Power broker Miles calling shots again in city

August 20, 2007

Listening to his political musings, tennis tales and memories of big game hunts on African safaris, it's easy to feel chummy with Mark Miles. His quick grin establishes a comfortable rapport. His relaxed demeanor suggests you enjoy his undivided attention, even when his iPhone rings.

But that doesn't fully explain how he managed to gather unprecedented influence over all of Indiana's hottest business sectors in less than two years. In the short time since Miles, 53, took over the CEO-driven Central Indiana Corporate Partnership in 2006, he's transformed it into an economic development powerhouse for the life sciences, information technology and advanced manufacturing.

How did he amass so much clout so fast?

The answer is simple: He started networking with Indiana's political heavyweights more than 30 years ago. And he never stopped.

Miles in the 1970s served as a campaign director and aide for Republicans like Richard Lugar, Bill Hudnut and Dan Quayle. After he earned their trust, Miles' name shot to the top of Republicans' go-to list in the '80s when they needed someone to lead the city's struggling tennis tournament or organize the historic Pan Am Games.

And through those jobs, Miles met most every major local business and civic leader of the era, befriending many along the way.

He then spent 15 years circling the globe as CEO of the Association of Tennis Professionals. But Miles kept up his membership at Woodstock Country Club. And he never lost touch with his many Indiana contacts.

So when David Goodrich announced he was retiring as CICP CEO, Miles' name rose to the top of the list. And once he took the reins, he didn't have to patiently amass political capital. He swiftly went to work, streamlining economic development efforts by bringing them into the CICP fold.

When he came aboard, CICP already was overseeing BioCrossroads, the growth initiative for life sciences. Through expansion or merger, he added the IT trade group TechPoint, the economic-development marketing group Indy Partnership and the recently launched Conexus, which aims to grow Indiana's advanced manufacturing sector.

Miles' challenge now: Leverage his many contacts and his own business savvy to stimulate economic growth.

Friends say he's the ideal man for the job.

"Mark is one of the best complex-problem solvers I know, and has been since I first met him," said Clarian Health Partners CEO Dan Evans, who hired Miles in 1980 to spearhead Quayle's first U.S. Senate campaign. "This is someone who can deal with big issues, but skinny it down to, 'What do I have to do? What's the goal? And how will I know when I get there?'"

My Man Mitch

Miles makes building bridges look easy.

Credit his ability to tap old friendships. Like a game of connect-the-dots, you can trace each of his jobs to its successor. And they've given him ties to many of Indiana's most powerful figures. Miles counts men like Al Hubbard, the White House's chief international economic adviser, and Ice Miller partner Harry Gonso among his confidants.

He spent his formative years in the '70s leading high-profile GOP campaigns. But his work was primarily behind the scenes.

The son of an Eli Lilly and Co. middle manager, Miles said he never desired his father's buttoned-down, 8-to-5 lifestyle. Instead, he wanted to be a part of the action. And he had a rebellious streak. As a teenager, he stuffed envelopes for the original U.S. Senate campaign of Birch Bayh, one of the state's most prominent Democrats.

"The fact that my parents were Republicans was a good reason for me to work for a Democrat," Miles joked.

Miles soon gravitated inside the GOP tent. His sister's best friend, Debbie Daniels, suggested Miles volunteer for Richard Lugar's 1974 Senate campaign. Miles took the bus downtown and met Debbie's brother Mitch. They became lifelong friends.

Mitch Daniels put Miles right to work, asking him to organize Lugar's outreach to young voters. Miles scheduled Lugar's related public appearances and rode along as the then-mayor crisscrossed the state.

Miles knew he'd found his element.

"Campaigns are like heroin," he said. "It's the addiction of adrenaline."

He spent the rest of the '70s organizing election bids for the likes of Larry Buell, Ned Lamkin and Bill Hudnut. Days often began at 5 a.m. for strategy sessions. At night, he set politics aside and organized pickup basketball games at the Athletic Club, or moonlighted giving tennis lessons.

"But make no mistake, back then, Mark was a partisan," recalled David Frick, a deputy mayor under Hudnut and later a WellPoint executive. "He was very active in party politics. That's less true today."

In 1977, Miles met his future wife, Helen, when she came to the door to check out her roommate's blind date. Miles made his move during that winter's famous blizzard, borrowing a friend's Ford Bronco to deliver hot chocolate to a snowbound Helen. They were married in 1980--immediately after the Republican primary election, Miles recalled. They only had time for a honeymoon in Chicago. Then it was straight back to work on the Quayle campaign.

Cementing connections

It was a long-shot bid, but Quayle won, unseating Birch Bayh. Within half an hour, Quayle asked Miles to be his chief of staff in Washington, D.C. Miles agreed. He said he found the perks like eating in the Senate dining room glamorous, but realized within months he wasn't suited for the job.

Instead, he returned home and started a company. In 1980, direct mail was a new thing in politics--and business. Miles saw potential in the Indianapolis Water Co.'s underused mainframe computer servers. He set up a water company subsidiary called Compucom Development Corp.

About that time, Hudnut asked Miles to revitalize the GTE Championships--the local tennis tournament now known as the Indianapolis Tennis Championships.

Miles focused on making it friendly to players, ratcheting up the gifts they received and arranging flights for the top men on corporate jets. The tournament was named the players' favorite the next 11 years in a row.

But Miles didn't become a public figure until Hudnut tapped him to organize Indianapolis' 1987 effort to host the Pan Am Games, an event still considered a watershed of cooperation and good will for the city.

Indianapolis unexpectedly landed the games after Chile and Ecuador backed out. That left Miles only 30 months to organize a staff of 300, a budget of $35 million, and 36,000 volunteers for the amateur athletic event. Indiana Supreme Court Justice Theodore Boehm, who led the Indiana Sports Corp. then, said hosts usually need six years to plan the Pan Am Games.

In addition to handling the games' logistics, Miles had his first experience with international troubleshooting. There were potentially volatile incidents, such as when a Cuban boxer left the ring to attack protesters. And with luminaries like U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz in town, pressure to defuse flare-ups was intense.

The can-do community spirit that made the Pan Am Games a success is much like the one today at the CICP, Boehm said.

"[The games] spawned a mentality that, 'Hey, we don't need to be a sleepy town. We can do things, and do them right,'" he said.

Afterward, Miles became Eli Lilly and Co.'s public affairs director. Colleagues remember him as a breath of fresh air.

"He was always very open to other people's opinions and solicited their input," said former Lilly CEO Vaughn Bryson. "He's creative ... and a wonderful communicator."

In 1990, the ATP offered Miles--popular on the tour for his handling of the Indianapolis tournament--its job as CEO. Before he took it, Miles made sure to find his own replacement at Lilly. All it took was one call--to Mitch Daniels.

Tennis tour of duty

Miles left Indianapolis for 15 years to lead the ATP, the international governing body for the men's sport. The job took him around the world. He left behind new or expanded tournaments in emerging regions like the Middle East and India.

The job required him to balance athletes' needs with those of tournament owners in each city. It was tricky territory.

"Most of the time, I felt a lot more like a prime minister than a CEO," Miles recalled. "If there ever was an exercise in herding cats, it's governing tennis internationally."

But in his attempt to grow the tennis tour beyond the dominance of the Grand Slam events--Wimbledon and the Australian, French and U.S. Opens--Miles' ambition finally met its match. In 1999, Miles cut a 10-year, $1.2 billion TV and marketing rights deal with the Swiss firm ISL Marketing. It had the potential to take tennis to new heights. But when ISL declared bankruptcy two years later, the aftermath threatened to drag the entire sport of tennis along.

Tennis professionals have mostly forgiven Miles. But they haven't forgotten.

"The naysayers all spoke up once things started to go sour with ISL," said Todd Martin, a former top player. "[But] I don't think he got nearly enough credit for what he was able to do after ISL."

"Mark piloted the [ATP] ship through 15 of the very crucial developmental years of the business. And I think he did a great job of it," he added. "He ruffled enough feathers to let everybody know that he was moving forward, but he also did a darn good job of smoothing out some of those feathers to make sure everybody could work together."

Miles spent much of his latter years at the ATP trying to return men's tennis to its position before the ISL fiasco. It's easy to see why returning home to Indianapolis, a city Miles lauds as a place where leaders can "get things done," was appealing.

Here, Miles faces a challenge no less daunting--to accelerate the state's economic development to bring Hoosiers' lagging per-capita income in line with the nation's. A top priority, he said, is improving Hoosiers' average educational attainment. He calls that the "rate-limiting factor" for growth.

"Here, you feel like if there's something that people are passionate about, you can get them organized and focused," he said. "It's possible to make a difference. In the end, I get most excited, motivated and passionate about causing something to be different and better."

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