Making waves: radio one founder Cathy Hughes keeps business in the family.

Author:Young, Susan
Position:CORNER OFFICE - Interview

Cathy Hughes, founder and chairperson of Radio One, was called one of the most powerful black women in America by Ebony magazine. The Encyclopedia of African American Business called her one of the most powerful African-American business executives in the U.S. And in 2015 she became the first black woman inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Hughes moved to Washington, D.C., in 1971 and became the general sales manager at WHUR, Howard University's radio station, in 1973. There, she increased the station's revenue from $250,000 to $3 million in her first year.

She then went out on her own and built her media empire by amassing radio stations and eventually a TV channel. In 1980 she founded Radio One, which operates 56 stations in 16 urban markets. TV One, which Hughes started in 2004, serves more than 57 million households. Now 69, she's behind the movie, Media, premiering in early 2017, which captures the power struggles, secrets and stakes surrounding a family-owned business. Her son, Alfred C. Liggins III, is the CEO of her company. This past year, Howard University named its School of Communications after Hughes.

Q ALTHOUGH MEDIA ISN'T STRICTLY AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL, YOU HAVE A FAMILY-OWNED BUSINESS RUN BY YOU AND YOUR SON, ALFRED. WHAT IS THE HARDEST CHALLENGE FOR A FAMILY-OWNED BUSINESS?

A: The hardest challenge is transmission of power. You look at the children who are getting ready to assume the mantle of leadership, and you remember the day they lost the keys to the house or when you told them not to drive the car and you come home to find a smashed-in fender. You need to let them forge their own path, which can be particularly challenging. Battles for power in a family are not unique to being a black business, but it can be more challenging because we don't have a lot of generational businesses, so we are going into territory that isn't familiar to us.

Q: HOW HARD IS ITTO TREAT ALFRED LIKE ACEO INSTEAD OF A SON?

A: It's hard for parents to really let go and let the next generation take the lead. But I'll give you a simple story of what happened the other day. We were walking down the hall when we passed an employee, and I didn't hear or see him acknowledge her, so I said, "Alfred! Did you speak to her?" He said, "I'm not 6.1 know how to speak to people." But that momma gene just jumped in. It happens when a parent is still involved in the business.

Q WHAT HAPPENS WHEN IT'S AN ISSUE MORE STRESSFUL THAN...

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