This is a guest article from Hughes Private Capital Fund Manager and COO, Steve Sixberry. You may have met Steve at one of our events or seen his face on some of our marketing materials. We thought it was time for Steve to share some of his interesting career stories and how he ended up here at Hughes Private Capital. — Greg
Throughout my entire adult life, I have absolutely loved the work and the business I was in at any given time. That has always been the common link in all my career choices, from joining the Air Force, to the high-tech world of telecommunications, to co-running a cattle ranch, and ultimately serving as fund manager and COO at an investment firm. (Yep, you read that right.) I started in the “high-tech” world, transitioned to the extreme opposite end of the spectrum, and then eventually found a happy medium. Now, my role here at Hughes Private Capital brings together much of what I’ve learned over the years.
After high school, I could not get out of Michigan fast enough, so I joined the Air Force and picked Eielson AFB in Fairbanks, Alaska for my permanent duty base. I married my high school sweetheart, Jill, and we enjoyed seven wonderful years in Alaska. The Air Force is where I began my training in electronics and telecommunications. After my military service, I worked for somebody else — and quickly realized that I hated it. I knew my only option was to somehow start my own business using my skills and interest in electronics. Fairbanks is a fairly small town to begin with and there were already two communications companies that had locked up long-term deals with GE and Motorola. Those two companies basically owned the market back then and it just didn’t seem like there was any room for another company. So I began looking for opportunities in the lower 48 states and started seeking someone with whom I could partner and start a company. After months of poring over the trade journals, I found a man named Jim here in Reno, Nevada. I came down and met him for a few days and we put a deal together. Shortly after, I moved to Reno with my wife and our young daughter, Amber. Our son, Matthew, was born a few months later in Reno.
This was in 1990, during the birth of cellular. At this time in most of America, people could really only communicate via systems built on legacy two-way radio platforms. I’m sure most of you remember the time when none of us had a cell phone – it was just not that long ago. Together, Jim and I took the company from a tiny two-way radio shop to eventually owning and operating our own cellular network across most of the western United States.
Then, in 2006, we acted on a life-changing opportunity: After two decades building up our company, we successfully sold it to Sprint/Nextel. The years leading up to this deal were extremely stressful. Not only were we struggling with multiple FCC regulatory hurdles, but working with such a large, bureaucratic company was exhausting for a small business guy. Once it was finally completed, we could (and did) relax a bit. Jim always had the dream of running a cattle ranch, so of course I said, “I’m in, pardner!”
It’s not an uncommon dream here in Northern Nevada; if you hang around cattle ranches long enough, you start to fall in love with the whole aura of it. Just imagine: leaning on a fence post, looking out at the land and cattle that you own, plus having the opportunity to work with your brain and your hands. It was just a different kind of lifestyle than the fast-paced one we had been living for many years. Building a ranch seemed like a vacation at that point!
As business with the wireless company was winding down, we grabbed one of our salesmen and told him, “Go find us a ranch.” He looked all over the western states but eventually we settled on one in Elko County. With the purchase of that ranch, we now had 43,000 deeded acres and more than 160,000 operational “cattle unit” acres. It was huge! It had never been fenced and operated the “old-school” way, so this is how we ran it for the first year or so. This included actually roping and tackling the cows for branding, shots, tags, and preg checking. Normally, when you brand cows, you put them in something called a “chute,” but doing everything the traditional way was kind of fun for a while.
It seemed low tech to me at first, pushing around cows and riding horses, but once we started to drill wells and farm, it became high tech again. We put in strategically located wells over much of the ranch, some of which were solar-powered. I learned a lot about ground geology and chemistry. I had a high-tech GPS mapping program on my laptop and traveled around the ranch on ATV or horseback plotting and mapping the land. So, eventually, everything started to come full-circle.
I didn’t have any background for this type of work but I jumped in with both feet. I think it helped that I grew up hunting, fishing, and camping; I’ve loved the outdoors since I was three months old. The ranch was more Jim’s dream than mine, but I had a lot of fun learning all I could.
Life is funny. You never know how something in your past will impact your future. My career history has had some interesting twists and turns, and I’m glad it has all led me here. I still co-own the ranch with Jim but I sold my stake in the cattle business. My interests are more focused on real estate now — a journey that began around 2007. Soon, I’ll tell you more about my foray into real estate and finance, how I met Greg, and how our experiences together shaped our approach to business and investing — so stay tuned!