Welcome to the latest installment of “Leading Questions: Wisdom from the Corner Office,” in which IBJ sits down with central Indiana’s top bosses and civic leaders to talk shop about their latest challenges and the habits that lead to success.
Since joining Mayor Greg Ballard's staff in January 2008, Michael Huber has spearheaded and served as the public face of some of the city's highest-profile, high-stakes infrastructure and economic development deals. Those include the pending $1.9 billion sale of the city's water and wastewater utilities to Citizens Energy Group; leasing the city's 3,650-some parking meters to an outside firm in exchange for $20 million upfront and as much as $620 million in meter revenue over 50 years; and the proposed North of South mixed-use private development downtown that requires an $86 million loan from the city.
More a creative-thinking administrator than politician, the deputy mayor for economic development has learned to toughen his hide as he navigates prickly public debate over the projects he pursues, as well as the hard realities of a political process that often erects obstacles along partisan lines. In the video above, Huber discusses his role in developing and revising the deals, as well as dealing with omnipresent criticism across multiple media platforms in the digital age.
Huber, 35, grew up in the small town of Hillsboro, Ill., where he developed a strong sense of the interconnected elements in a community.
"When you're in a small town, everything that happens is so close to you, and everything of significance that happens impacts your family and impacts your school," Huber said. "That really stuck with me. I started really wanting to have that experience in Indianapolis, wanting to use whatever limited talents you have to have a positive impact."
Huber studied social policy at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., where he made a literal splash early in his freshman year by jumping from a Chicago River tour boat to save a struggling woman in the water. (The story also is recounted in the video above.) The event had an impact on his confidence level that could be felt years later.
"I think it did teach me to trust your instincts in pressure-filled situations and make the best decision with the information you have," he said.
After graduating, Huber spent several years as a consultant to state and local governments, earned an MBA from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, and then served in Gov. Mitch Daniels' administration, focusing on budgetary and real estate issues. He joined city staff in 2008 as director of enterprise development, and became deputy mayor for economic development in March.
One constant in Huber's life outside of work has been his passion for music. He began playing piano in early childhood and continues to perform publicly and record privately today, albeit sparingly. In the video below, Huber discusses his musical roots, his favorite performers at the moment, Indiana's indie scene, and the parallel he finds between a solid band and good government.