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Leadership Columbus: Mark Pillar

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Mark Pillar

Place of birth: Gary.

Date of birth: Dec. 7, 1948.

Status: Retired.

Fomerly: Delta Airlines pilot and Air Force general.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in marketing from University of Evansville.

Family: Wife, Linda; children, Matt and Lacey.

Volunteering: I spent 37 years serving our country in one capacity or another, and now I serve my community through the (Columbus) Rotary Club and First Lutheran Church. I’m a 32nd degree Mason, serve as the president of the local High 12 Club and am on the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic board of directors. I formerly played percussion in orchestras and received a scholarship to the University of Evansville. I’m also a disaster volunteer at the American Red Cross and serve on the Red Cross board.

Hobbies: I fish, travel and now that I’m retired, I get to do what I want instead of what other people tell me I have to — unless it’s Linda, then I do it gladly.

What was your first job?

Paper boy. I started by helping my brother for 25 cents per week, and as a freshman in high school, I got my own route and delivered all through high school. I started on a bicycle but later switched to a car. I delivered lots of Sunday editions, including the Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune, and those got too heavy for a bike.

What were the primary lessons you learned from that job?

Responsibility. You were expected to deliver a product at a certain time every day. People would be upset if the paper wasn’t there at the right time or the right place.

When did you first take

leadership roles?

I took leadership roles early on and served as sophomore class president in high school. I just saw a need that I could fill, so I decided to run, even though I was fairly new at the school. I also stepped up from being in the drum section to become band president.

How did you end up taking leadership roles from a young age?

A lot of that had to do with my dad, a World War II veteran who served in the Army National Guard. He was a pipefitter by trade and a hard worker, and I always looked up to him. His education ended at high school, but at the end of his career, he had taken classes and was the only estimator in his office without a mechanical engineering degree. My parents taught us not to be afraid to step out of our comfort zone and try something new, and they always emphasized responsibility and accountability.

How did your leadership abilities develop?

I joined the Air Force in 1971, and you can’t help but develop leadership qualities there. Later, when I was teaching leadership to junior officers, I’d always tell them to pay attention to their commanders because they will learn both how to do things the right way — and the wrong way. I started out as a co-pilot, and I had an air commander. I saw how he communicated with others, learned how to do things and thought about what I would do in certain situations if I were in charge. Leadership is a constantly evolving process. I always say that a good leader surrounds himself with experts and then is smart enough to listen to them.

Tell me about your flying career.

After active duty, which I completed in 1978, I got hired by Delta Airlines and stayed there until 2005. I flew all kinds of planes, including the Douglas DC-8 and Boeing 757 and 767. A lot of your schedule as a pilot is set up through seniority. I was in the Air Force Reserve, so I arranged my Delta career around what the Air Force needed me to do. I flew domestic; and, at the end of my career, I flew international out of New York.

What are the biggest leadership lessons you’ve learned?

You lead by example. I never asked anyone to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself. And your people come first — not the mission, because if you take care of your people, they will take care of your mission. And that goes for the military, for business and for life.

How are you different as a leader today than when you first took leadership roles?

You learn from your experiences and you mature. As a younger person, you think you know the expectations and requirements, but as you mature, you learn that you probably didn’t know as much as you think you did. So you inquire more, seek more advice before you make a decision.

What advice do you have for people who are just starting out in their careers?

Follow your passion. I worked in the steel mills. I know what work is. And I worked there long enough to listen to guys just complain day after day about their crummy job. But they wouldn’t pursue anything else. They always talked about staying for two more years before they got another week’s worth of vacation. I tell people that I never had a job after 1971, when I got fired from the steel mills, because I got to fly airplanes. It was something I enjoyed, and people who really enjoy and look forward to going to work don’t really work. In my job I never had two days in a row that were the same, and it was always challenging. If you do something you really enjoy doing, it’s not a job, it’s a blessing. Also, never stop learning. Just when you think you’ve seen it all and you’ve met the smartest person, someone will pop into your life and you can learn something new. And hopefully, throughout your life, you can pass that along, so that the knowledge and leadership experience continues through the generations to keep making things better.

What’s your favorite city to visit and why?

My favorite flight was to Rome. There is so much to see and do, and the people, the food and the wine are great.

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