Richard Hagins spent 23 years as a U.S. naval officer, retiring in 2000 with the rank of commander. He founded his company in 2003, growing from two unpaid employees to more than 250 employees today, thanks to large contracts with the federal government and contractors. US&S provides facility maintenance and support services, specializing in operations and maintenance, repairs, renovation, janitorial and grounds.
Hagins retired from the Navy to give his family more stability and founded his company as a legacy for his children. He’s an active mentor who applies the same passion and focus to assisting others as he does to building his own company. He’s also a proponent of diversity, always seeking to offer a positive example.
“One of the mottoes of 100 Black Men of America is ‘What they see is what they be.’ If a kid sees someone who looks like them who is successful and doing positive things, they want to be that,” he said. “I want to be an example that if you work hard, do the right thing and have integrity, good things can happen.”
What keeps you up at night?
The promise of the next day. What can I do different, better? Growing this business, creating a legacy for my daughter, that keeps me up because I’m excited.
What do you consider your most underutilized asset?
I think I’m pretty good at connecting with people. When I first started, I was the face of the company. … As you continue to grow the company, you can get less and less involved with actually getting out and meeting with folks.
What current project are you most excited about?
We just won the biggest contract in company history. It’s a facility support services contract that’s a little over $100 million. We’re very excited to have that contract, and we want to do well.
What is your biggest concern for your company and industry?
We started out as a federal contractor. Right now, the big push is to work locally. We have very little business in Greenville, but we love Greenville and know this is a prime area, so we are looking hard at growing our business locally.
What do you think will hold the Upstate back?
I work with the Chamber, and we’re looking real hard at the minority contractors and how they are faring in the Upstate. That’s one area of inclusion that we’re working on. I think it’s going to take a lot of work, and companies like ours to continue to break through and demonstrate that we can do the work. Maybe we can get the wealth spread around a little bit more.
What can be done to accomplish that?
We participate in the Minority Business Accelerator program under the Chamber. Nika White runs that. That program has really taken off. Just last week I was working with a Greenville Health System executive who is helping us learn how to do business with the hospital. So I think those things are going to make a difference – actually getting to decision-makers.
Looking back on your career, is there a game-changing moment?
I was born in Savannah, Ga., and raised by my grandfather, Rev. Hagins. He started a business called Universal Church Supplies. He’s an entrepreneur and also a Baptist preacher. He instilled in me that you have to keep giving until it hurts. The more you give, the getting always comes back. That stuck with me.
Where do you expect to be in five or 10 years?
We have a growth projection that we want to grow to around $36 million in five years. The business we’re trying to grow is a legacy business. My daughter Euleta is developing her skills and hopes to become the next leadership here, so there is a succession plan in place.
What do you still have to learn about your business?
Every day is a learning experience. Operations and maintenance change so rapidly. It used to be just plan maintenance, corrective maintenance. Now it’s technicians with equipment and measuring devices to ensure energy conservation is maintained. The janitorial world was basic, but now it’s more technical. It’s always a learning experience, and that keeps us sharp.
Who do you rely on as a mentor?
When we got to about $5 million, we had to go to the next phase, and I was very fortunate to have a gentleman by the name of Cleveland Christophe come down from Connecticut. He had grown TSG Capital Group to more than $900 million and retired. He came in and helped me as a true partner. He helped me put the infrastructure and systems in place. He is since retired again, but the good news is two things: One, he’s my cousin, and two, he lives across the street.
How do you motivate people?
Our core values, what the company really stands for, is a motivator. Our No. 1 core value is family focus. That keeps people committed, builds trust, and they know that we are going to give back, as they are giving. Training also ties back to family focus, because we invest in them.
What do you consider your best business decision?
In 2005 we were working down in Kings Bay, Ga., at the naval submarine base. I was going back and forth, but when I wasn’t there, nobody was watching the store. If things went wrong, we couldn’t justify what was going on, so we had to make the decision to hire a manager. By doing that, business increased, and we have an office down there with 18 employees. That really propelled our business to where we are today.
So you gambled on growth?
I believe we are in a growth stage right now, which means you’ve got to get good people, you’ve got to spend money, and cash flow is going to be tight. But it’s a calculated risk to increase the business and ensure the longevity of US&S.
What inspired you to enter this field and start this company?
When I retired from the Navy in 2000 I owned Universal Church Supplies, working with churches. But it wasn’t enough to maintain a family. So I wondered, what can I do? Well, I knew the military because I spent 23 years in the Navy. So I started a company that was focused on the military.
What’s your idea of work-life balance?
You can’t work 24 hours a day. You have to have some time for family, for relaxation. I want to be an active player in my business, but I want to continue to give back. So my enjoyment is mentoring. I also work with 100 Black Men of America, mentoring young minority children, and with my fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha. It’s fulfilling. I’m in the fourth quarter, and I’m in a place where I just feel like what’s important is to give back.
Who do you mentor?
We’re mentoring three companies: JCC, a local construction company headed by James Jordon; Chanticleer Solutions, which is a facility support services company similar to ours; and Visionary Services, a woman-owned business out of Atlanta. It’s amazing how many small businesses talk to me about mentoring them. You can’t mentor everybody, but you can share advice. So if anybody calls and wants to talk, I’m always willing to share.
Who outside of your professional circle has the most influence on your work?
I talked about my cousin Cleve Christophe. We play golf together at Thornblade Country Club. There is also Sheldon Early, with Tempus Jets, and Victor Austin with PHC. Golf takes four hours at a time, and it’s a good time to talk. Those three are real important to me, and I can call them a friend.
Describe a time when you were sure you would fail.
We all remember 2009, when the economy was headed down the tubes. We were affected as well. We had two choices: We could have laid people off to right size the business, or we could weather the loss. We didn’t lay anybody off. My mentoring group said, “Cut the people,” but I didn’t do it. Their families relied on their income, and they were already trained. People are the most important thing we have. That was a scary moment. I did go into a lot of debt. But we’re still standing, and those same people are still working for me.
What’s the difference between the future you saw for yourself 10, 20 or 30 years ago and your life today?
Fifteen years ago, we were sending people to Iraq, fighting a desert war, and I thought I would continue to serve my country in the Navy. Things changed when it was time to transfer again. My daughters were in high school and middle school, and they didn’t want to lose their friends. So I had to make the difficult decision to retire for my family. Then I thought I would be in the church supply business and continue the work of my grandfather. But each step I think was meant to be, because I am very much at peace on who I am and what I’m doing.
Your award is The Boss. What does it mean to be a good boss?
It’s important for people to realize you care about them and that you’re going to support them. My leadership style is to manage by walking around. I like to ask questions – not just what you’re doing, but how you’re doing. As they say in the Navy, if you want a straight answer, go down to the deck plates. A manager will give you one answer, but the people doing the work will give you the real answer.