From politics to Paris, this North Central Alumni Hall of Fame member has always found success at the highest office
Mark Miles (North Central ’71) knows how to command a room. You have to be forceful when you’ve run successful political campaigns, headed two major sports properties and brought the Super Bowl to Indianapolis. But the first room Miles, presently the CEO of Hulman & Company (running the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR), had to master was a big one: North Central. Transferring from Broad Ripple to North Central for his sophomore year, he knew virtually nobody, and recalls the daunting nature of that move.
“It felt like a place where you could pursue anything,” Miles recalls, specially his government teacher, Mr. Campbell, who fostered an environment where anything could be discussed. “More than anything, it felt like a place with talented kids and avenues to pursue anything.”
He would take that opportunity literally in life. While he didn’t attempt to join the tennis dynasty at North Central, he would play at Wabash College, and is a member of the Wabash Athletic Hall of Fame. Civically minded at a young age, he recognized what his school affiliation could provide for him. Not interested in an early job at Lilly, he stumbled into politics and a chance to work in some Republican campaigns in the state.
“Getting into it goes back to North Central,” he says. “Mitch Daniels’ sister, Deborah, was friends with my older sister… She heard me whining about my job and said ‘go see my brother, he’ll give you something to do.”
That nudge would eventually lead to Miles serving as the campaign manager for the successful elections of Mayor William Hudnut and Senator Dan Quayle. Miles would even work for Quayle in Washington, D.C. He caught the politics bug. He loved the results-oriented nature, starting from nothing to try and meet people and win. That competitive nature of politics creates the perfect marriage with sports, where Miles’ passion would follow.
“Most of us, in the beginning, aren’t rabidly partisan,” Miles says, contrasting with the modern politics of today. “It was civic. In the late 70’s and early 80’s, sports became an initiative. It was Indianapolis development… I love sports, but it wasn’t about the game. It was about what you could make from it to benefit the community.”
Miles would be named president of the Organizing Committee for the Tenth Pan American Games in 1987, a monumental moment in the growth of Indianapolis. While Miles points to the National Sports Festival in 1982 as the real catalyst in sports change in Indianapolis, it’s hard to ignore that the Pan-Am Games brought together 38,000 volunteers, sold a million tickets and involved 26 venues. Sports events became a way for corporations and people to come together, outside of their day-to-day jobs.
“We can do things in extraordinary ways,” he remembers of it all. “It gave us the sense that we could do anything and left behind a legacy of civic engagement that was diverse and inclusive.”
That experience would come in handy years later when Mayor Greg Ballard hand-picked Miles to bring the Super Bowl to Indianapolis. Twenty-five years after the Pan-Am success, Indianapolis was the biggest stage in sports. It meant a great deal to Miles, who had come home himself just a few years earlier after running the Association of Touring Professionals (ATP) in tennis. His legacy cemented in Indianapolis, a world-wide challenge presented itself for 15 years, but he never would have taken the job if it weren’t for Dr. Seuss.
“We were buying a gift for our young son to take to a birthday party and I find Dr. Seuss’ book Oh, The Places You’ll Go, which is about life being a journey. I looked at this book and said ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to have to do this.”
The rest, they say, was history.
While there was no set goal to come back to Indy, it organically happened. Now overseeing one of the city’s most recognizable and valuable pieces of landmark property, he is tasked with maintaining the city’s most loyal sports brand in a town he’s helped put on the sports map. It’s a long journey from 1971, but one he looks back fondly on.
“I think I was fluent in sports,” he reflects. “You can’t really compare, in my mind, the city’s sports environment to the time I was coming out of North Central.”