By Piper Curda, Staff Writer
Steven C. Preston is one of many committed members of the Wheaton College Board of Trustees as well as Wheaton’s Advisory Board. However, many may not know that if there were ever a Renaissance man of the business world, Preston would be a likely candidate.
His daughter, Maddy Preston (‘18), told the Record, “He literally does everything.” Preston characterized his own vocational journey as “rich and varied” in a phone conversation with the Record, lauding his diverse background in business as a continual learning experience.
He recognizes each of his different vocational callings as “a great platform for the next thing that I’ve been called to.”
In January of next year, Preston will be stepping into his newest role: President and CEO ofGoodwill Industries International (GII), an organization with its headquarters in Rockville, Md., that is committed to helping people “reach their full potential through education, skills training and the power of work.”
However, Preston’s journey to his current position was less than standard. Preston was the SeniorVice President in the Investment Banking department for Lehman Brothers from1985-1993, which he credits for helping him to “develop a foundation of skills [and] learn about the world of finance.” This job prepared him to transition into a financial leadership position at a number of companies, including FirstData Corporation (Senior Vice President and Treasurer from 1993- 1996) and TheServiceMaster Company (Executive Vice President, from 1997- 2006). In 2006, he became the Administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration(2006-2008). From this position, he entered into government and served as theSecretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) during the Bush administration (2008-2009) before going on to work as the ChiefExecutive Office of Oakleaf Global Holdings (2009- 2011) and later as the Executive Vice President of Waste Management, which acquired Oakleaf in 2011. Always on the move, Preston soon became the CEO of Livingston International(2013-2016), a company focused on customs brokerage, trade compliance, international trade consulting and global trade management services. In 2017, he also took on the role of the Vice Chairman for the Liberty Advisor Group which aims to improve customer experience and value for the business and technology sector. Now, in conjunction with his newest role, Preston will continue to serve as the Advisory Board Trustee. “The first thing I have to do …
He says he was originally drawn to Goodwill’s mission to help diverse groups of underprivileged individuals reach their full potential and provide opportunities for them in the workforce that may seem otherwise inaccessible. Goodwill was ranked in 2017 as the brand doing the most good for the world, according to
It is specifically this emphasis on providing work opportunities that piqued Preston’s interest. “I really believe that … we’re created to work, that we find personal expression,that we find dignity, that we create value in our work,” he told the Record. He then went on to express his enthusiasm for taking part in an organization “that embraces people with those challenges and helps them find a place in life where they can go forward and sustain themselves.”
His daughter Maddy supported this statement, saying that “at the core of everything that he has done … he really cares a lot about people … the reason that he is so excitedabout [his new job] is because of the job creation aspect of [Goodwill].”
However, while at Goodwill, Preston’s focus will not simply be to help people find jobs; he will emphasize many of the programs Goodwill already has in place for underprivileged youth, seniors, veterans, disabled persons and those with special needs or criminal backgrounds. “He’s just really passionate about getting people on their feet and providing people with a way to both be financially stable but also empowered in doing so,” Maddy said, noting that her father is extremely excited about providing those who are “generally disadvantaged” in our society, like veterans, with dignity.
Despite the ease with which he speaks about his goals and motivations for his new endeavor, Preston credits his past experiences in the world of business for preparing him for the job. “Running [Goodwill] is very much like running a business in manyways,” Preston explained. He anticipates using many of the same leadership, business, finance, marketing and branding skills that he has developed in previous jobs.
Even so, he also knows there will be points at which this new experience differs from his previous jobs in the corporate realm. “At the end of the day, the mission is very much tied up in helping people in need,” Preston said.
Along with his work with HUD, Preston also served on the board of both the Federal HousingFinance Agency (FHFA) and the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). He believes his time in government adjusted the way he approached business, saying, “it gave me a better understanding of how Washington intersects with Wall Street.” Ultimately, it led him to better grasp the ways in which the two spheresinteract and work together to impact the country. Preston also explained the ways his experience in business aided his work in government, referring to the tendency of many government departments to run in a similar manner to large businesses.
“There’s a terrific opportunity for … classically-trained business people to go into government and help the government be more responsive to people’s needs,” Preston told the Record. His experience with the management of Fortune 500companies also allowed him to streamline governmental processes and opportunities for aid.
Preston’s hope to live a “mission-driven life” is encouraged by Wheaton College. President Philip Ryken (‘88) told the Record that on the Board of Trustees, Preston is “held in very high regard by other Trustees for his commitment to our mission, very keen analytical ability, his ability to frame problems (he’s a real problem-solver)and he understands the leadership of complex organizations.” Preston is
He praises the perspective that Wheaton brings to complex issues at the intersection of faith and culture. Preston, having attended a secular university (for both his undergraduate and graduate education), as well as having worked in a predominantly secular workforce, especially admires the way that “Wheaton helps people make sense of how faith comes together with the world we live in.” It is no surprise that, above all, Preston commends Wheaton’sability to foster community and calls the college a “great source of encouragement and … seeing other people who really live their lives in a very missional way.”Preston describes his Christian faith as the foundation for the business decisions he makes and says that, when faced with yet another new work opportunity, “I’ve always started with the lens of faith to determine whether or not it’s something I should be doing.” It is this continuous integration of seemingly separate spheres of life that helps Preston articulate his belief that being successful in business and helping others do not have to be mutually exclusive.
He cultivates this combination
This is not to say that Preston’s commitment to his faith has not brought its own set of challenges. But, as his daughter Maddy said, “he really sets his own standard. He doesn’t work towards the expectations that anyone else might set for him, and I think that has made him really successful and able to really accomplish all of the things he has done.”
Even so, some of his decisions have not been met with unanimous approval. “I’ve found that I have had to make decisions that may be less aligned with typical business decisions because I’ve done them according to my faith,” Preston told the Record, though it was clear that he did not let these kinds of trials deter him from his resolve to keep his faith at the center of his actions.
He recounted moments in which he had to “sell those decisions” to people in charge, especially when it came to decisions that might have a financial impact on the lives of others. Preston said that while these decisions “may not have been the most expedient financial decisions, they were the right decisions from a human perspective.”Not only is this sacrificial business method in line with the way Prestondesires to be “mission-minded,” but he posits that it also brings about “opportunity to stand up for what you think is right and … bring people into the same mode of thinking.”
Preston acknowledges that this way of living and doing business may not be the easiest route in a secular workforce, but he encourages Wheaton students to embrace hard decisions in favor of their faith.
Preston advocates for Wheaton students to take notice of contentious areas in their field of study that do not necessarily align with their principles and to “wade into those areas asking questions … in a way that shows concern and shows care.”Additionally, he promotes a posture of listening, learning and seeking to understand how things work and how one might be able to grow through their experiences in whatever field they choose to work. This is a practice that Preston himself continues to implement in his work life, especially now as he is transitioning into a new position. He makes a point of emphasizing that, “even as a young person, you can have an impact by leading with your values” and being a “caring voice in the room when tough decisions are being made.”
Preston is assuming the role of president and CEO of Goodwill amidst high expectations. According to a press release put out by Goodwill, Dale Jenkins, Chair of the GII Board of Directors, stated that “Steve has a proven track record of exceptional leadership during his highly successful careers in both the private and public sectors. He also has a deep personal commitment to serving others that is truly inspirational. I am excited about what this dynamic combination of talent, business acumen