Preston, Steven C.
- Existence: 1960-
Born August 4, 1960, Steven Preston grew up in the blue-collar town of Janesville, Wisconsin, attending Parker High School. His parents- father from a coal-mining town in Appalachia, and mother from Germany during and after World War II- instilled in Steven a strong work ethic, despite both of them not receiving a full high school education. Preston describes himself as a studious child who chose wrestling as a sport because he could succeed as a ‘little guy.’ Preston went on to receive a B.A. with high distinction in political science from Northwestern University in 1982 and an MBA from University of Chicago Graduate School of Business in 1985.
Preston started his professional career in investment banking and corporate finance, working with Lehman Brothers from 1985-1993, eventually becoming the Senior Vice President in the Investment Banking Department. He transitioned to the Senior Vice President and Treasurer role at First Data Corporation until 1997, followed by a move to become Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for ServiceMaster Company, a national networked business that provides services like lawn care and plumbing.
In July 2006, Steven Present decided to leave a comfortable career in the private business sector as a CFO. Preston, in thinking about taking up leadership with the Small Business Administration, said that (May 2008, Journal of Accountancy, pg. 65) “I had to ask myself whether I was willing to jump into a highly public position in an agency that was under attack and that had some very significant hurdles. The agency was dead last in employee morale in semi-annual government surveys. I decided to enter into government service to make a contribution, something different from what I was able to contribute in the private sector.” After severe criticism of the SBA having a sluggish response to disaster relief from hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hector Barreto resigned as SBA administrator, which led to President Bush’s immediate appointment of Preston April 26, 2006, to take up the position. Major challenges faced the SBA, as the housing market crash created a higher need for mortgage loans, and a resistance from lenders to give them out. Also in desperate need were the four major public housing developments that had not yet been rebuilt after hurricane Katrina.
After two strong years of positive change in the SBA, Preston received a Presidential Appointment as the 14th U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary on April 18, 2008. Preston knowingly stepped into a brief eight-month term, serving from June 5, 2008 – January 20, 2009 before the Obama administration succeeded Bush. Critics argued that Preston’s business background was not adequate for leading such a large government agency as the Housing and Urban Development. However, strong recommendations from notable references, and a strong confirmation hearing, helped Preston to be sworn in as the U.S. HUD Secretary on June 5th, 2008.
Preston’s developed skills for organizational listening (across multiple levels), vision-casting, and employee motivation, proved immensely helpful in working with SBA and HUD during significant national crises. When asked about his leadership, he is quoted saying "You won't be informed enough as a leader if you just listen to the people who report to you . . . when you involve people who are a couple of layers down in the organization, who can see the problems, and you can bring forward an opportunity to fix the problems, there is often a tremendous amount of energy and excitement about improving their environment."
Preston stepped into lead positions in administrations that were plagued in the recent past by low employee morale and inconsistent leadership. This difficulties were compounded with the challenges of “motivating government employees to be customer-focused and accountability-driven, without incentive pay as a tool, defending the organizations performance in public and to Congress, and serving two bosses: the President of the United States and the U.S. Congress.”
Preston currently serves on the boards for Habitat for Humanity, Wheaton College, and the Board of Visitors at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Professionally, Present now serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Livingston International, a major North American company of 3,200 employees headquartered in Toronta, Ontario, that is focused on customs brokerage and trade compliance, international trade consulting and global trade management services as well as international freight forwarding across North America and around the globe.