Buck Hunt | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Buck Hunt

Background:  

A real estate development company, HHHunt Corporation employs more than 1,700 team members in North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina and Maryland. In the Raleigh-Durham area, HHHunt's work spans land development, homebuilding, and developing and managing apartment and senior living communities.

The Mistake:

Underestimating the change in perception that accompanies a promotion.

I started as an official, full-time employee of HHHunt in November 2003, but I essentially grew up in the company. I knew everybody in the company. I started working here as a teenager at our Blacksburg, Va. office. I worked on the maintenance crew, I did some market research, and I did a lot of gofer work. Those roles exposed me to things that were important to the leaders in the company and to the leaders, themselves.

After college, I moved to Florida to get away from home. I had no intention of joining the company. I had a degree in history and political science, so I wasn’t at all interested in the family business at that time. Eventually, I realized the opportunity at HHHunt is one that not many people get. I eventually comprehended how good of an opportunity it was. It felt like coming home. Once I got to the company, I felt like the best way for me to start learning the business was going into business development — looking for sites, negotiating contracts for land acquisition and apartment buildings and senior living neighborhoods. I also pursued some more formal business education and received my executive MBA at UNC. At that time, my work shifted more to homebuilding, which included some field work and managing communities and overseeing construction.

In 2013, we had a major leadership transition. The CEO retired and we split that role into chief executive officer, chief operating officer and chief financial officer. I was named chief executive officer. Personally, I was not aware of how much people’s perceptions of me would change.

People will listen to what we say, but they’ll remember what we do and how we make them feel.

The Lesson:

Suddenly, the way I act and what I do had so much importance than ever before. People put so much more weight on the things I did and said because now I was CEO. I wasn’t prepared for that, and it’s taken me awhile to get used to it.

People will listen to what we say, but they’ll remember what we do and how we make them feel.

I struggled with it a bit in the beginning. I would ask for something or suggest something and people would just jump right on it, whether they had the time or the capacity to do it. I ended up hiring an executive coach at the suggestion of the COO. I hired a very helpful executive coach, who had a long career with IBM and did a lot of internal coaching. I’ve been working with him ever since. He helps me make strategic decisions. We tend to get a little myopic and he brings a broader perspective. That’s been very helpful. He was the one who helped me see and address people’s perceptions of me. He really opened my eyes to the fact that I had a lot more influence that I realized.

Now, I think about that every time I write something in an email or make a decision. How others see me as CEO is now something that I’m conscious of and I think about. I think about that when I decide what I’m going to do with my day or with my week. If I’m going to go out and visit our communities, for example, people will change their schedules, sometimes even if they had a vacation scheduled. Those are the things I have to be aware of. I think about that so much more now.

Photo courtesy of HHHunt.

HHHunt Corporation is on Twitter at @HHHuntCorp.