life can change in an instant!  If you make a mistake take full responsibility for it!  We all make mistakes and we must learn them and strive to do the right thing the next time.  Do the right things for right the right reasons, and you will be rewarded. After 10 years of owning and operating the Do-It Center, I made another big move by completing a stock swap to become a major partner in my family’s business, Hogan Hardwoods.  Soon after, we bought our largest competitor, which nearly doubled the size of our business overnight, and pretty soon we were generating $200 million in revenue, with 500 employees and doing business in 14 states. We were young, aggressive and on a serious roll.  Life Lesson #3:  Always remember, at the point that we start to feel like we have everything figured out, the game can and will change!  Our game changer was Hurricane Katrina.  Katrina devastated a number of our larger customers, who represented 20 percent of our business.  By 2007, we were forced to take on a major partner to help stabilize our business financially.   So please understand and remember that there are no guarantees in business.  We can’t take anything for granted.  But with every setback is an opportunity if we choose to look at it that way and most often when one door closes, another opens. Now to where I am today…I must admit that I was not looking to “start over” at 45 years of age.  As a board of directors for Bank of Ruston, we were working on a management succession plan and, in a casual conversation with CEO Benny Denny, he made the comment that – a person like me would be a good fit as a future CEO.  So I asked, “What if it was me?” And at that point a new chapter in my life began to take shape! Life Lesson #4:  It’s people that matter the most!  You must be adaptable and embrace the detours that life will throw you.  It was at this juncture that I began to realize that the all the wonderful people who I had befriended along the way, made me who I am.  Be a positive influence in your work environment, family and social groups. Life is all about relationships.  It’s the people that matter the most! I would like to close by sharing something that is very close to my heart – the act of giving!  I challenge you to always keep a lookout for ways that you can give back, pay forward or share.  We can give financially, we can give our time, and we can ask others to give.  Give back and be committed to what you believe in.  Some of the greatest joys in life come from the gift of kindness that you can give to others.  The relationships that you develop with those who you work side by side with for the benefit of others will be deep. Help those who are less fortunate because you can.  Make a difference in your community and with your fellow man! Your moment has arrived!  You are graduating from a great University and you deserve to be very proud.  For the rest of your lives you can proudly say that you graduated from Louisiana Tech University – an incredible school with great history and very bright future!  I challenge you to look for ways to give back to Louisiana Tech. Stay in touch and involved, help recruit students, mentor future graduates of your university…and prepare yourself to stand at this podium someday!