Hugh Anderson: Ahead of the curve

Hugh Anderson is a managing director and partner at HighTower Las Vegas, a financial services firm. Throughout Las Vegas, Hugh is known as a tireless advocate for nonprofits. He has served as chairman of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, the Nevada Council on Economic Education, the St. Rose Dominican Hospital community board, and the St. Rose Dominican Health Foundation. Hugh credits some of his success directly to his charitable activities, but not in the way you might think. 

We talked to Hugh about his experiences with charity boards, and how that has affected his business.

Why charity?

“I was raised in a wonderful environment. I was blessed. And I was taught that when you’re blessed you give. You give your time, your talent, and your treasure. I really don’t know any better. That being said I think my personality is such that I don’t want to be a figurehead. I don’t want to be on someone’s website or stationery just showing that I’m on the board. If I’m on the board I want to roll up my sleeves and make a difference. I want to do something of consequence. If I believe in the mission… ‘give me the ball coach and let’s get something consequential done.’ That attitude has gotten around a little bit. People have seen that if I say I’m going to do it I’m going to do it. If you want 15 calls made to complete strangers, I can do that. It’s just an ‘I’m willing to work’ attitude. I can’t stroke a check to put my name on the side of a building, but I’m willing to do just about anything else.”

On getting started

“It was really a function of looking around at what was available. One of the most catalytic events was Leadership Las Vegas. I got in there and it was very enlightening. It truly served its purpose of giving me a good sense of the Las Vegas community at a whole different level, not just an anecdotal level. You get in the weeds with healthcare, you get in the weeds with social service, you get in the weeds with the arts, you get in the weeds with everything. You get a sense of the history, you get a sense of where we are today, what the challenges are, what the opportunities are and you develop your own vision of what you want to happen. One of my classmates was on the board of St. Rose and after we graduated I got a call from her saying we’d like to talk to you about joining the board. Simultaneously with that, I got a call from the Chamber who was looking to appoint someone to the board and they called me.”

“That, in turn, got me involved with a lot of organizations, like the Nevada Council for Economic Education. They sponsor the entrepreneurship project, which was meaningful to me because it taught kids how to think more like entrepreneurs. You go into a classroom in lower socioeconomic schools and you spend the whole school year with these kids. You go from the beginning to success building a for-profit business, and the rule was whatever they make they keep — and they decide what they do with it. So if they make $100 everybody can get $2.50 or they can take the whole $100 and have a class party. You’re in there every week coaching and counseling and Mary comes over crying because she was voted company president and nobody likes her because she had to fire Billy and…  It really moved me. The hand of god puts me on this board and before I know it I’m in charge — they make me chair.”

On the business development opportunities

“This is what I tell every young person who asks me, ‘how did you build your business?’ I don’t play golf – my golf course is the nonprofits here in town. But I don’t go there for the business, I go there to help. And as I prove myself, people inquire of me what I do. You find your passion, go support your passion, and it’s amazing what happens after that. It’s not tomorrow, it’s the slowest boat to China you ever had. People aren’t going to start banging on the door tomorrow because you’re such a good sport you’re helping your church, you’ve got to go in there and do it for the right reasons. And quite frankly it may never come. But the fact of the matter is that it does, simply because people like to deal with people they know and have a sense of their true nature. If you’re a faker you wouldn’t commit to an organization for years." 

"And there’s a small town feeling among these really dedicated humans. If I said, ‘I’d like to join your organization because I see lots of cool board members here,’ that isn’t going to happen. Even if they fell for it, they’d sniff it out in a heartbeat within the first couple of meetings. ‘This guy’s Herb Tarlek!’ (the slimy sales guy with the white leather belt from WKRP in Cincinnati.)" 

"But one day I was sitting in a board meeting in which I was chair, and I was looking around the room. Of the 25 people who were at that board table, 14 of them were clients. That’s when it occurred to me that, as a byproduct of doing good, this is a business building opportunity. Just do it because you love it. If business comes — great!”