Travis Hughes was recently selected as the new Regulatory Division Chief after the retirement of Tina Hadden after 33 years serving the Corps. Hughes isn't new to the field, started as a co-op student with the Wilmington District in 1994 and working his way up to Deputy Chief of the Regulatory Division at the Charleston District for the past nine years. He has held numerous positions in the Corps and knows the intricacies each level entails.
As Regulatory Division Chief, Hughes is responsible for the administration and enforcement of the Corps' regulatory program throughout the state of South Carolina. He has personally managed and evaluated numerous complex projects, including mining, dredging, coastal and inland marinas, beach nourishment, port projects, utilities, water supply, transportation (highway, airport, rail), industry, and large commercial and residential developments. He is a subject matter expert on the 404(b)(1) guidelines, NEPA and preparing Environmental Impact Statements. He actively participates on the South Atlantic Division's Regional Regulatory Counsel providing guidance and assistance needed to shape the regulatory program both regionally and nationally.
Hughes will be a very public facing figure as he has to sign off on permits for businesses and individuals throughout the state. Learn more about him and his leadership style in the questions and answers below!
Q: Who is your favorite business leader and why?
A: Reed Hastings, the cofounder and CEO of Netflix. I like that Hastings’ idea for Netflix came after he was charged a $40 late fee for an overdue rental from Blockbuster. In addition to his innovation and leadership skills, he is known for owning his mistakes and overcoming adversity. Hastings has said that it’s important to be flexible and focus on work-life balance, which he encourages with his employees. He also gives his employees a great deal of freedom, sticking to the adage that if you treat people like adults, they will act as such.
Q: Who is your favorite leader of any kind and why?
A: Theodore Roosevelt, he was a great American, conservationist, naturalist and family man. He took the view that the president is a “steward of the people” and should take whatever action necessary for the public good unless expressly forbidden by law or the Constitution. I thoroughly enjoy reading about his adventures and his quotes are profound.
Q: What is the best leadership advice you’ve received?
A: Surround yourself with good people in work and in life and you will be happy and successful. This is plain and simple advice, but it has served me well. I have been very fortunate to have a great family and friends, an exceptional team and strong professional network.
Q: What is the best leadership advice you could give?
A: Check your ego at the door, be humble, be genuine, listen to people and earn their trust. They will do things for you and respect you far beyond the requirements of the job.
Q: What is the best book on business or leadership that you’ve read and why?
A: “It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques From the Best Damn Ship in the Navy,” by D. Michael Abrashoff. I enjoyed the stories, and the author uses his experiences to demonstrate how he honed his leadership skills, earned the trust of his crew, and achieved extraordinary results.
Q: What other business publications do you regularly read?
A: I have a great network of peers and mentors who share articles with me, mostly from periodicals. The work I do involves almost every aspect of infrastructure and business, so I try to stay up to speed by reading various articles and talking with those who are engaged in those areas of business.
Q: What are the most important decisions you make as a leader at your organization?
A: I routinely have to make decisions that affect people and the environment. In Regulatory, we have many stakeholders involved in our processes, each with different missions and goals. I strive to accomplish the Regulatory program’s mission to protect the nation’s aquatic resources, while allowing reasonable development through fair, flexible and balanced permit decisions.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing business leaders today?
A: Communication. This has always been a challenge, however, with ever-changing technology, numerous modes of communication and less incentive to talk face to face, it is ever more important to ensure we understand one another.
Q: What was your biggest mistake as a leader and what did it teach you?
A: Early on, I was guilty of putting too much trust in others to complete tasks, assuming that they would be done on time and to the level of quality that I expected. After getting burned several times, I modified my approach to “trust but verify.” I prefer to give people the freedom to work independently and not smother them, but I find that it is important to check-in on them from time to time and ensure that our expectations for a good product are the same.
Q: Your biggest success as a leader and what did it teach you?
A: I have had to lead a great deal of change over the years and I have learned that change requires a great deal of commitment and strategy. I have learned the importance of having a vision, expecting resistance, building an alliance, and staying the course.
Q: What are you doing to grow the next leader in your organization?
A: I foster great relationships with those who exhibit/express leadership capabilities. I encourage participation in and exposure to leadership events to provide opportunities for growth. I find that informal mentoring relationships are the most productive and are the easiest to establish and maintain.
Q: How do you define a great business?
A: A great business fulfills its purpose, produces a quality product and stands behind it. They provide great customer service, have happy employees and are successful.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing business in this region?
A: I think our state motto says it all, “Smiling Faces. Beautiful Places.” As a South Carolina native, I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.
Q: What is your least favorite thing about doing business in this region?
A: There are so many distractions from work in the Lowcountry. From the ride in to work with the sun rising over the harbor, to the drive home with the sun setting over the Ashley, I’m wondering if the fish are biting.
Q: Name one thing government could do to help your organization.
A: The Corps of Engineers is the federal government. However, we are always looking for ways in which we can improve. Whether it be better regulations, clearer guidance or more efficient processes, we should always strive for better service.
Q: Name one thing government could stop doing to help your organization.
A: The work we do is inherently governmental, and with that comes a certain stigma. I’m constantly working to improve our processes to make things more efficient and effective in order to complete the job in a timely manner and to a high-quality standard.