Hurley says success fell into his lap
By Elizabeth Cook
Jim Hurley credits fortuitous timing, computerization and the stock market for the success that recently won him accolades at Catawba College.
Hurley, former publisher of the Salisbury Post, was one of three people inducted into the Ralph Ketner School of Business Hall of Fame at Catawba last month. Also named were the late Enoch Goodman and Darlene Landis Ball of Greensboro.
A native of Salisbury, Hurley and his family owned the Post from 1912 to 1997, when Evening Post Publishing of Charleston, S.C., bought the paper.
The newspaper is only part of the Hurley story, however. Thanks to early investment in Food Lion, thrifty spending and a passion for the community, the Hurley family became leading philanthropists in Rowan County, as evidenced by Hurley Park and the J.F. Hurley YMCA in Salisbury, for example.
Jim and brother Gordon Hurley have helped the community through the J.F. Hurley Foundation, which their father started in the 1980s. When he died in 1986, J.F. Hurley left the bulk of his $3.2 million estate to the foundation, and $500,000 to be divided among his three sons. The middle son, Haden, died in 1996.
Jim, the oldest son, has also earned a reputation as a powerful fundraiser. As he says, he knows who has money. And much of the local wealth that has benefitted Salisbury institutions like Catawba over the past 20 years came from early Food Lion investors like himself.
Here is a recent Q&A interview with Hurley conducted in the office he and Gordon share in downtown Salisbury:
Q: You were recently inducted into Catawba College’s Business Hall of Fame in recognition of your leadership in the business community over the years. What do you consider the highlight of your business career?
A: I guess the main thing that happened in my life was the computerization of the newspaper. In the late ’50s, 27 cents of every dollar we spent went to setting type. I made a speech in the late ’80s, and by that time only 4 cents went to produce type. Because of technology, the Post as a business did better in the last five years of the ’80s than it did in the first 75 years.
Then we ran into some problems.
In 1990, we lost eight of our 15 biggest advertisers within about a year and a half. They either closed or moved or merged. We lost Zimmerman’s, Guyes, Roses, Lowes, Bi-Lo … We sort of adjusted to the loss.
The next thing that happened was health care. I opened up my mail one day and saw that our insurance costs were going up $300,000. When I started, health care was such a minor expense that it was listed under “miscellaneous.” By 1997, health care was one of our three major expenses, along with payroll and newsprint.
But I can’t complain too much about health care, because I’ve lived through three illnesses, any one of which would have killed me 40 years ago.
I had throat cancer. That cost $67,000. I had a brain aneurysm in ’96. That cost the insurance company $100,000. Last year I had kidney cancer; they stuck needles in my kidney and burned it out, and I went to work the next day. That was $13,000.
If health care hadn’t improved, I’d have died three times. But it has become a major expense for business.
Q: What is the secret of your business success?
A: I guess mainly I was born at the right time. I was too young to go to World War II, and finished basic training two weeks too late to go to Korea.
The computerization made me successful. It’s not that I was smart. It’s that newspapers became so much more efficient.
At one point we could set 15 lines of type per minute. By the early ’80s, our machines could do 600,000 computations per second. If you can’t make money with improvements like that, you shouldn’t be in business.
We did buy the best machines. We put money in the best machines and the best people.
Daddy always said you need a warm eye for service, a cold eye on the counting room and both eyes must be strong and in focus.
He always gave 10 percent of the profits to employees and 5 percent to the community. The rest of our money we put back into the business.
Once I said, “What about us?”
He said, “You’re going to get the business.”
He gave us three boys stock in the company each year over 35 years and eventually we owned it.
Q: How has doing business in Salisbury changed over the past 40 or 50 years?
A: In the ’50s, we lost the Spencer Shops. Railroading was the backbone of our community, along with textiles. We lost 3,000 jobs. Then the VA came, with 1,000 jobs, but that didn’t make up for the loss completely. Textiles picked up the slack in the ’60s.
From the ’70s through the ’80s, Food Lion had phenomenal growth; $1,000 invested in original stock in 1957 was worth more than $20 million by 1990. That’ll never happen here again.
I think Fortune magazine in 1987 said there were 87 people in the county with more than $1 million worth of Food Lion stock.
That’s why all the good things in this county happened ó at least half from Food Lion capital gains. You can’t do things like that with wages and salary; you have to have capital gains.
Daddy gave each one of us $1,000 worth of Food Lion. Each one of us made a lot more off of Food Lion capital gains than off the Post.
Because I’d seen computerization, I invested in Microsoft, Intel and Dell. They split about once and sometimes twice a year in the ’90s. One dollar would grow to $100. So when it came to projects (in the community), I had capital gains in Food Lion, Microsoft and Intel.
I don’t feel like I ever gave money away. I tried to invest in the community.
Q: You’re a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Why have you been so committed to supporting Catawba College?
A: When I was 7 or 8, I worshiped Dwight Holshouser, Charlie Gabriel, Lefty Lisk and the Bowen twins, athletes at Catawba. They were people I got to know and look up to. So I always had a soft spot for Catawba.
I graduated from Chapel Hill. They didn’t need my help so much, but Catawba did.
In 1976, Dr. Shotzberger wanted us to raise some money. Mort Rochelle and I sat down with Henry Bernhardt, who was in development at Catawba, and figured out how we could raise money.
At the time, I was chairman of the Morehead Scholarship Committee at UNC. I thought Catawba needed something like that. … A $50,000 gift could send a kid to Catawba. … Today they have 82 First Family scholarship that developed from the idea of the Morehead Scholarship.
Q: What should be the relationship between local businesses and institutions like Catawba and Livingstone?
A: I think Livingstone is supported basically by the AME Zion Church. It gives millions and millions to Livingstone.
The United Church of Christ does not really support Catawba. Some of its members do, but not the church.
They both need help, though. They compete against state schools.
I guess those of us locally can make a difference at Catawba and not really at Carolina. My money would be a drop in the bucket at Carolina.
Q: How much have you given to Catawba?
A: About $5 million. I think our family has probably invested $20 million in Rowan County, including five to Catawba and five to YMCAs ó Salisbury, South Rowan, East Rowan and Davie. I think Catawba is sort of my project and the Y is Gordon’s project, but we do everything pretty much together. And about all of it is from capital gains.
Daddy never paid himself or us much. The most he ever paid himself was $20,000. I gave him a raise. … One thing he did tell us, “No matter what you make, pay yourself first” by putting money aside in savings for investment.
So I saved 10 cents out of every dollar I ever made.
Q: Did you learn any business lessons the hard way? If so, what were they?
A: This is one of the best lessons I learned. I saved $1,500 in college, and I tried to make a killing. I bought two chinchillas. What I didn’t realize is that it would cost $60 a month to feed them. Then the market collapsed and I sold them for $200. I lost $1,300. That taught me ó never look at how much you can make, but how much you can lose. So invest defensively.
Q: Have any most embarrassing moments from your career?
A: When we misspelled somebody’s name or got something like that wrong.
Q: Most hilarious?
A: I was in Spencer Murphy’s office one day back in the late ’50s. Some guy came in cussing up a storm about something in the paper. I didn’t know what to do, but Spencer listened carefully and said it was such a big problem, we needed to call on a higher power. And, pointing to the complainer, he said, “Let’s you pray for us.” About 30 seconds later, I looked up and the guy was gone.
A: I think losing the railroad and losing textiles later were the two toughest things.
I remember when the Y on Fulton Street needed a new roof. Julian Robertson asked me to help raise $250,000.
He got on the phone and raised 40 percent of the money in five minutes from the five big textile companies ó Cannon, Cone, Cartex, Rowan Mills and the Finishing Company he ran. Then he sent me out to raise $10,000 from 15 other people.
In 1980, we raised $30 million at Catawba. I don’t think we called on textile companies. There were not any left. But $17 million came from Food Lion capital gains.
Q: What do you think Salisbury will be like in 10 years?
A: It’s going to be tough. Except for Fred Stanback, there’s not a lot of capital gains left. The Food Lion money has dissipated. It spread, people moved. Stocks have not done as well the last 10 years as they did in the ’90s.
I think the major capital gains projects are over until things get better.
Q: So after the railroad, the VA came and …
A: There was Fiber and Freightliner. But the textile mills were locally owned and operated. …
Now, a local manager can’t decide much. The banks used to be big supporters. Now they’re not local either, with the exception of F&M.
I read that Wells Fargo was giving $6 million or $7 million for charitable contributions in Charlotte, but only $1,000 per office in places like Salisbury.
It’s not going to be what it was in the ’80s and ’90s. Wachovia stock a couple years ago was paying me dividends of about $102,000 a year. Now it’s less than $2,000. That’s just one of five bank stocks I owned. I lost $300,000 a year just from bank stock dividends.
I think you’ve got to spend money to make money, but you’ve got to spend it wisely. We invested $10 million in the Post in the late ’80s. The press was $5 million, the building was $3 million, computers were $1 million and the hole (what became Elizabeth Court) was $1 million.
Q: Did you major in business or journalism?
A: I tried business. Economics 31 was the most boring class I ever sat through, so I switched to journalism.
I said, “Daddy, I’ve got to know about business.” He said, “Son, you find out who’s stealing at City Hall and you’ll be a lot more successful than you would be following me around.”
Business is simple. You take money in and put it in a big bucket. Just never take out more for expenses than you put in.
I kept statistics for the Legion team in 1934. That’s how I learned math.
Q: What do you think the newspaper business will be like in 10 years?
A: I think it will always be around. Local papers were not as prosperous in the early years, either. We just hit a bonanza in the ’80s and the ’90s.
(He points to a chart showing Post profits, which hit $250,000 in 1972, the most the paper had ever made up to that point.)
I took over in ’74 and it went. (He points up.)
Then in 1989, it dropped. The cost of newsprint doubled. Then health insurance went up.
When they built the first Y, they asked Daddy for $3,000. That was 1955. We were barely in the top 50 of prospective donors. Five textile mills would do half of what was done in this county. We were barely on the gift list. By 1980, we were in the top 10 percent, partly because of the newspaper business and partly because of Food Lion stock.
We’ve tried to invest it ó four Ys, Rufty-Holmes Senior Center, Dan Nicholas Park, Hurley Park, the Presbyterian Church, Rowan Regional, the Meroney Theatre.
It’s not because we’re smart. It’s because we were fortunate to have capital gains. It fell into our laps. Ralph Ketner, Bill Gates and Michael Dell made me more money while I was sleeping than I ever made working.
Q: Any advice for young people?
A: Enjoy what you do, save 10 percent of all you earn and invest profits in improving your community.
When the One Great Scorer comes to write against my name, He’s going to ask what I did with all the opportunities He gave me.
I don’t want to have to answer, “I hid ’em in a lock box at the bank.”