The Legacy of Mike McQuaid

When Mike McQuaid, “Big Mo”, passed away from Covid-19 in July, Arizona lost a significant community leader, and here at STN, we lost a great friend and mentor. As the president of Human Services Campus (HSC), Mike brought organizations together to create a multi-faceted approach to fight homelessness in Phoenix. Even before his career at HSC, he was dedicated to helping others and helping young people find their purpose. The key principle that guided his personal and professional successes? Maintaining and growing relationships.

A leader like Mike, someone who treated people with dignity and respect, who listened to the lost voices and dedicated himself to the well-being of others, is someone we can all learn from.  

We are so grateful that we had the chance to sit down with him early this year to capture his leadership and life philosophies in one of our Arizona Achiever episodes. In this interview, he teaches us that people are a product of their relationships, and we should intentionally invest in growing those relationships because they form the steps by which we rise and thrive.


Eric Sperling: Hey everyone, welcome back. We are hanging today with Mike McQuaid, very popular business owner here in the valley. Everybody knows Mike McQuaid: longtime real estate, retail business owner and then currently the president of the Human Services Campus downtown, doing great things to help out our homeless population. Mike, thanks for being here.

Mike McQuaid: Thank you.

In any business, no matter what is, building relationships is paramount to success.


Eric Sperling: All right, we’re going to have an exciting conversation. Today we’re going to talk about building relationships because you know everything about building relationships, time management, and then finding purpose. So let’s start with the relationship side of things. Maybe for somebody just starting out, growing a business, you were telling me that building relationships is probably the most important thing you can do. Why is that?

Mike McQuaid: I just think in any business, no matter what is, building relationships is paramount to success. My business partner and I’ve been friends for over 50 years, we’ve maintained that relationship and a business relationship basically on a handshake. And our clients that we serve, our investor partners and people we deal with in the real estate, commercial real estate community in this valley share those same sorts of feelings about long term relationships. I just have built that into all the work I’ve done, whether it be for profit or nonprofit.

We always paid attention to treating people right, treating people with dignity and respect at all times.

Eric Sperling: Was that a hard strategy at first because I think as a business owner, you think sales, you think leads, relationships might come down here, but experience will tell you this is what really pays the bills at the end of the day?

Mike McQuaid: Yeah, I think so. And I think that we learned that certainly early on. We went to Arizona State University together. We were involved with academic and social endeavors there, fraternity and sports and things of that nature. I think all those activities tend to build strong on relationships and especially if you work at it, we’ve always done that. It’s always been one of the things I’ve paid the most attention to is to maintain friendships and maintain relationships over long periods of time. Not to worry about what’s happening for a short period of time but think about how this relationship will benefit both myself and the other party long-term.

Eric Sperling: And then how about in different industries? And you can tell me a little bit about because commercial real estate, and then tell me a little about the retail side. You had a store, right?

Mike McQuaid: My wife, Molly and I were involved in retail business for many years and, and that is very much driven by personal relationships, the customers and how you treat the customer is a big, big part of being successful in the retail business to hit them to come back. Well, that’s the key in any business, ‘how do you get repeat customers and repeat business? ‘and we always paid attention to treating people right, treating people with dignity and respect at all times. And, and I’ve used that same philosophy then in the nonprofit world is I’ve built relationships there.


Eric Sperling: Let me talk about the nonprofit side for a minute because the Human Service Campus is amazing, the work you guys have been, you’ve been doing for the last 30 years, helping the homeless population here in our community. What is so different about growing a nonprofit compared to growing a business or is it the exact, or is it very similar?

Mike McQuaid: I don’t know if it’s exactly the same, Eric, but it’s very similar. And in the Human Services campus, we’ve assembled over 20 agencies that work together for one common goal and that’s to help people end their homelessness as quickly as possible. That takes a lot of teamwork and team effort, and that’s the other thing that I’ve always kind of fallen back on is, is what’s best for the team, ‘How do you collaborate and help each other to succeed?’ And at the campus, we started out with just a handful of agencies and now it’s grown to that number of 20+, and that’s what helps us help the customer best, is by that collaboration. And that is, that’s the focus always has to be on what’s best for the customer, not necessarily what’s best for one of the organizations but what’s best for that customer.                                                                                                        

Eric Sperling: How hard is it if you are leading, you said 20, if they’re, you’re in a boardroom, and there’s 20 agencies in they’re all trying to achieve your goal that you’ve set for them. How difficult has that been? Or has it been easy?

Mike McQuaid: It hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s been challenging at times because you know, that all 20 of those organizations have their own agendas, they have their own organizations that they are responsible for and, and what we’ve tried to do with Human Service Campus is when they come in boardroom, we try to have them check their personal agenda or their organization’s agenda at the door and really then think about it as the Human Services campus in whole. And, and it is difficult because a lot of individuals, whether it’s working in a real estate transaction or working in the nonprofit world, think that they’ve been doing it their way, they know how to do it, don’t tell me how to do it. And, and so there’s ‘How do you kind of bridge that with let’s work together, right? And how do we figure out what’s best for all of us to help somebody or some, some project together?’

I love the relationships. I love what I do, and I think that's something you have to have to be successful. Especially long term, finding out what is important to you and what is your purpose in life or in business and really focusing on that.


Eric Sperling: I’ve seen you in action on the nonprofit side and I’ve known you for several years now. And one of the big things that inspired me was seeing how successful you were as a business owner and also how successful you were growing the nonprofit and then how successful you were as a family man. And so for business owners out there or people who are in high stress, executive levels, how have you been able to successfully manage all that time and also be, you know, again, you’ve been successful in all those arenas. What’s the secret there?

Mike McQuaid: I think a couple of things. One in particular is, I love what I do. Whether it be within my family and what we do as a family, whatever I’ve done with a for profit, real estate business or in the nonprofit arena. I love the relationships. I love what I do, and I think that’s something you have to have to be successful. Especially long term, finding out what is important to you and what is your purpose in life or in business and really focusing on that.

Eric Sperling: So does that come into play? It’s a Tuesday. And your real estate business is, things are just happening that need your attention and then you’re getting emails from the nonprofit’s saying, ‘Hey, we need you to make decisions on this’ and then stuff’s happening at home, when you get home, here’s X, Y and Z that needs to get done. So is there, was there a routine you had? Is there something you had to say ‘okay, here’s how I’m going bucket all of this?’

Mike McQuaid: I don’t think a routine, I think it is kind of a juggling act for all of us as we try to balance career and families and, and work and play and everything else. But I think for me, it was more, I’ve always come back to family first. Now, if my business partner is watching this, and I want to tell him I going to choose that, going to the game or the grandkids over than business transactions. You’ve got a blend it, you got to pay attention to both and, and again, I think as I said earlier, if you really enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll figure that out. It’s when you’re struggling with what you’re doing and not having a purpose in what you’re doing that I think people have a tendency to really then have difficulty with balancing all the things that you’re trying to do.

A lot of young people today are struggling with ‘what should I do?’, ‘where should I go?’, ‘what should my career be?’ and my suggestion would always be to look within yourself and what really makes you happy, what really fulfills you. So find that and then pursue that, and you've got to pursue it with all you've got.


Eric Sperling: And you mentioned purpose and that’s something that you’re working on, that’s near and dear to you. I think the goal is what you told me is you want to be teaching a course maybe at over ASU on, you know, understanding purpose and figuring purpose out to young people, college kids. Can you tell me a little bit more about how that would work?

Mike McQuaid: Yeah, I think that and this is just something I’ve been thinking about as, as I’ve gotten kind of towards that may be the tail end of my career is in both worlds. But for me, it was fairly easy to do, but I don’t think it is for most to find a purpose in life. My purpose was always put my family first, but then try to do something to help somebody else, and my work in the nonprofit world has certainly helped me attain that success. A lot of young people today are struggling with ‘what should I do?’, ‘where should I go?’, ‘what should my career be?’ and my suggestion would always be to look within yourself and what really makes you happy, what really fulfills you. So find that and then pursue that, and you’ve got to pursue it with all you’ve got. You’ve got to set out to be a winner in that field and, feel good about it for yourself first and find that inner purpose in what you do.

Eric Sperling: And you’ve been around those young people, those early 20s. What about the ones that kind of lost at that age?

Mike McQuaid: Yeah, I think that when I’ve seen that, and we see that in the young people. Unfortunately, we have a very high degree of young adults 18 to 25, that we see experiencing homelessness and a lot of times it is involved with mental illness, drugs and alcohol, other things that they’re struggling with, and they tend to fall down the wrong path. And so the more that you can do at an early age to counterbalance that with strong positive influence and doing things you really like to do, I think will help with that. It’s something that I admire about my co-workers out the campus. We have a lot of young adults that work there. We have over 100 plus caseworkers and outreach workers and people that work at the front desk of our agencies. And they’re there because they really love what they’re doing, and they really want to help you when Eric first walks in the door, and he’s lost and doesn’t know what to do, you just see that these young people and I admired that greatly because they found their purpose at a young age.

How can I set a good example for others and be the kind of person and a leader that they potentially can be?


Eric Sperling: So you kind of what you’re talking to me about is that there’s a perfect combination happening to where the people who have found their purpose in helping the young 18-25 lost, but then also working for someone like you who have either been a mentor or inspired them on both sides to say, ‘Hey, this is what I want to do in my life and I love working for this guy.’ Tell me about your philosophies on leadership like what do you, what’s your message to your team? I know this is sort of like the agency conversation, how do you get them on board with what you’re trying to do?

Mike McQuaid: I think a lot of it is again, for me, at least, it’s leading by example. It’s really showing the way and kind of practice what you preach and that starts with how you treat everybody, whether it be at the campus or in business and how you treat people with dignity and respect, and you’re only always honest with them and you earn that respect back. And that works in both those worlds for profit or nonprofit and I think it’s something you have to work on. I don’t think it comes easily, at least it never has been for me, but I’ve tried to always kind of keep that in the forefront of my thinking is how can I set a good example for others that will follow and, and be the kind of person and a leader that they potentially can be.

It's the little things that maybe make a difference in your relationship with somebody.


Eric Sperling: And from what I’ve heard you do little things really well. I know some people who’ve played Little League for you and stories about you writing poems for each one of the players. That’s just something Little League coaches don’t do. But it’s a little thing that I know has made a big impact on some of the kids that you’ve coached over the years. I mean, would you say little things are extremely important to be creative and go outside of the norm to have a meaningful connection with somebody?

Mike McQuaid: I think that’s something I’ve always tried to do. It’s the little things that maybe make a difference in your relationship with somebody. I’ve always done that in sports, I’ve done that in business and I’ve done that certainly in the nonprofit world where just a note or just a card or just some, some small kind of meaningful message to that individual will really make a difference to them, and I’ve done that pretty much all my life. It’s something that comes to me easily but I think most people, if they just think about a little bit, how can they make it a little bit more personal. There’s a fine line between being buddy with your staff or employees and, and being just the boss, I’ve always tried to kind of bridge that and do a little of both and find a happy medium has worked for me.


Eric Sperling: And the other CEOs, leaders who’ve sat in that chair, I’ve heard them and you told me earlier too, you can spot leaders. It doesn’t take you very long to sit with somebody whether it’s half hour, and if you’re even in a group situation to point out that person’s got purpose. What are you looking for in that person?

Mike McQuaid: I think for me, I’ve always, I think had a little bit of an ability to do that. I’ve worked at it over the years, and in trying to read people and just by little things, what they say, how they act, their body language, I think is all part of it to where you can sense pretty quickly if this is someone is kind of understanding and getting you. Yeah, and if they are great, if not, then you got to kind of work on it and figure out a way to kind of work around that. But I think that’s something that I would advise most younger people as they’re getting into business or getting into careers is to really think about how to take a little bit extra time to listen, and listen to what people say, and from that listen to you can then kind of gauge where they are, and if they’re on the same page as you and your thinking.



Eric Sperling: Sounds like, you know, we’ve sort of come full circle in the conversation where you built your businesses on relationships, and that experience and understanding how to build relationships has also been sort of the key to you being a good leader because you can understand people and you can understand, you said empathy earlier and really understand where they’re coming from.

Mike McQuaid: Exactly, I think, no matter, and I just came from a board meeting down at the Human Services Campus and, and I’m one of the boards, the ones I enjoy tremendously is Thunderbird Charities board. I’m part of the Thunderbird charities organization and just seeing people around a table working together and doing good things for other people is just very, to me again, fulfilling and fits right into what I like.

Eric Sperling: Well, Mike, thanks for stopping by. Thank you again for everything you do in this community.

Mike McQuaid: Thank you.

Eric Sperling: Amazing stuff. Thank you, Mike.

Mike McQuaid: Thank you, Eric.

Eric Sperling: And we’ll see you next time.

Mike McQuaid: All right. Thank you.