Alumni Spotlight-Dr. Ernie Hughes

photo of Dr. Ernie Hughes
Grenada native Dr. Ernie Hughes (Class of 1984) has spent his career advancing through the ranks of collegiate administration, often requiring him to pack up and move his family. Whenever he arrives in a new town, he searches for three things: a Baptist church, the local Rotary Club, and a runners group. "Wherever I go," says Hughes, "I can become ingratiated into the community within six months based on my associations through church, Rotary, and running."

Hughes currently heads his own consulting firm, E. Hughes and Associates, helping churches and non-profits fundraise and develop their organization. Knowing how to navigate through society and form alliances, he says, have been key to his success.

His ultimate goal is to become a college president, and early on he learned what was required to achieve that. He earned the appropriate degrees — a degree in business and finance, as well a master's degree in marketing from Mississippi State University, and a PhD in human resources from LSU — as well as attended leadership seminars and joined various boards. He has learned how to network, and how to use his strong leadership skills to earn trust and responsibility. One of his most cherished inspirational quotes he adapted from Stephen Covey. "Begin with the end in mind."

And that's how it started for him in Grenada.

Hughes recalls his high school job at Piggly Wiggly, where he first heard the maxim, "The customer is always right." "My boss, Mr. Bowers, always made us dress professionally and taught us that our customers will talk about this business," Hughes says. "They could hurt us or give us more positive publicity than all the ads we could hope to buy. I still use that philosophy today."

At Grenada High School, Hughes fell under the influence of several teachers who challenged his thinking, including counselor Charles Smedley and Bobby Knight, who organized the Upper Bounds Club.

But the organization that really changed his life, he says, was led by Martha Cofer. "In class one day, Mrs. Cofer assigned me the task of passing out supplies. She noticed how I kept track of everything, who had what, and after class she asked me, 'Have you ever thought about DECA?' And that started a conversation."

Grenada High's DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) chapter is still thriving and continues to teach students valuable business and leadership skills. Hughes joined the club and moved up in the ranks, serving as district vice president and winning the chapter's Outstanding DECA Student award.

"Of all the plaques and the awards I've accumulated over my professional life, I still cherish the DECA club's Person of the Year award," Hughes says. "I keep the award right here on my desk."

The values he learned in DECA student government, and from his mentors pushed Hughes to excel in future pursuits. After his senior year, he joined the Army National Guard where he graduated first in his training group. He went on to earn his degrees at MSU and took his first job in education at Southern University in Baton Rouge, where he worked his way up from community development specialist to an executive in fund-raising.

From Louisiana, his next job took him all the way up the Mississippi River to Minnesota's Winona State University, "where you could walk across the river in winter." Most recently he moved to Atlanta to work with Morehouse School of Medicine before starting his own firm last summer.

Drive and determination, he says, make all the difference. Throughout his career, he's had many opportunities to travel and visit schools in various African countries. "The difference I see in the students here and there is striking," he says. "The students there, even if they attend class in the humblest shack, with only two pieces of paper to write on, they have a strong desire to succeed. I come back and tell students here, you live in the most advanced country in the world. If you develop the drive and form networks with people, you'll be amazed how you can navigate through this system."

Dr. Hughes has been married to his wife Deadra for 26 years. They have three kids, Troy (24), Doyon (22), and Kaylen (17). He returns to Grenada to visit family — brothers Homer and Oliver Hughes, as well as sisters Clara Lumas, Janie Williams, and Betty Salley — and has shared his inspiration with the community on more than one occasion. He came back to GHS as graduation speaker in 2001 and was instrumental in bringing Andrew Young — former Atlanta mayor, Georgia congressman, and Civil Rights leader — to speak to students at Grenada High School in 2015.

These days, if Dr. Hughes in town, you may see him running up Highway 8. An avid runner, he participates in marathons all over and finds it keeps him mentally and physically in top condition.

Running has also proven to be an apt metaphor for his life, and he's adapted the principles of running a successful marathon to life."I'll probably never win the marathon, but I'll beat the person in front of me and just keep doing that," he says. "Ultimately, of course, the race clock runs out. Wherever you finish, you know that you ran your best race."