Life lesson Family
LET IT SNOW: Family fun for the Hughes tribe.

There are some fascinating parallels between success in sport, success in business and success in life. Of course, this all depends on your personal definition of success, but there’s no denying that life lessons gained from individual and team sports transfer seamlessly to the world of business and personal growth.

Based in Raglan, the Hughes family are testament to the importance of involvement in physical activity and sport, for key life lessons. This applies not only to the kids in the household, but also the adults.

Something of a tradition dating back through the generations, getting outdoors and active was widely championed by grandad Joe Hughes, who, with a background in Physical Education went on to become the first National Advisor of PE in New Zealand.

A massive advocate of outdoor pursuits, Joe was also instrumental in setting up the Outdoor Pursuits Centre in Ruapehu. His words of advice still resonate in son Jeremy’s mind and have shaped his attitude to business and life.

“Dad told me once that there’s no such thing as can’t. There’s always a way. And I think that underlying concept has been instrumental in many of my business and life decisions.”

This particularly applied when Jeremy and his wife Katherine were running a successful snowboard clothing business from Auckland, but pondering their lifestyle and a move to Waikato.

That was 21 years ago and Raglan has since been home, with a lifestyle that ensures the Hughes family enjoy life as best they can – together. One or all of the tribe can frequently be found surfing or mountain biking, and together they’ve explored an impressive amount of Raglan terrain – by land and on water.

One of the most important side effects of their communal passion for sports and being active is spending so much quality time together.

“I appreciate the fact that I do my favourite things with my family, rather than getting away and having a break from them,” says Jeremy.

The business of sport

As a co-founder of multi-award winning Hamilton software specialist Company-X it would be easy for Jeremy to get bogged down in the workload of ensuring continual businesses growth and evolution. Yet he continues to tag his own physical and mental health, and wellbeing, as a priority; an attitude that is encouraged company-wide.

“The role sport plays in work/life balance is critical,” says Jeremy. “One of the most memorable and important moments in my working career was being told ‘Jeremy if you’re surfing today – go surfing now,’ by one of our Company-X project managers, even though I was the boss.

“We strongly carry this into the work life balance we expect our team to have as well. For me, my passion for sport irrepressibly inserts itself into my weekly schedule. “

Whether he’s catching a wave or mountain biking, snowboarding, practicing yoga or frisbee golf, Jeremy aims to get active every day – even if it’s only 10 minutes a day.

“My work is sedentary so lots of activity afterward brings back the balance,” he says.

“With Company-X I’ve been developing some software and been stuck resolving a bug. I go surfing and the solution comes to me while I’m driving home and it’s usually way out from left field. The exercise and break changes the perspective.”

It’s a valuable reminder of how important it is to step away and fuel your passion, whatever drives you.

Competitive drive

While fun is always in the mix as a driver for business and family goals, the competitive spirit is also strong. Between them, the four Hughes siblings (Aqua (18), Jet (17), Leeto (12) and Eli (12)) have earned an impressive swag of sporting titles, at school and national level.

Jeremy and Katherine support and encourage their children in all of their activities, and although this sometimes means weeks out of school competing, a side benefit of the discipline sport requires means they’re adept at managing their schoolwork, training and competitions.

“Like adults, kids need a balance of exercise, fitness, focus and fun,” says Jeremy, “They need to run hard, go a bit crazy, climb trees (yes huge tall ‘dangerous’ trees with no soft landing or nets underneath). These are life lessons in assessing and managing risk.

“From decades of research we know that exercise helps increase academic success. I think achieving success at something physical allows them to take that into their schoolwork, and getting excited about sport helps them take that excitement into their schoolwork.

“I say to my boys about maths: “it’s just another trick like a backside 540 snowboard trick. You didn’t get that first time either, did you? So a few more times and you’ll get it (e.g about times tables or understanding fractions)”

That said, Jeremy is dismayed at the level of PE at many schools in New Zealand.

“Physical education is such an important part of overall development and growth; physical and mental. I’m not sure why outdoor education is optional at schools. It should be compulsory for all the lessons it brings; from teamwork and strategy to personal management.”

Combining work and play

Jeremy’s laid back surfer vibe may be misleading; he’s an extremely savvy and highly regarded businessman. Perhaps some of this success is due to his dedication on accommodating his sporting passions; keeping him physically and mentally sharp.

He is also quick to point out that making opportunities to step outside of the world of business and get physically active helps manage stress and potential health problems.

Now in his mid-50’s, Jeremy’s enthusiasm, passion and determination to wring enjoyment from life belies his decades.

He still surfs daily if he can, is a regular on the podium at local and national surfing events (with many national trophies under his belt), as well as a frequently found name on Whakapapa Ski Club trophies dating back to his pre-teen years.

When it comes to any sport which involves balancing on a board he’s still something of a gun and delights in nailing a new achievement – in sport as much as in business.

“As well as the adrenalin and fun, there’s the sheer joy of riding a wave, the immediate small successes and satisfaction of succeeding at each challenge along the learning journey. I do this in sport (the last snowboard trick I learned was a backside boardslide on a rail last year) and in business (the challenges of growth, staff, cashflow, leadership, trusting your team, managing expectations, customers, etc). These are all small successes in the longer journey of developing and growing a business.

Along with making time to get active comes a dedication to fun.

“It’s no coincidence that when we were designing Company-X, one one of the first values on the whiteboard my business partner David Hallett and I wrote was: Fun.”

Company-X’s world leading team design, develop and test bespoke software solutions. Clients range from large, multi-national, businesses headquartered overseas, to small and medium-sized enterprises in New Zealand.

In addition to ranking on the Deloitte Technology Fast 500™ Asia Pacific in 2017 and 2018, Company-X was named the Fastest Growing Technology Company in the Central North Island.

Company-X won the Service Excellence and Global Operator awards at last year’s prestigious Westpac Waikato Business Awards.

Keeping it in the family

Parental commitment to supporting their children as they chase snowboarding and other sporting events around the country stems from the joy Jeremy still recalls from his childhood involvement, mainly skiing at Whakapapa.

“I made lifetime friends and have lifelong memories from that club. We’d head there in the snow on a Friday night and have an absolute blast all weekend.

And while some might think it’s just about the sport and the trophies, that’s just a fraction of the drive.

“Being involved in a club or sport brings the satisfaction of learning something new, of discovering the excitement and adrenaline of trying something new.

“Then there are the lessons around effort versus reward and practice, persistence and passion. I see all of these lessons being repeated now that my kids are involved in sports.”

In Jeremy’s opinion, one of the most important take-outs is the importance of learning to win and lose.

“This is massive. How to win gracefully is just as important as how to lose proudly. And this one lesson alone is crucial in life.

“You need to be able to ask yourself whether you left anything on the table. If not, lose graciously and with pride in your achievement. It’s really hard to put your best on the table in a individual competition.

One of the mantras of the Hughes family is some words of advice gleaned from a coach: ‘Try and fail, but don’t fail to try’.

“This applies to everything in life and is important to instil in people of all ages.”

From small acorns…

While Jeremy and Katherine’s original intent behind getting their four children outdoors and active was for happy healthy children, this nurturing environment has seen them develop some seriously valuable skills along the way, proving that physical activity really is the gift that keeps on giving.

This story originally appeared in the September, 2019, Waikato edition of Inspo magazine.