2018 Horatio Alger Award Recipient
James H. Pugh, Jr.
Chief Executive Officer, Owner & Chairman
“In this country, we are born free'free to choose right from wrong and free to dream; so make good choices and dream big.”
Jim Pugh, who has two older sisters, was born in Winter Haven, Florida. His father was a carpenter as were his grandfather and great-grandfather. His mother worked in a citrus canning plant until she had children, and then she stayed home to take care of them. When Pugh was four, his mother became ill with cancer and died when he was six. Winter Haven was home to his father's sister Mary Lisle and his father's brother Robert Pugh, both married with families that lived nearby. Jim began a rather nomadic life of living with sometimes his father, sometimes with his aunt's family and sometimes with his uncle's family. "I never had to change schools, and my aunts and uncles were loving and supportive. The fact that I was shuttled back and forth just became my new normal. If anything, the fact that my mother was gone probably gave me more freedom than most children. From that, I developed my adventurous spirit and became independent and self-reliant at an early age."
In elementary school, Pugh joined the Cub Scouts and then the Boy Scouts. He reveled in his Scouting experiences and attained the rank of Life Scout, and was on his way to Eagle Scout, but as he approached high school, most of his friends dropped out of the program. Pugh went to his father to ask if he too should quit. His father told him to do what he thought was best. Pugh followed his friends and made the decision to leave Scouting. Not long after that, he considered this action to be a failure on his part. "From then on, I vowed never to take the easy street again," he says. "I've stayed true to that promise and have never backed down from a challenge."
Pugh's father was not educated beyond high school, but he read widely and enjoyed sharing books and stories with his son. In high school, Pugh, who greatly admired his father's honesty and integrity, spent summers alongside his father on construction jobs. He also harvested watermelons and worked in a department store. He used his earnings to pay for personal expenses and also helped his sisters with their expenses.
Pugh describes his younger self as an achiever. He did well in school academically and enjoyed learning. He was also an athlete and served as captain of the football team. He became the editor of the school newspaper and discovered that he was comfortable giving other students their assignments and defining their roles. "Early on, I had the ability to take on more responsibility than other kids seemed to want to. I always had the desire to be successful in everything I attempted."
It was assumed that Pugh would attend college, but he was uncertain how he would pay for it. Once accepted at the University of Florida, his Journalism teacher set up a meeting with the dean of students, Dean Little. The dean assigned Pugh three on-campus jobs that would have him working in the cafeteria and hospital and also selling school stationery. "Throughout my college years, Dean Little would call me into his office to see how I was doing," says Pugh. "I remember one early semester I told him I had a couple of D's. He looked out his window and asked me to take a look at the gas station on the corner. He thought that I might want to go over and apply for a job because he didn't think I would ever graduate from the university. That inspired me to do better from then on."
During his college years, Pugh joined the Army ROTC. He became cadet commander, then graduated with a degree in construction management in 1963. He accepted his commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the Army, where he trained as a paratrooper and as a RANGER. He served in Special Forces and became a 1st lieutenant. He was honorably discharged from active duty in 1966.
Pugh's first civilian job was as an estimator for a general contractor. He was responsible for getting bids on jobs and managing building superintendents in the field. He was still in his 20s and comfortable in his leadership role. Shortly thereafter, he began his own entrepreneurial career by forming Epoch Properties, Inc., Epoch Management, Inc., and Epoch Residential. Today he is the owner, chairman, and CEO of all the Epoch entities. Epoch has become one of the largest multifamily developers in America, having developed more than 37,000 apartments in more than 60 cities. The company develops, builds, and manages Class A, luxury apartments and has won numerous awards and citations.
In 2001, Pugh formed Timescape Resorts, a timeshare resort near Disney World in Orlando. He is also the director and owner of American Momentum Bank, located in Texas and Florida. Further, he is the owner of BARNIE'S, a regional coffee company.
Looking back over his long, successful career, Pugh says, "My life has been spent building, creating, producing victories, and conquering the world, if you will. Along the way, I've taken care of a lot of people. I've tried to live a good life and I've tried to live it in a way so that when I look back, I have few regrets."
Pugh has a sign in his office that says, "Living without boundaries." Further explaining the thought, he says, "People can accomplish great things, if they don't hold themselves back. In addition to my business career, I've fully explored the world and my place in it. I have not only flown around the world, I've sailed around the world, and I've climbed some big mountains. I've fully engaged in my work, my family, and in the world around me. I've tried to never let a challenge or a hindrance stop me from something. When you sail around the world, you have to have charts for every harbor. You have to understand the sea's conditions and what's going to get you from point A to point B. It requires a huge effort. This is similar to what we have to do with our lives. Learn to plan and then chart a course that will take you from a dream to reality."
When Pugh was in the army, he learned he could accomplish more than he thought possible. While training in a RANGER patrol, he once walked for three days without stopping. "That's why I believe you should never put limits on what you think you can do because until you've tried, you don't really know your full capabilities."
Jim Pugh is a prolific fundraiser and has provided financial leadership for the success of numerous nonprofit campaigns. He is the founder and chair of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando. He and his wife, Alexis, have supported hundreds of campaigns and causes, including the Alexis and Jim Pugh Hall at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and the Jim and Alexis Pugh Hall at the University of Florida. Orlando magazine named him #2 in Philanthropy and Community Voices; he was designated a "Legend of Real Estate" by the University of Florida College of Business Administration, Bergstrom Center for Real Estate; and was inducted into the University of Florida School of Building Construction "Hall of Fame."
When talking with young people, particularly students at his alma mater, the University of Florida, Pugh encourages them to be specific about their goals. "I think you first have to know where you want to go. If you do that, you're ahead of everyone who has no idea what they want out of a career. Then, as you accomplish your goals, reevaluate them and set new ones."
Pugh, who says he is honored to receive the Horatio Alger Award, is especially interested in meeting with Horatio Alger Scholars. "If I'd had opportunity like these Scholars are being given, such as being in a room with people who have accomplished so much, I would have been thrilled. It's a wonderful organization, and I'm happy to become a part of it."