There are starts and stops, straightaways and bends along the path. But Hathcock, who spent his elementary school years here, never really left. His heart always remained nearby because of the Gators. It didn’t matter that he made his home and built a hugely successful business in Valdosta, Ga., where most locals loan their loyalty to another Southeastern Conference powerhouse.
Hugh’s father, the late Douglas Hathcock, passed his passion for the Gators down to his son. Hugh did the same when his boys came along, scheduling family trips to Sugar Bowls and Final Fours with sons Brandon and Gage, and nephew Seth Rountree, whom Hugh said is “like my son.”
All those Orange & Blue memories over the years trace back to Hugh’s formative years.
“My earliest Gator memories are my dad taking me to watch Spurrier play when I’m like 5 years old,” Hathcock said. “Without him, I would never have been a Gator fan.”
Hathcock’s father worked for Western Electric in those days, and the family eventually moved to Valdosta, where Hathcock went to high school. When the time arrived 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 world outside city limits, and Hathcock dreamed of making his mark as a businessman.
“At that point, I didn’t feel like any university was going to teach me how to be an entrepreneur,” Hathcock said. “My family was very middle class. My parents worked their ass off, but they had no money. I grew up with no money, so people who grow up with no money want to make money.”
Before a dive into the details, know that Hathcock made enough money to recently pledge a $12.6 million contribution to Gator Boosters, the largest single financial gift from a donor in the organization’s history. To recognize and honor this game-changing gift, in early December the UF Board of Trustees approved the naming of the Hugh Hathcock Suite Tower at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and the Hugh Hathcock Basketball Complex at the UF Basketball Practice Facility. Portions of the gift will be earmarked for renovations to the basketball practice facility, while the balance will support the UAA Facilities Master Plan. Gator Boosters has received commitments of $148.8 million in private support toward the master plan.
Hathcock’s loyalty to the Gators goes well beyond his most-recent gift.
“This record-setting gift is another example of Hugh’s unwavering commitment and support,” said Phil Pharr, Gator Boosters Executive Director.
As his five kids grew up, the UF football and men’s basketball teams served as constant companions. Two of his daughters attended UF, including one set to graduate in late April.
— Hugh Hathcock (@HughHathcock) February 27, 2020
The Hathcock family made trips often to the UF campus for sporting events. They traveled to bowl games close and far. They celebrated national championships and got to know coaches and players.
Doug Brown, Deputy Executive Director of Gator Boosters, has known Hathcock since he was starting out and has watched Hathcock’s business career blossom. No matter his station in life, Hathcock always kept interested in what was happening with the Gators.
“Hugh is a Gator to his core,” Brown said. “For decades he has supported us in so many ways. He is a great Gator and we need a whole lot more just like him.”
The Gators became part of the Hathcock family.
“Even when I was in my 20s, 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 ones to [contribute]. You are not able to really do the things you want to do until you hit it big. They knew me back when my companies were just small companies.”
Hathcock’s business career is the real story here. In the mid-1980s, he started a company called Fresh Beginnings to help car dealers around the country connect in a more personal way with customers. He came up with a simple yet brilliant idea.
“It was cookies that we put in 2.5-pound designer canister bins, and we had a card program that I put the dealers’ name on it,” Hathcock said. “It was a thank-you card. We went to car dealers all across the United States telling them when they sold a car, we would send this can of cookies with this card system.”
Hathcock started small. His father and other family members even helped bake the cookies. The idea was a massive hit 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 more than 3,000 dealerships to use the service in its first five years. It opened a call center in Valdosta that became the largest in the country in the auto industry. Once Hathcock pivoted to the more technological eLeadCRM, the business serviced more than 5,000 dealerships across the U.S.
“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. This is really what I did to make the money to give this gift. In the car industry in the late ’90s, there was no CRM. I bought a company in Destin, and I built this software company and developed an automotive CRM, and I was the first to market with it.”
ELeadCRM grew into an industry giant for the next two decades until Hathcock sold the company in 2019 to CDK Global for $550 million.
But Hathcock’s story doesn’t end there. Instead of retiring to a recliner, Hathcock is motivated by a passion for shaping the future of the automotive industry. He launched a new company in 2020 called Velocity Automotive Solutions and subsidiary ReconVelocity. The company is based in Destin, where Hathcock now lives, and features a technology center in Atlanta.
According to its mission statement online, Velocity Automotive Solutions is “dedicated to helping dealers transform how they engage with their customers and their business by delivering evolving software solutions that streamline and transform how dealerships share information with their customers and create operational efficiency for increasing gross profits.”
Hathcock said the company is growing and has signed up 1,000 dealerships in its first two years. Hathcock and company executives recently traveled to Las Vegas this month for the National Automobile Dealers Association annual trade show to promote their latest technology.
You could say life is good for Hathcock. He recently married Kalah McCoy. She has blended seamlessly into Hathcock’s Orange & Blue-tinted life over the past three years. McCoy attends Gators events with Hathcock and was with him at football coach Billy Napier‘s introductory press conference in December.
Hathcock said the timing was right for such a significant financial gift to the Gators.
“I sold my company over three years ago,” he said. “When you come into that kind of money, that makes it a good time. There are lots of great ideas, but you have to put a lot of great people around you, and you have to execute. I never had anybody finance me. I never took partners in. I never took any investors. To take a company from zero and be a poor country boy from Gainesville and then Valdosta, it’s been pretty good.
“You never dream that when you start something, that it’s going to turn into something that makes you almost a billionaire.
A much different life than Hathcock knew growing up. The one constant has been his loyalty to the Gators.