SM: Mark, where does your story begin? What is the genesis of your incredible career?
MH: I grew up in a very small town in the southwest corner of Minnesota. It was a farming community of 3,000 people. It had a good school system. I had a Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer existence while I was younger.
SM: Were your parents farmers?
MH: My father was a dry cleaner and my mother was a schoolteacher.
SM: When you look back today, what planted the seeds of your career?
MH: My father owned a business. That was interesting, although he worked 12 hours a day, six days a week. I also had some really great teachers, including an excellent science teacher when I was in high school who influenced me a lot. When I came out of high school I wanted to be a biology teacher.
SM: Where did you go from there?
MH: I went Gustavus Adolphus in Minnesota. I went there for one year and didn’t really like the school. It was a small school in a small town. I had applied to West Point because my principal in high school was a reserve in Air Force school. He talked me into it, and I got accepted. The last semester of my freshman year at Gustavus I decided to go.
SM: Was that a good experience?
MH: Yes, absolutely. At that time it was an all-male school; today it is mixed. I gained an excellent engineering degree. We took a lot of math and general engineering. We took everything from soil engineering, which was one of the hardest classes I took, to calculus and astronomy. We also went to school on Saturday mornings, so the intensity was very high.
SM: What did you do when you got out?
MH: When I graduated in 1969, I had a six-year military obligation. I was based first in Colorado Springs in the artillery. I had a motorcycle accident there and spent six months in the hospital. After that I had to switch to transportation, which was a non-combat arms role. In 1972 I went to Korea for a year and spent that time on the DMZ. I came back and I was stationed in Virginia.
At the end of my service obligation I wanted to get out but I was pretty broke. I worked another year to save some money for school. I then moved to Arizona and went to the University of Arizona to get my MBA.
SM: What drove that?
MH: I was interested in finance. There is another thread that goes through all of this. West Point was one of the first universities to put in an IBM mainframe. Part of the course required use of the computer, which required punch card decks. We had remote terminals in our dorms.
When I went to the University of Arizona, one of my finance professors was doing computer programs looking at the stock market from the sense of a casino operation. He was looking at the difference between just throwing down your cards or having calculated picks and the returns of those choices.
Although my MBA had a concentration in finance, when I was done with it I was determined not to work in finance.
SM: What drove that realization?
MH: It seemed boring. I did not want to punch numbers day in and day out. I then decided I wanted to go into high tech. I started looking at banks, and I realized I did not want a job with banks. I finally decided on high tech and felt it could use my engineering and financial skills.
I got a job offer from Hughes and Texas Instruments. Those jobs were really to work in the military industry. I decided I did not want to do that.