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Executive Profile: Hunt Broyhill
The scion of a furniture-famous family
demonstrates the same traits as his pioneering forebears

By Sandy Wimbish

They had a habit, young Hunt Broyhill and his daddy, Paul. At night, when other little boys were being tucked into bed and read stories of dragon-slaying princes or green eggs and ham, Hunt was hearing about the real-life adventures of Alexander the Great, Charlemagne and Marco Polo.

Those early stories may well have sparked the passions the Lenoir business executive and civic stalwart manifests today: leadership and adventure. And like the protagonists he envisioned at his father's tutelage, he, too, has a lot on his plate. The 35-year-old Broyhill today is the chief executive of Broyhill Management LLC and president of five corporations: Broyhill Investments, Broyhill Family Foundation, Broyhill Realty, Broyhill Timber Resources and H.B. Development. His challenge, he quips, is not to wrench the sword from the stone but to disprove the old adage: "The first generation founds the company, the second builds it, and the third blows it."

Particularly in North Carolina, the name Broyhill is synonymous with leadership. The legacy of leadership began with his grandparents, J.E. and Satie Broyhill. Arguably Western North Carolina's greatest patriarch, J.E. Broyhill developed an investment philosophy that served his family and community well for many years: Put all your eggs in one basket and then watch that basket.

Broyhill tells his grandparents' rags-to-riches story with obvious pride. "My grandfather built a business during the Depression, with basically a sixth-grade education. Even after spending a few years at Appalachian State Teachers College (now Appalachian State University), he may have had the equivalency of a high school education, but certainly nothing more than that. Yet he went on to be a self-made man. He was also a Republican National Committee member for 28 years, and is considered by many to be the father of the Republican Party in North Carolina."

J. E. and Satie had two sons, Paul and Jim. Paul joined his father in the furniture business, eventually making Broyhill Furniture Industries one of the greatest household names in the home furnishings business. Jim followed his father into politics. "(Jim Broyhill) had to teach good old Southern yellow-dog Democrats how to split a ticket. They would vote their entire ticket Democrat and then flip over and vote Jim Broyhill for Congress," says Broyhill.

After the furniture company was sold in 1980 and Paul Broyhill retired, the family business took on a different complexion from J.E.'s "one basket" theory. Today the family has moved away from the management of hands-on operating entities and instead focuses on the asset allocation of several family funds and portfolios.

The underlying assets of these funds are a sophisticated mix of diverse investments. These include traditional financial instruments such as stocks and bonds; commercial, industrial and residential real estate; private equity and venture capital; and Hunt Broyhill's particular area of expertise, alternative investments and hedge funds.

In addition to managing assets of the family office, Broyhill has also developed two alternative investment products, the Broyhill All-Weather Fund LP and the All-Weather Prime Fund LP, both of which are open to outside investors. The funds focus on preserving capital in markets characterized by high volatility and high equity valuations while still capturing a significant portion of the markets' appreciation. The funds selecting managers who invest in a range of asset classes and then utilize a defense strategy that allows profits on the upside while protecting or even profiting in down markets.

This strategy differs from a balanced mutual fund because while the diversity of a mutual fund can protect against the poor performance of an individual stock or bond, it does not protect against overall negative directional movement of the market.

Broyhill has a number of outside business interests. He is a director of Swisher International in Charlotte and High Street Banking Co. in Hickory and Asheville. He also is a general partner in a newly formed SBIC, CapitalSouth Partners I LP. The goal of that entity is to provide mezzanine debt financing for small SBA-conforming companies. Generally these companies have earnings of less than $50 million and have opportunities for expansion that need some degree of debt on the balance sheet beyond what a traditional lending institution can provide.

Evidently, he likes diversity in his civic life as well. He serves on the boards of the Caldwell Community College Foundation, the N.C. Community College Foundation, NCCBI, and on the executive board of the Piedmont Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Broyhill claims that having grown up in the long shadows of his grandfather and father, he never questioned his responsibilities to his community. "I just assumed it was something you do," he says.

Some of Broyhill's greatest pleasure is derived from working with the Boy Scouts. Not only is this group a lot of fun, but he sees the benefit of labor as boys learn about responsibility and are rewarded for accomplishing goals. Perhaps his greatest satisfaction comes from seeing his own son respond to Scouting's teachings.

Broyhill has traveled with his wife, Robin Crutchfield Broyhill, to countries such as Kenya and Bolivia on mission projects with their church, get name, learning a great deal of appreciation for those who do not have the opportunities he has had. On their last trip two years ago their daughter, Christian, accompanied them. He is certain that this experience helped to shape her perspective as she deals with others today.

Broyhill's father is proud of his son. "He's having a good time working. We've gotten into a number of things that have been successful, and I think he's making a good contribution to the community as well as to the business," Paul Broyhill boasts, concluding, "A lot of children of wealthy parents are not interested in following in their parents' footsteps, but he's been willing to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, and he is now making a name for himself and carrying on the Broyhill tradition. Both his mother and I are very proud of that."

their two children Christian (11) and Paul Hunt (7). Broyhill met his wife while they were students at Wake Forest University. They married in 1988 and now have two children, Christian, 11, and Paul Hunt, 7.

"My daughter is a lot like her grandmother Satie," he says with pleasure. "She is passionate about music and wakes up in the morning singing. Paul Hunt wakes up in the morning watching ESPN and goes to bed at night watching sports. I figure he gets that from the maternal genes of the family. My father-in-law was the former Wake Forest Deacon Club President, and their side of the family has a lot more sports genes than we do. So I have to give Robin's family credit for our little sports jock." His wife also enjoys coaching their children's soccer teams at the Hickory YMCA.

Broyhill is not, however, without his own athletic prowess. He is an accomplished cyclist and enjoys distance biking whenever he can carve out the time. He and his wife both have biked the 101-mile Bridge to Bridge Ride, which starts in Hickory and finishes at Grandfather Mountain. Also, he has toured parts of China and Pakistan on bike with nine other American cyclists.

"Robin loves to tell the story of how I left her to go biking in Asia just seven months after our son was born. But what she fails to add," he says, pausing for effect, "is that on my way back I flew her to Hawaii to meet me half way. So she did get something out of the deal."

Participating in adventure sports is one way Broyhill keeps mentally fit. His interest is not so much in conquering the world, but in reaping the mental dividends achieved from accomplishing challenging physical feats. "When you look at the Navy Seals," Broyhill points out, "you see the crazy stuff they do and you think, 'this is torture, what is the point of it?' But the point is that it gives them the mental confidence that they need yet can't get just by having toned muscles."

Broyhill is equally at home on the water or in the air. "I'm a relatively avid sailor. I like having a sailboat as a toy for the family and kids, but if truth be known, I'm sure they'd say it was a toy for dad more than for them," he muses. Sailing to the Florida Keys and the Bahamas is a trip the family especially enjoys, and Broyhill recalls with enthusiasm the exhilaration of sailing across the Gulf Stream at close to midnight.

Yet it is aviation that he believes is most beneficial to his mental agility. Flying, he says, gives him cerebral dexterity -- but it comes with a price. "Pilots are the Rodney Dangerfields of the world," he quips, adding, "When it is a clear day and you fly someone a safe and clear flight and have a perfect touchdown they think you've done a great job. But get a little bit of weather, and have some turbulence, some icing, and you land in a ceiling of 200 feet and you think you're great and have just performed virtual heroics, and your passengers are screaming about the flight."

Hunt's father is 75 and still flies single pilot. He met Hunt's mother in 1955 while flying her to an event during her reign as Miss North Carolina. "She was going to a function in Charlotte with the Jaycees. My father called in a favor from his former fraternity brother, Mr. Ike Belk, who was president of the Jaycees that year, and arranged to fly my mother to the event. When they got married the headline read 'Miss North Carolina to wed her pilot.'"

After the honeymoon, Broyhill's parents settled in Lenoir and raised their family of three: Two daughters, Caron and Claire, followed by son Hunt. Broyhill attended Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., spending his senior year studying in the Brittany region of France. Hunt continues to stay current with the French language and culture and enjoys traveling abroad with his wife and family.

His father, a Francophile, wanted to instill in his son a love of things French, a goal he accomplished. More importantly, however, Broyhill learned life lessons during that year abroad. "Being in a civilization that has been around for a few thousand years as opposed to a couple hundred helps you realize that there's more than one way to do things," he says. "It was a privilege having the experience of living with a family in another culture and learning that we Americans are not the only culture in the world and that our beliefs are not universally shared."

After completing high school, he attended Wake Forest, graduating in 1986. Paul Broyhill jibes about his son's education, "He and I both debated a long time whether he should get an MBA or not, but I was anxious for him to get started in business. I've started many businesses, and they all haven't gone straight up but most of them have been successful. So we started two or three more things, and it seemed that everything we got into went bad -- not bad from the beginning, but ultimately we weren't very successful. Consequently, Hunt had an initial business experience of at least five years really having to struggle, and I told him that he had a lot more valuable experience than any MBA."

Like his father and grandfather, Broyhill has a head for politics as well as business. Currently he serves on the N.C. Economic Development Board. "I don't think people appreciate how fragile democracy is. The American Experiment is still an experiment," Broyhill proclaims, "It's been relatively short-lived, and it's been in a relatively homogenous society. It's been able to persevere because it's gone side by side with the capitalist system that has allowed for a creation of wealth where people have been largely happy."

As for how the American Experiment will play out, Broyhill believes leadership is the critical factor. He maintains that leadership need not be solely political, but economic and social as well. "If anything, our society works better when there is weakness in political leadership, but we need leadership in the economy, and we need some degree of social leadership. There needs to be leadership of right and wrong, of values. If we lose sight of those issues, then I think the American Experiment will not work out very well."

When contemplating the future of his family's business, he becomes pensive and one can nearly see him drawing deeply on his political and familial roots. "Our beliefs are consistent with a free enterprise economy, a capitalist system, whereby if one risks his capital the government should provide him with a business environment where he can be as successful as he can be, and in so doing provide jobs and opportunities to other people in his community, whether that be a small community or a global community. These beliefs have served our family very well, and I will continue to uphold them."

He points out that he and his wife are careful not to place too-high expectations on their children, preferring instead that Christian and Paul Hunt set their own goals and objectives. He acknowledges that there could be no greater accomplishment than to see that his kids have done okay; that they've developed some values, hopefully in response to the positive influence of Robin and himself. That said, he begs indulgence to backpedal and say that he would "love for my son to be an Eagle Scout, and I'd love for my daughter to be successful with her study of music."

Broyhill says beyond financial and professional success, being a mentor is clearly on his agenda. He is committed to giving something back, being someone others can look up to, and making certain that others have good opportunities. He recognizes his greatest mentor, his father, saying, "I've always said my father is my father, brother, and best friend. At the end of the day, he's the boss, but more than that, he's my partner. It's been a real privilege to work with someone like that who, even at age 75, still has passion to do new things. Maybe that's a trait handed down by his mother and father, I don't know, but it's a trait of greatness."

COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL. This article first appeared in the February 2000 issue ofNorth Carolina Magazine.


 

 

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