What drives motor magnate John Hughes?

In an unassuming office in the middle of a car yard, you can find one of Australia’s richest men.

John Hughes is his name. He’s “just over the causeway in Shepparton Road, Victoria Park” and he’s “WA’s most trusted car dealer”, if he does say so himself.

Hughes is a self-made man and proud of it. He’ll share some of his stories on how he became a “homegrown” business leader in his field at the next CCI Lighthouse Leadership series on February 21.

According to The West’s top 50 rich list of West Australians, he comes in at number 32, while Business News ranks his company John Hughes Group at number 13.

Whatever his wealth, there is no doubt that he’s become one of WA’s iconic businessmen. He’s built an empire and never wavered in his quest to reach the top. He’s part of Perth’s landscape – his advertising in the newspapers, his voiceovers on television and radio and, of course, his car yards that have sprung up in the suburbs east of Perth.

So, what keeps a man working for 63 years – something in itself most don’t achieve, or even aspire to.

“Challenge, motivation and without being egotistical – but wanting to be the best,” he says.

“Ego properly controlled isn’t a problem at all, as long as you don’t ‘over ego’. As long as you can stay humble and keep your feet on the ground.”

He’s taken a hit lately and is just coming out of “the worst two years back” he’s ever experienced. He’s pushed through and this financial year is set to be better than the last two.

It makes you wonder even more what keeps him going. He’s 82, he’s been in the workforce since the age of 19 and has been his own boss for 49 years. And he’s been at the very same site in Victoria Park that started the dream almost five decades ago.

He prefers to describe it in another businessmen’s words – those of Alan Bond – who was once married to his cousin Eileen and whom he knew from the age of 17.

“Alan Bond said to me a long time ago when he was at his peak, ‘John, you’re like the engine driver who drives the train from Perth to Fremantle every day. You might be a bloody good engine driver but all you do is go from Perth to Fremantle and back’,” he says.

“The next morning when I’m shaving I’m thinking ‘maybe I should be buying telephone companies in Chile, or Channel 9 or the Swan Brewery’ but I didn’t have the money or the expertise, so I’m still driving that train from Perth to Fremantle and back – and that’s all I do. But seriously, I believe I am the best train driver in the world. That’s what it is.”

Hughes has sold more than 900,000 cars in his lifetime, he’s been the number one salesperson of Hyundais in Australia and was named top Hyundai Dealer in the World in 2012.

He still has plans to take on “additional franchises … but within his footprint”.

►Hear more from Hughes at the Lighthouse Leadership series on February 21.

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