GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The life story of Hugh Hathcock intertwines with the University of Florida as Hogtown Creek winds its way through the city.
There are starts and stops, straights and turns along the way. But Hathcock, who spent his primary school years here, never really left. His heart has always stayed close because of the Gators. It didn’t matter that he made his home and built an extremely successful business in Valdosta, Georgia, where most locals lend their loyalty to another powerhouse in the Southeastern Conference.
Hugh’s father, the late Douglas Hathcock, passed on his passion for the Gators to his son. Hugh did the same when his boys arrived, arranging family trips to Sugar Bowls and Final Fours with his sons Brandon and Gage, and his nephew Seth Rountree, who Hugh said was “like my son”.
All those orange and blue memories over the years go back to Hugh’s formative years.
“My earliest memories of Gator are my dad taking me to see Spurrier play when I was about 5,” Hathcock said. “Without him, I would never have been a Gator fan.”
Hathcock’s father was working for Western Electric at this time, and the family eventually moved to Valdosta, where Hathcock attended high school. When it was time for college, Hathcock found his way back to UF — but not for long.
He attended for a semester. His interest in Gators sports still burned deep, but there was a big crowd outside the city limits, and Hathcock dreamed of making his mark as a businessman.
“At that time, I didn’t feel like a university was going to teach me how to be an entrepreneur,” Hathcock said. “My family was middle class. My parents worked like crazy, but they had no money. I grew up with no money, so people who grow up with no money want to make money.”
Before we dive into the details, know that Hathcock made enough money to recently pledge a $12.6 million contribution to Gator Boosters, the largest financial donation from a donor in the organization’s history. To recognize and honor this game-changing gift, in early December, the UF Board of Directors approved the appointment of the Hugh Hathcock Suite Tower at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and the Hugh Hathcock Basketball Complex at UF basketball training facility. Part of the donation will be used to renovate the basketball training center, while the balance will support the SAU facilities master plan. Gator Boosters has received commitments of $148.8 million in private support for the master plan.
Hathcock’s loyalty to the Gators goes far beyond his most recent gift.
“This record-breaking gift is another example of Hugh’s unwavering commitment and support,” said Phil Pharrexecutive director of Gator Boosters.
As his five children grew up, the UF men’s soccer and basketball teams were constant companions. Two of her daughters have attended UF, including one who is expected to graduate in late April.
—Hugh Hathcock (@HughHathcock) February 27, 2020
The Hathcock family often visited the UF campus for sporting events. They traveled to bowling games near and far. They celebrated national championships and got to know the coaches and players.
Doug Brown, Deputy Executive Director of Gator Boosters, has known Hathcock since his early days and has seen Hathcock’s business career blossom. No matter where he was in life, Hathcock was always interested in what was going on with the Gators.
“Hugh is a Gator at heart,” Brown said. “For decades he has supported us in so many ways. He is a great Gator and we need many more like him.”
The Gators have become part of the Hathcock family.
“Even when I was in my twenties, I was just starting to make money, I was still a season ticket holder,” Hathcock said. “When they did the Touchdown Terrace, I was one of the first to [contribute]. You are not able to really do the things you want to do until you reach the top. They knew me from when my businesses were just small businesses.”
Hathcock’s business career is the real story here. In the mid-1980s, he started a business called Fresh Beginnings to help car dealerships nationwide connect more personally with customers. He had a simple but brilliant idea.
“It was cookies that we put in 2.5-pound design bins, and we had a card program that I put the dealers’ names on,” Hathcock said. “It was a thank you card. We went to car dealerships all over the United States to tell them that when they sold a car, we would send out this box of cookies with this card system.”
Hathcock started small. Her dad and other family members even helped bake the cookies. The idea was a huge success and evolved into a company called eLead, which created and integrated CRM (customer relationship management) technology to develop a database for customer referrals, service visits and various tasks associated with the automotive industry.
Fresh Beginnings grew to sign up over 3,000 dealers to use the service in its first five years. She opened a call center in Valdosta which became the largest in the country in the automotive industry. Once Hathcock pivoted to the more technological eLeadCRM, the company served over 5,000 dealerships across the United States.
“I was making phone calls for everything from service visits to buying a car to equity calls,” Hathcock said. “Then in 2000, I developed the first CRM. That’s really what I did to earn money to give this gift. In the automotive industry in the late 90s, it didn’t There was no CRM. I bought a company in Destin, and I started this software company and developed an automotive CRM, and I was first to market.”
ELeadCRM grew into an industry giant over the next two decades until Hathcock sold the company in 2019 to CDK Global for $550 million.
But the Hathcock story doesn’t end there. Instead of retreating to a recliner, Hathcock is driven by a passion to shape the future of the automotive industry. He launched a new company in 2020 called Velocity Automotive Solutions and its subsidiary ReconVelocity. The company is based in Destin, where Hathcock now lives, and has a technology center in Atlanta.
According to its online mission statement, Velocity Automotive Solutions is “dedicated to helping dealerships transform the way they interact with their customers and their business by providing scalable software solutions that streamline and transform the way dealerships share information with their customers and create operational efficiencies to increase gross profit.”
Hathcock said the business is growing and signed 1,000 dealers in its first two years. Hathcock and company executives recently traveled to Las Vegas this month for the National Automobile Dealers Association’s annual show to promote their latest technologies.
You could say life is good for Hathcock. He recently married Kalah McCoy. She has fitted seamlessly into Hathcock’s orange-and-blue tinged life over the past three years. McCoy attends Gators events with Hathcock and was with him at the football coach Billy Napierintroductory press conference in December.
Hathcock said the time was right for such a large financial donation to the Gators.
“I sold my business over three years ago,” he said. “When you get into that kind of money, it’s a good time. There are a lot of good ideas, but you have to put a lot of great people around you and you have to execute them. I’ve never had anyone I never took partners. I never took investors. Taking a business from scratch and being a poor country boy from Gainesville and then Valdosta, that’s been pretty good.”
“You never dream that when you start something, it’s going to turn into something that almost makes you a billionaire.
A very different life from the one Hathcock knew growing up. The one constant has been his loyalty to the Gators.