These things are hard to measure, but it's a good guess that nobody in this industry has ever thrown a bigger party than Hughes Supply did in celebrating its 75th Anniversary last year. The closest contender may have been Hughes competing against itself at its 50th Anniversary bash in 1978 (see page 40).

The 2003 event featured not just a big celebration in the headquarters city of Orlando, but a series of eight other events for which the company rented out NASCAR racetracks and NFL football stadiums in major markets around the country. But it was the Orlando celebration last Nov. 2-5, labeled “Hughes Expo” (although there was no trade show), that really caused the eyebrows to unfurl.

The company - helped in no small measure by its vendors - rented out the entire Renaissance Resort at Sea World in Orlando for a three-day period. More than 1,300 people attended, representing customers, vendors, Hughes personnel and other guests from the company's 460 branches across the country. Roger Dow, senior vice president for Marriott Resorts, which owns the Renaissance Resort, said in his keynote address that it was the first time anyone had rented out the entire hotel.

Festivities kicked off with a lavish opening night party on Sunday, Nov. 2, filling the spacious atrium of the Renaissance Resort. Besides a surfeit of food and drink, attendees were entertained over a three-hour period by an unending stream of marching bands, singers, dancers, acrobats and costumed actors. The party culminated with an indoor pyrotechnics display.

Monday, Nov. 3, was a working day of sorts as guests gathered to hear an array of prominent speakers both from inside and outside the industry. Keynoter Dow was followed by Kenneth Starr, former special prosecutor who became a household word while investigating former President Clinton's involvement in the Whitewater real estate deal, as well as with that gal in the blue dress. Instead of giving a speech, Starr answered questions in an interview format moderated by Doug Holladay, partner with Thornton Group and Park Avenue Equity Partners, and a Washington insider who had served as an advisor to the first George Bush Administration. Starr answered questions from both Holladay and the audience.

Holladay also presided over one of seven concurrent seminars held that afternoon. In between was a Supply Chain Summit with views expressed by manufacturers, distributors, contractors and builders. It was moderated by Jim Holland, former head of Hughes' Plumbing Group who is now retired but was put in charge of organizing the 75th Anniversary bash. Holland also conducted one of the seminars, discussing the concept of “Servant Leadership - Lessons from History's Greatest Leaders.”

Monday evening was occupied with four separate cocktail receptions sponsored by different Hughes' operating groups - (1) Plumbing/HVAC/PVF, (2) Electrical, (3) Water and Sewer/Fire Protection/Water Systems/Concrete Products and (4) Building Materials/MRO. After dinner, many guests concluded the evening smoking hand-rolled cigars at an outdoor poolside bar.

The final day of the celebration was given to recreation. Guests had the choice of participating in a golf outing at three different area courses, or a visit to Sea World. The day concluded with a gala dinner and entertainment by wildly popular comedian Jeff Foxworthy.

Tom Morgan, Hughes President and CEO, commented, “This opportunity to celebrate our anniversary and interact with customers and vendors was unprecedented.” He added, “I expected this event to be incredible, and that our customers would have a great time, but I had no idea what a success this would be. With the focus on building relationships, I believe we certainly achieved our goal and then some. Everyone was overwhelmed and impressed. We have definitely raised the bar in this industry, and for ourselves.”

Sidebar: Remembering Hughes' 50th Anniversary

It was the cover story of the Nov. 1978 edition of this magazine, and a thrilling experience for this young trade journalist, who was but a year and a half into his industry career. Centerpiece of what was billed as “The Great Hughes Expo” was a trade show held in downtown Orlando's old convention center that featured some 233 exhibits covering over 55,000 sq. ft. Attendance topped 6,000.

Prior to the Expo, the company hosted a vendor appreciation banquet at the Contemporary Resort Hotel at Disney World. Spirited entertainment was provided by a Disney World song and dance troupe.

Hughes' 50th year bash was played out throughout the year with a program of giveaways to customers and employees. Then as now, the festivities were organized by Jim Holland, then general manager of plumbing sales. Company founders Harry and Russell Hughes presided over festivities, along with youthful president David Hughes, now chairman.

I reported the 1978 event costing more than $1 million to produce. One plumbing vendor told me this year's festivities cost more than double that amount, a large part of which vendors helped to underwrite.