Miles ’76 and the Art of Connections

Mark Miles ’76 talks with WM at the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership offices in Chase Tower.
photo by Joni Jeffries

Steve Charles—I love it when writers, poets, and artists come to campus, especially the Q & A sessions that follow readings and openings. It’s a chance to ask these accomplished practitioners of their art: How’d you do it? What inspires you? How did you put this all together?

I felt similar anticipation visiting Mark Miles ’76 last week in his soon-to-be-vacated office in Indianapolis’ Chase Tower. Here’s a man whose work helped elect a mayor and a senator; brought to Indy the Pan Am Games, the catalyst for the sports-fueled renaissance of the city; reshaped and revived (and renamed) the RCA Championships, then led the international organization of tennis players that play there; brought the Super Bowl to town; harnessed the power of Central Indiana corporate leaders for visionary initiatives; and is on track to help get a mass transit plan passed in the legislature—in Indiana!

I wanted to know how he does it: How does he pull people together to get such good things done? Does he consider his work a vocation and, if so, what is that calling? What could students and young alumni learn from a career trajectory that reads like the College’s mission statement: to think critically, lead effectively, act responsibly, and live humanely? And what about his latest challenge: Today is Miles’ first day as CEO of Hulman & Company, parent group of the Indy Racing League and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

I learned two of Miles’ gifts the minute we met: He puts others at ease, and he listens well. In the midst of moving with an office half in boxes, he welcomed photographer Joni Jeffries and me. He gave us more than the allotted hour and a generous conversation which will be part of an article you can read in the Spring 2013 issue of Wabash Magazine.

One of my favorite exchanges from that conversation came about after Miles’ ability to see potential connections between people reminded me of the way poets and writers see the world:

Miles: Sometimes I’m in a room with people who are clearly much brighter, and I’ll be amazed at how they don’t connect the dots and see where that’s going to go.

You have a different way of seeing the world.

Miles: It’s like chess—an ability to see where things are going.

Can it be taught?

Miles: I think it can be learned; I don’t know if you can teach it. You can absorb it.

Miles named former Lilly Endowment, Inc. President, former World Food Programme Executive Director, now Indiana Pacers President Jim Morris as a mentor, recalling a conversation with him as Miles was beginning his efforts with the Pan Am Games:

Miles at his now-old office in Chase Tower.
photo by Joni Jeffries

“I thought we were going to talk about the Pan Am Games, and he starts telling me about the canal that we’re going to try to get developed, what we’re going to do in terms of housing at Lockfield Gardens, and 20 other things I can’t remember. My head was swimming. He has this ability to think of all these irons in the fire, and how we could connect them, and how they might have a greater relevance in a bigger context. A really extraordinary guy—that vision, that skill set. That’s a good example of someone I learned a ton from.”

Our students, faculty, and alums could learn a ton from Miles. So will I as I write the story. Thanks to him, and to Executive Assistant Linda Whitaker, for fitting us in during this busy time of transition.

And Miles’ vocation?

“How about ‘challenge hunter,'” he said.

Read more in the Spring 2013 WM.