WILFORD “ABB” PAYNE
FOUNDER & CEO
A GOOD GUY FOR
A GOOD GUY
FOR GREAT INVESTMENTS
At home, Payne spends hours in what his wife calls his “keeping room,” a roomy, windowless study with brushed gold sconces and book-lined shelves, a landing area that invites and encourages thought for thought’s sake. Thinking, after all, is Payne’s favorite pastime. Some executives jump frantically from subject to subject, emanating unchecked energy; Abb, on the other hand, can dwell on a thought for hours on end. He’s been known to isolate himself in a thought experiment. Payne has a capacious mind, and he is focused and measured in his thoughts and actions. Study Abb Payne for long enough, and you can only draw a few sure conclusions: he’s an introvert, he’s honest, and he’s really, really smart.
Abb Payne–a brainy kid who grew up to be an entrepreneurial investor with a mind for business growth–attributes his fastidious, focused demeanor to his hardworking, service-oriented grandmother. Today, Payne’s efforts and ventures would make his grandmother proud. Young but seasoned, relentless yet relatable, Payne allows his stellar business leadership record and diverse investment portfolio to speak for themselves. When Payne makes an investment, he takes joy in finding businesses with good bones and growing them in service of their people, their missions, and the communities they serve. Payne’s passions for learning, leadership, and growth have made him the quintessential business expert, advisor, and investor to follow. Today, he is ahead of the game, making strides that few Missississippians–or people–his age have managed to accomplish. So how did Abb Payne end up so successful, so fulfilled, and yet–still prone to bouts of solitude? And why might that solitude actually be a good thing?
Payne has trouble talking about himself. He would much rather hear about you. To get at the kernel of his past, you have to do some pressing, and when you do, you learn that solitude has, in some senses, been with him since the beginning. Abb’s greatest influence was his paternal grandmother Maxine Payne, a widowed businesswoman, realtor, and philanthropist whose sole passion was serving others. “Even though she was in her late seventies when she was raising me, she had this inexhaustible energy. I remember she was principled. She didn’t suffer any fools. She kept me in line, but she also had a soft spot for me.” Before career women were the norm, Maxine Payne was the first female realtor in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She founded, organized, coordinated the Meals on Wheels program and served as state director of the Mississippi AARP for eight years. She took action for what she believed was right, and young Abb, in his formative years, had a front-row seat to her ambition, principle, and pluck.
When Payne speaks about his grandmother, it is almost as if he believes every good thing about himself can and should be attributed to her, this saint of a woman who, to this day, looms large in his life. Of course there’s his father, Wilford Albert (W.A.) Payne, a successful Mississippi businessman who, among other ventures, began a series of home health agencies across the Southeast. W.A. always encouraged Abb to make good grades, work hard, and leave things better than he found them. So, after graduating from the University of Mississippi with a Finance Degree in Business Administration, Payne went to law school at Florida State University.
“I hated it,” Payne said. “But I couldn’t just quit.”
No, he couldn’t just quit. Because in Abb Payne’s world, which is just as much Maxine’s world, quitting is not an option. So instead of dropping out of law school, Payne found a way to simultaneously pursue a JD and an MBA. “Once I got to Florida State, I realized that the business world, not the legal world, is what fascinated me. I wanted to learn everything I could about building better businesses, so I figured a law degree wouldn’t hurt.” Payne says all of this so matter-of-factly, as if there could have been no other way to make his career debut. “When I came back to Mississippi, I was ready to work for my father’s home health business.” Payne began working for Camellia Home Health as a junior executive, then quickly ascended the corporate ladder through his full-force growth initiatives.
Plenty of sons take over the family business. What Abb Payne did with W.A. Payne’s series of home health care offices involved more than succession and management. Payne grew a local business into Camellia Home Health and Hospice, a Southeastern United States stronghold, and the 20th largest at-home healthcare company in the nation, that he sold in 2017 to Encompass Health, a publicly traded company and the 20th-largest home health company in the United States.
“If it was mine to run, I knew we needed to grow it. That’s just what I thought you do with any business you run,” he said. Matter-of-factly.
When Payne sold Camellia Healthcare, which was voted Best Place to Work in Mississippi for 10+ years running, he found himself wanting to pour his time, energy, and expertise into other business leaders hungry for unprecedented growth in the name of serving others. “One thing about my investment portfolio is that I can’t–and don’t want to be–pigeonholed,” Abb said. “I’m not looking for a specific industry. I’m looking for people. I’m looking for high-performers who are far more focused on what they can do than what they can’t do.”
The most stunning testaments to Payne’s leadership and development skills are the living, breathing people into whom he has invested his time, resources, and energy. Abb seeks people who work hard, then he gives them the skills and exposure they need in order to take on roles they could not have previously imagined. Ask Abb’s previous and current executives, hardworking people whom Abb helped mold into industry leaders. One such former employee, who now runs a $100 million+ home health agency, told us, “If Abb asked me to come work for him today, I wouldn’t even need to know project details. I would drop everything here and go where he needs me.”
For Payne and the high performers into whom he invests, the principle is simple: grow or die. After all, Payne went to law school on a whim and finished his MBA while he was earning his law degree. He grew a modest home healthcare business into a business behemoth, all while maintaining a rich work culture for his employees. He lives by the motto, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” Whether he’s planning long summer excursions for his family, spending excess hours deep in thought, or pouring months and months into leaders and investments, Payne never does anything halfway. He’s all in, or he’s all out. For Abb Payne, growth–both personal and professional–is a default setting. It’s just what he does. Businesses who want to grow like never before need Abb. He’ll take them on a one-way, nonstop ride toward success.
And at the end of that ride, what will Abb Payne do? He’ll go back to his keeping room, back to the familiar intensity of his own thoughts. He’ll reflect, he’ll reassess, and he’ll meditate at the altar of growth. It’s lonely work, but it’s the kind he was born to do.