Don’t let her sweet demeanor fool you. Anita Hullum is tough. Growing up on a ranch in East Texas, she was chosen over five siblings to lead the family cattle business. She grew up with cowboys, who taught her to be a successful businesswoman long before female owners were widely accepted. From driving tractor-trailers to forming her own oil company, she seems to have done it all. 

What was it like having your picture taken for The Passions Project?

I’ve never been happy about my pictures. I always thought everyone else looked good. I’d either have my eyes closed or my mouth open or stand like a gunslinger about to shoot you. Heidi put me out on the patio with my pots and my plants, and it was fun. When I got her picture, I was just so pleased because she got me. My eyes were open, and my mouth was shut. That picture changed my focus from business and work to play. Who would think that someone taking your picture would change your life?

Tell me about your childhood.

I grew up 10 miles south of Wills Point. We didn’t have roads back then, so when the creeks were high, we couldn’t get out. Mother made her own soap, and we had a 12-acre garden. We had to get the wood and put it in the fireplace to heat the house and cook. It was a hard life. When I was very young, my father raised cotton. When it got so cheap that we couldn’t sell it, we went into the ranching business. Daddy liked them wild. We had East Texas brimmers and hogs. We had to be fast to keep up with them. Then I bought some land, and my father and I did ranching in partnership.

Why do you think your father chose you as his protégé? 

There were six children, and I was the middle girl … and the runt. But, somehow, daddy picked me to head the family business. He didn’t pick the boys. He groomed me and taught me. I went with him everywhere. I don’t know why he picked me, but I think I was the most like him. I was a tough trader. If I didn’t get the best deal, I didn’t take it. 

Is there a memory from your days on the ranch that stands out to you?

Dad and I had this ranch out in Greenville. In the back corner, there was a raging creek. We had to swim the creek to get the cattle out. I was riding up there getting the cattle, and I hit a bumblebee nest. They went down my shirt, and I was with all men. I couldn’t take my shirt off, but I was jumping and rolling.

What other business did you do as an adult?

I went to college, and when I graduated, I went to work for Neiman Marcus and trained to be a buyer. I worked there for a couple years, and then I got married, and we had an installation business. I had a truck driver’s license, I formed my own oil company and did employee assistance work. But I never got away from ranching. I always had my cattle. It was very important in my life. It was a fun, exciting, wonderful life.

What inspired you to do employee assistance?

My husband was an alcoholic, and when I got my divorce, I became an alcoholic. I didn’t want to think or feel. I thought it was all my fault. I went to Hazelden for treatment, and when I finally got back, I went to SMU for a master’s in counseling, where I learned about employee assistance. When I let go and let God, I flipped. What I do for others is my game now. If I hadn’t been through what I went through, I never would have understood it. 

Was it hard being a businesswoman back then?

Oh, it was impossible. Every business I’ve been involved in, I had to have a man front me. Ranching was nothing but cowboys. Tough bunch. I didn’t particularly mind though. I kind of got a kick out of it. They didn’t have a clue. 

What do you like to do now?

I’ve always been a mover and a shaker, and it’s hard to stop. I go to the workshops here, and I love potting because I like to grow things. I’ve made a pot with a tree on one side and flowers on the other. It’s gotten my mind off business and onto more fun things. It’s therapy.

Interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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