October 21, 2014

Florida Icon

Icon: William R. Hough

Founder, investment banking firm William R. Hough & Co.; philanthropist; age 83; St. Petersburg

Art Levy | 10/1/2010

William R. Hough
Hough (pictured at the new Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg) spearheaded fundraising efforts for the $36-million museum, which is scheduled to open in January.
[Photo: Mark Wemple]
» When I learned my ($30 million) gift was the biggest private gift the University of Florida had ever received, I told them if I had known that then I wouldn’t have given as much. I didn’t want it to be the biggest gift. I’m not that showy.

» I’m a conservative person. I believe in paying your own way and not depending on the government.

» My mother inherited some stocks from her aunt, my great-aunt, in 1936. I was fascinated by the fact that she got dividends from those stocks. These were blue chips, and they helped us through the Depression. To this day I think that had a lot to do with my entry into the securities business.

» Stocks had a bad reputation from the 1929 crash, but most of those were
90% margin stocks. The reason the people lost all that money was the
margin. Margin was permitted at 90% of value, where today it’s only permitted at 50%. There’s a lot of difference between those levels. The lesson was not to be margined too heavily. We’re going through the same lesson today because subprime is a matter of borrowing too much money on your house.

» I’m a believer in starting off with a savings account, getting a little bit of a backlog of money and not living beyond your means.

» The biggest investing mistake people make? They take a short-term view.

» I had a sailboat when I was in my 40s. I won the St. Pete to Fort Lauderdale race with it, which is the biggest thrill of my life probably. I got first in fleet out of 94 boats, and the fact that there were that many boats is what made it such a big victory.

» My father was off in the Air Force during World War II, and I had a paper route when I was 15 or 16. What money I made, I bought war bonds. It’s a mentality that a lot of people of my age group still have today. People who had difficult times during the Depression, they like to put money away.

» I don’t want to be viewed as a do-gooder. The first thing I will admit is that I like to get the tax deduction. In the case of my gift to the University of Florida, it reduces my federal estate tax.

» Early on, I was very ambitious. I wanted to make money. I wanted to be in the securities business because I felt that was an area where you had the opportunity to make money.

» If you want to accumulate wealth, you should never live beyond your income. You should save something every year, and you should invest that in something that’s going to grow. I believe that stock in big companies, blue-chip companies, is the way to go.

» I take my briefcase home every night. There’s a lot of reading required in the securities business. You’re reading annual reports, and you’re reading earnings reports. You’re reading other research reports. Those reports are long, and you have to pick out what’s important. I’ve been reading these reports for 60 years.

» My wife has let me do my own thing. She hasn’t nagged me about working all the time. Her influence on me has been getting me interested in the arts. She’s very musical. She sings in the choir. I fell in love with her because she was a member of a trio that sang swing hits. I liked that.

» What the ordinary person does is they sell at the low and they buy at the high. That’s the natural emotion that we as brokers have got to fight.

» During my business career, I’ve probably had three very close shaves. We survived not because we had been conservative. We survived because we had been a little bit of a riverboat gambler. I’ve never been patient in my decisions in managing the business, but I’ve been very patient in my own investment account.

» This morning, I was thinking about that fact that the ideal life would be living in a small town, where you go to church on Sunday, and you have kind of a structured life. You go to a Scout meeting on Monday night and you go to play softball somewhere on a Saturday.

» I think we’re going to have a gradual recovery. When I look around and see the real estate vacancy rates and the occupancy ratios, I think the recovery is going to be slower than people think.

» The stock market commentators are trying to predict what’s going to happen in the next day or the next week. The worst thing an investor can do is to watch one of those shows.

» Yes, I think some people think about money too much. I think I do. I’m not glad that I do that. I think it’s a function of the Depression. I’ve always wanted to have security, and I don’t think that ever goes away. Do you ever have enough money? I tell you what I’m thinking about now. I’m thinking about increasing my income so I can give more away.

» As a young child, I liked to play Monopoly. I was a pretty good Monopoly player.

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