Mark House hasn’t jumped out of a plane since leaving the U.S. Army in 1985, but not a day goes by he doesn’t refer to the experience or his days as a West Point cadet.
“West Point gave me my foundation,” said House, the managing director and director of strategic projects for the Beck Group, an architectural, engineering and construction firm.
“My parents first and foremost, but West Point really gave me a lot of the core values, professional values that I use every day.”
House often calls on the leadership qualities instilled in him by his mother, Sue House, and his father, the late Army colonel and fellow West Point graduate, Joe House. And those qualities have served him well as a businessman and a community leader.
He’s twice served as chair of the Hillsborough County Economic Development Corporation, is a board member at ZooTampa, guided the Leadership Tampa Class of 2013 as its chair, and currently holds a spot on the West Point Association of Graduates Board.
His work recently led to him winning the prestigious Leadership Tampa Alumni Parke Wright III Leadership Award. House spoke to Ernest Hooper about winning the award, leadership and what LTA means to him.
How surprised were you?
I was completely shocked. I borrowed a coat to come. There was a guy in the office who does work for us. Someone said you’ve got to go to this luncheon because we’re giving an award to one of our subcontractor partners. They said you need to be there for that. This is 30 minutes before the luncheon. There’s a young man in the lobby that does a lot of work for us. He’s a consultant. I didn’t have a sport coat. I looked at him. He’s my size. I said, “What are you doing today at lunchtime? I need to borrow your coat.” I got to the luncheon and sat down and it wasn’t until I turned and saw my wife standing by the wall and realized something was up.
They came in just a little bit too early.
Yeah. Then, I was reflecting on it and every time I went to one, somebody gave a great, big long nice speech. I thought, I’m screwed. Then, I started trying to put some things together. My legs were shaking. My calves were twitching.
That’s surprising to see a leader like you a bit unnerved.
Well, it was about me. It’s usually about everybody else. You’re very, very honored, but you’re going, “This is about me and I’m about everybody else. I love everybody else.” It was very humbling, especially when you have the people speaking in the video. To hear the things they said really choked me up. You see everybody very frequently and people don’t say emotional things to each other.
We don’t say I love you enough.
That’s one thing about I love you – man, woman, whatever – you talk to people I work with and I tell them I love them. They’re my family as much as my real family. So, I got pretty emotional.
You support a lot of causes. Which one are you most passionate about?
It has changed a little bit. Right now, I’m on the board of advisors for West Point. That’s my current passion. But in 2008, when the recession came, it was devastating for our industry. Unemployment in Tampa went from about 4 percent, and our industry it was less than that. But by 2010-2012, in the architecture, engineering, construction industry, it was in the 40 percent range. It was devastating. Our annual revenue dropped by 70 percent. We dropped our total employee base by 70 percent, from 140 local employees down to 25. During that time, nobody did anything wrong. People were working as hard as they could. There just wasn’t any work. If you don’t have any work, you can’t build anything. Some people changed industries. They moved out of town. I felt like the only thing I could do was lead the way by trying to create work.
So you decided to move into Tampa Heights?
We put a stake in the ground. We needed to be in a place where we designed and built a cool building and we needed to be in a place where we could make an impact, try to give back and be the first people out there. We weren’t the very first, but we were pretty close to it. So, I got very involved in the EDC, which was part of the Chamber’s old Committee of 100. I chaired that for a couple of years and did everything I possibly could to try to get companies to come to town. If a company would come to town, it didn’t necessarily mean we would build anything for them, but it created this kind of a pyramid you know, they came and trickle down happened.
What did you learn?
I learned more and more about the city. I thought I knew a lot about the city. I thought I knew a lot about people. But during that time, it was, “Hey man, we gotta all lock arms together and figure out ways in which we can help our community grow and get out of this recession.” I got some great friends out of that. You know, in hard times when people bond together, you end up having some really, really good friends.
I always say Tampa is the biggest small town in America. Do you agree with that?
Yes, I do. In my job now, I’m responsible for our strategic projects throughout the company: our healthcare business, our life science business, which is the pharmaceutical business and I travel around to all our different offices. We have offices in Denver, Fort Worth, Dallas, our headquarters, Austin, Charlotte, Atlanta and Mexico City. I’m biased, but this is the place that I want to be. We’re not a small city anymore. We’re competing on the stage and we’re starting to act like that. It used to be the best kept secret in America. It’s not a secret anymore. People go, “Oh, you’re from Tampa.” They know about Tampa.
What’s been the biggest benefit of Leadership Tampa and Leadership Tampa Alumni?
When I went through Leadership Tampa, it was the hook that said look at all this stuff that Tampa does. There’s so much more about Tampa than you could ever know. In Leadership Tampa, you had 55 classmates that you became really good friends with. There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t see somebody who was a classmate. It’s probably the single best organizational experience that you can have in in Tampa. And if you call a Leadership Tampa classmate or an alum, they’ll pick up the phone. That’s something that’s very important.
Ernest Hooper, LT’03
2018 Newsletter/Annual Review Chair
Editor and Columnist, Tampa Bay Times
Follow him @hoop4you