Mark Dobson ’84 credits his Butler University professors for turning him into “an ornery SOB” and his father for teaching him to “do the right thing.”
“They all fired me up,” he said, laughter and gratitude in his voice.
While his alma mater is sparking new community groups among student-residents, Dobson has been sparking community involvement in local government for two decades. He’s had one overarching mission: To get individuals directly involved in creating social change in their communities.
Passion and bluster
Dobson willingly admits he entered public service “with bluster.” Prior to his current position as President/CEO of the Elkhart County Economic Development Corp., he was President/CEO of the Kosciusko County and St. Joseph County (now South Bend Regional) Chambers of Commerce in northern Indiana. Before then, he was President of the St. Joseph County Commissioners and once told the South Bend Tribune that the real burden on taxpayers was the many layers of local government.
“Coming in, I had all these grand ideas and probably made some statements that would’ve been offensive to folks that had actually served in government,” he said ruefully. “But I finally learned it’s typically not the people that are the problem. It’s the systems we give them [to operate within] that cause the problems. I changed my attitude tremendously.”
Dobson quickly became known for his fiery advocacy of reducing government’s influence on people’s lives. In St. Joseph County, he established a Community Leader Forum and rebuilt the state’s Public Policy Division to ensure residents and businesses had a voice. He then led the Kosciusko Chamber through unprecedented growth and implemented the Chamber’s visionary strategic plan, earning him the Indiana Chamber Executive of the Year title in 2014.
Calling himself “a fairly average student at Butler,” some of Dobson’s success surprises himself.
“I didn’t set the world on fire then, but a couple of things stayed with me,” he said. “The Butler Way was alive and well in the 1980s—we just didn’t have it branded that way. But the principles were the same. And professors in Butler’s business department really challenged us to think outside the textbook, to think for ourselves, to have a lifelong learning experience.”
He recalled one frighteningly motivational entrepreneurial class in particular.
“The professor told me I’d fail if I didn’t get McDonald’s to move into the new food court on campus, and I believed her,” Dobson said. “I learned so much by engaging with a McDonald’s Franchise Director. It was an invaluable learning experience.”
Dobson has infused his government work with his entrepreneurial spirit, education, and early work experience in the private sector. The one constant ingredient for success?
“For years in the corporate world, we valued and involved our people. Why wouldn’t we do the same in government?” he said.