The thing car salesman John Hughes is most proud of is that he’s a homespun success story who started with nothing.

It hasn’t all been an easy ride, with Hughes revealing he almost lost everything when ‘he expanded too quickly and delegated too loosely’ in his early business life.

“I made a very bad mistake and I nearly went under. I nearly lost my house,” he tells The Guide.

While Hughes – the next speaker at the CCI Lighthouse Leadership Series – remains at the top of his game, he admits to never really knowing when to take a risk and when to walk away.

“You listen to your body. You can look and make decisions on all facts and figures and advice but you have to listen to your gut,” he says.

“You have to back your own judgement. There’s never a good time, never a bad time, you will know the time.

“Even if you’re not sure, the very fact that you are thinking about something and driving it, it is the time. You have to take risks, certainly. You have to be prepared to take the worst, yes you do.”

If risk is measurable by your ‘gut’ feeling then the knot in Hughes stomach that was so bad he sought medical treatment (and was told there was nothing wrong) that mysteriously vanished when he bought 196 Albany Highway, Victoria Park 48 years ago is surely a good marker he stands by today.

Hughes recounts the story of how he bought the old service station site with an offer and terms so appalling he thought they would never be accepted.

They were. And to meet them he borrowed 125 per cent of what was needed to buy the land and still had to build the caryard.

“The minute I made that decision and overwhelmed myself in debt – the biggest financial decision I’d made – that knot in my gut went away. That was my body telling me ‘John you’re not destined to work for other people’.”

Leadership style is IMHO

While he rejects technology – he has a Nokia in his pocket and hasn’t turned on the computer someone installed in his office a year ago when he was away – the 82-year-old slips into Millennial slang when asked to describe his leadership style.

“It’s MBWA, and a better one MBBI,” he says.

Translated, MBWA stands for ‘management by walking around’ while MBBI refers to ‘management by being involved’.

Despite 63 years in the workforce and 48 as head of John Hughes Group, Hughes remains hands on in the business.

Turning up to the service department every Wednesday morning at 7.30am, he routinely ‘makes the coffees, wipes the table, talks to people and straightens out The West so it’s not all crinkly’.

He’s a ‘do as I do, not as I say’ type of guy and admits to running a tight ship with ‘no pink shirts, only two-coloured socks – black or dark grey – no facial hair, no jangling jewellery’ allowed by his staff.

Clearly it works. He’s one of the country’s richest men and has been named the top selling Hyundai dealer in the world for at least six years.

 ►Don’t miss your opportunity to hear leadership insights from one of WA’s most iconic businessmen — John Hughes. Get your tickets here.