Mark House hasn't jumped out of a plane since leaving the U.S. Army in 1985, but not a day goes by that 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 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 Zoo Tampa and currently holds a spot on the West Point Association of Graduates Board.
The work recently led to him winning the prestigious Leadership Tampa Alumni Parke Wright III Award. House spoke to Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper about his work, helping the community through the great recession and the value of being a master parachutist and an Army Ranger.
So, you get lured to the Leadership Tampa Alumni luncheon under false pretenses and then it becomes apparent you're going to win the Parke Wright Award when they show the video. What's running through your mind?
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.
What cause is most dear to you?
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 in 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 we could probably do is I could lead the way by trying to create work.
So you decided to move Beck 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. I also 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.
What are you doing now to help West Point?
I'm on the advisory board, so I go up there about three times a year. There are several things we work on. We work on raising money. You know, West Point is just like any other college. You have to go out there and raise money for the extracurricular type things, for academic buildings for club sports. … And then, you know, connecting with fellow graduates. When they get out of the Army, they're looking for jobs. We have a whole network around that helps them find the right kind of job in different organizations. It's just nice to give back.
When did you learn from jumping out of planes?
I weighed 147 pounds when I graduated from Ranger school. So, if I have a tough day, I think back and say, "Well, there's really not a lot of things they can do to me to scare me, because jumping out of planes at night is scary." So, I kind of put it in perspective. That's helped me a lot. And the other thing is when I was jumping out of an airplane, I didn't do it alone. You jumped out with all your soldiers.
As the jump master, there's a responsibility you have to each one of those Rangers, making sure they're parachutes are right, making sure that they're all doing the right things and saying, "I'm going to check every single detail on the and all these guys to make sure they're safe. And I think that applies a lot in business you know, make sure that you take care of your people. I have a responsibility to take care of the people that work for me because most of the people that work for me are the major wage earners in their family.
Weekly Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Ernest Hooper at email@example.com. Follow @hoop4you.