Public Storage Founder B. Wayne Hughes Dies at 87

Remembering the visionary executive, who left a major legacy in both business and philanthropy.
Image by SarlaWu via Pixabay.com

B. Wayne Hughes, founder of single-family rental pioneer American Homes 4 Rent as well as Public Storage, the world’s largest self-storage company, is being remembered as a real estate industry icon, dedicated philanthropist and family man. Surrounded by family members, Hughes passed away at his Lexington, Ky., home on Aug. 18.

Ten years ago, Hughes revolutionized the housing industry by unveiling American Homes 4 Rent, a company designed to provide single-family rental home options to American families. That founding helped revolutionize the home building industry.

Hughes’ legacy transcends his own company, and is reflected in the swiftly-growing multi-billion-dollar single-family rental industry. Four decades earlier, in 1972, he served as a self-storage sector trailblazer when he launched Public Storage.

“I know the term is thrown around a lot, but Wayne was a true visionary,” Mike Mele, vice chairman of Cushman & Wakefield’s Self-Storage Advisory Group, told Multi-Housing News. “Without him, the self-storage industry we know today would not exist. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to do well in this industry have a tremendous debt to Wayne.”

Staggering generosity

Born in Gotebo, Okla., the son of a sharecropper, he moved with his family to Southern California as a child. After saving for college by working a newspaper delivery route as a teen, he enrolled at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, graduating in 1957 with a B.A. in business. He went on to serve in the U.S. Navy as an officer.

A devoted, near-lifelong Trojan, Hughes served on the university’s Board of Trustees and garnered an honorary Doctor of Business Administration degree in 2014. His charitable contributions to the institution were private. But two years ago, the Los Angeles Times reported what they termed his “staggering generosity” ranked him “among the most significant backers of higher education in the West.”

Giving spirit

Hughes’ commitment to philanthropy was evident in the time, effort and financial resources he committed to the battle to defeat cancer.

With a goal of eradicating childhood leukemia, he established the William Lawrence and Blanche Hughes Foundation in memory of his son Parker, who passed away in 1998. The organization’s efforts would notch a number of key research breakthroughs in subsequent years.

In a statement, American Homes 4 Rent reported the company is defined by the vision Hughes imparted. “Across the organization, his spirit will continue to shape the way we operate and succeed in the years ahead,” it reported.