By Michelle St. Onge | Photo by Jessica McCafferty
Issue: September 2022
Hometown: Peru, NY
Family: Wife, Sabrina; two young daughters, Evalee and Scotlyn
Education: A.S. in general studies at Clinton Community College, B.A. in anthropology at SUNY Plattsburgh; M.S.T. from SUNY Potsdam; School Building Leader and School District Leader certificates through Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
Occupation: Executive Director, Plattsburgh Housing Authority
Community Involvement: Membership on many boards related to work, currently serving on the Peru Central School Board of Education, and the NYS Public Housing Authority Directors Association (NYSPHADA)
Mark Hamilton grew up in a small town with big dreams of moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the performing arts. At the urging of his mother, he agreed to earn a college degree to fall back on before heading west. While studying anthropology he met some inspirational professors who sparked his interest in the cultures of South America. After graduating, Hamilton and a few friends went to Peru to visit some of the places they studied. This trip ignited a curiosity for seeing new places that would later lead him to a second life-changing journey.
Early in his career Hamilton moved back and forth from L.A. to New York a few times while he gained his footing. In L.A. he hopped around from job to job, exploring career opportunities and saving a little money. After a few years of living that life, he and a friend were inspired to try something different. “One day we both decided to quit our jobs and backpack around Europe,” he explained. A months-long adventure spanning nearly thirty countries ensued. The down time that is inherent in traveling gave Hamilton ample opportunity to reflect on his long-term career and life goals. As a result, he refocused and decided to become a teacher. “As a kid I did not always connect with the curriculum in school.” he recalled, “I thought I could make learning more engaging by leveraging my experiences abroad to help students connect with the lessons in social studies classrooms.”
Hamilton began this new direction by obtaining his Masters in the Science of Teaching from SUNY Potsdam. With his teaching certificates secured, he was hired by the Peru Central School where he taught for six years. While job searching, the Assistant Executive Director position at the Plattsburgh Housing Authority crossed his path. He assumed that role in 2012 and was promoted to his current position less than a year later.
Hamilton recently shared some of his career highlights and lessons learned with Strictly Business.
SB: What important lessons did you learn early in your career?
MH: Hold on tight, and don’t let go. Jim Hutchinson was a neighbor of mine who used to tell me that when he pushed me on the old metal swing set in our backyard. As I have grown through challenges and opportunities in my life, his words have always been in the back of my mind. His advice was especially helpful when I made the major transition from education to public housing which baffled many of my family and friends. You take chances, work hard, and hold on tight to let life lead you.
SB: Who was your most influential mentor?
MH: One man who gave me invaluable perspective was John Wasley. We met through family connections when I moved to L.A. He is an executive for a global executive search firm. He is incredibly successful and still a down-to-earth and humble person. I worked for him for a few years while I was out there. In everything he did I could see the passion he had for caring for people. He has had an incredible impact on how my career developed.
SB: Tell us about your approach to management and leadership.
MH: I have always tried to lead through action as opposed to rhetoric. I do not ask anyone to do something that I would not do, and I often try to do it myself first. When there is an issue, problem, or challenge within my team I try to make sure that we care first about the people. I do that through action. My first question in those situations is always about the people involved. We work together to get to the root of issues and try to keep a family atmosphere.
SB: If you could talk to your younger self, what advice would you offer him?
MH: Be more humble sooner, don’t be afraid and work harder. I was fortunate to have an incredible support network around me growing up. Those connections definitely helped to launch me on my path. There were times when I had the choice to not work as hard as I could because I knew that I had that support to fall back on. I may have taken advantage of that support as a young adult. I am the result of a lot of luck and happenstance, there is no doubt about it. I would never want anyone to think differently.
SB: What advice would you offer to someone starting his or her business career?
MH: We are living in an incredible time. As challenging as life is right now, there is so much opportunity for people who are just starting out. Technology is in an incredible place, we are coming out of a pandemic, and there is a lot of opportunity now that did not exist a short time ago. My advice is to make sure that you allow yourself to try different things before you choose which way to go. There is so much out there that there is no reason to get stuck in a job or career that does not make you happy.
SB: What does success look like to you?
MH: I used to think that my success was about how many things I could cross off my to-do list. When I assumed leadership here, I had to flip that idea around very quickly. My success now is when the people around me are supported and have everything they need to get their work done. I could have a great day, but if my people don’t have what they need, this place will not run.
SB: What habits do you have that contribute to your success?
MH: I go to bed early and wake up before everyone else in the house. That morning time alone is really important for me. It gives me an opportunity to get my body moving with a workout, and also time to think about my priorities for the day ahead of me.
SB: If you could start your professional career over again, what would you do differently?
MH: I don’t know that I would do anything differently. I am blessed to be where I am. I have a wonderful job and a great team to work with. I couldn’t be happier with my personal life, and I have a really nice work-life balance. Good and bad, everything that happened in my life before now had to happen in order for me to get where I am. I would not want to miss out on any of it.
SB: What are you most proud of professionally?
MH: Overcoming decades of obstacles by opening Atlas Heights, which offers 40 units of affordable housing with supportive services. This has been a goal of the Plattsburgh Housing Authority for many years. We created a not-for-profit organization and we were finally successful at overcoming the challenges of the past. It was a really exciting time for the community, and for me personally as well.
SB: What is something no one would guess about you?
MH: As a child I was legally blind in my left eye. I wore a patch on my right eye for five years to strengthen the left eye, which helped. In 2001 I had lasik surgery and haven’t had to worry about it since then.
SB: What inspires you?
MH: At this point in my life, my children inspire me the most. I want to set a good example for them by having them see me doing things in the community that make a positive difference. I hope that one day they will be able to do these kinds of things themselves.
SB: What do you do in your free time?
MH: I love to spend time with friends and family. A large group of us camp together on Lake Champlain during the summer. I am a Mets fan and I love sporting events, and I love to take weekend getaways with my wife to see a game, a concert, or a Broadway show.
SB: What do you believe the North Country community should do today to ensure a prosperous future?
MH: One thing this region has done well over the past few years is to nurture a strong relationship with Canada and Montreal. If we want to prosper, we have to continue to build upon that. Canadians are going to be pivotal in how we develop over time. We also need to focus on creating more pathways for our youth to learn here, stay here, and work here. This could happen in any number of ways through the schools in the area, and also in new, creative programs to encourage local youth to engage in the community.