Art of the Leader

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WWhen this interview occurred, COVID-19 was a very distant and quiet discussion in the country.  As you will be reading this in the month of April, this same disease now completely dominates our airwaves, discussions, and prayers.

During uncertain times and faced with adversity, citizens look to our leaders for guidance, a calming voice, and for decisions to be made that get them through the episode as safely and quickly as possible. When Tim Handren took the office of Mayor of Boerne last May, he had no idea that he would be tasked with guiding Boerne through perhaps one of the most unique and daunting chapters of its history.

Juggling his responsibilities to the City of Boerne along with his role as CEO of Santikos Entertainment, Handren has been given a most unique opportunity at leadership, though surely he would have chosen this to happen on someone else’s watch. However, at the time of this writing, we appear to be in very capable hands under his leadership.

Handren, a Lubbock native, had humble beginnings. He begins, “Mom and Dad were both in the Air Force and dad retired the year I was born. He went to work for the utility company so we were a blue collar family. It made for a very humble background as it was 6 kids, mom and dad in a 3 bedroom house with 2 bathrooms. It was humble but I never felt like I missed out on anything.”

A Straight-A student throughout his schooling, Handren entered college on several scholarships and it went south fast. He explains, “I had brothers and sisters in the petroleum industry, and I was going to go into that, but I flunked out and lost my scholarship my first year. I was partying too much, simply. I was in a service fraternity and we did service projects around the campus and we had this little office and it was more fun to hang out there than to go to class. I had no idea how college worked…and I was in classes that  didn’t understand and so I figured I should switch majors. I went to Math, Computer Science, and then Electrical Engineering – all in my 2nd year. It was a mess. I bailed out of everything because my plans clearly weren’t working for me. I ultimately went to Texas Tech in the Administration Information Services program. I was there for 6 months and I got a job offer from USAA in 1986.”

Handren dove into his new career and it paid dividends quickly. “I loved USAA. It was great. I moved quickly up the ranks and I was young (21). I used my programming skills and I was fairly entrepreneurial for my age. I started doing stuff that was impressing people and it moved me up quickly. I was the highest technical grade within 4 or 5 years so I was doing pretty well for my mid-20s.”  However, while taking night classes at St. Mary’s to finish his degree, tragedy struck Handren. He explains, “My sister died in her early 30s…and I was 24 at the time and that had a profound impact on me obviously. I had to really question ‘What is this thing called life’? So I took a lot of theology and philosophy at St. Mary’s along with my other studies. That was helpful to me. One of my favorite philosophy teachers had a big impact on me and he had a clever way of using theology and philosophy. To this day I credit that time in my life where I had to make a decision about what my life meant. Once I decided that, life got a little simpler.”

While Handren’s life was enjoying newfound simplicity, the process of coming to terms with his life would still be an ongoing one. He continues, “I had a different outlook on things. What is life really? I decided that it’s all about something called LOVE. It’s not the romantic love you might think of necessarily, it’s even deeper. I’m going to do what I love, I’m going to love who I am around, and I am going to love what I do. It became a passion for me. I heard this quote during this time in a dark period of my life: What a sad existence to live your life through the eyes of others. I love that. Quit putting on a show. Get rid of the pretense. If you’ve living for others, you’ll never satisfy that. That was pretty liberating to me and to figure out how to live my life and live it to the fullest.”

Handren and his wife Anne worked at USAA, and were wildly successful. So successful that he was named as successor to the CEO. However, Handren continues, “I’ve given this advice to people – if you aren’t really enjoying what you’re doing, life’s short and you should go find something that you enjoy. I wasn’t having a great time anymore at USAA. I looked at Anne in the middle of ‘06…and I said ‘that’s it. I’m done’. I retired when I was 41.”

This was not a small decision for Handren. He explains, “The board had already named me as a successor to the CEO job at that time, but – I am ME. I’m not a title in a company. That’s not how I define myself – I am defined by my character and integrity. I didn’t want to stay around and be miserable…sure, I could have had the big job but there’s more to life than a job. So I walked away from a lot. I left a lot on the table. But it was on my terms – I’m not bitter about any of it – it was just my decision.”

With a new retirement, the Handrens then focused on traveling extensively for the next 3 years and experienced many cultures from around the world. A chance discussion with a friend was an opportunity for Handren to build a start-up, and he took the chance. He laughs, “After about 4 happy hours he talked me into doing this and I said “95% of all startups fail, so let’s go fail.” I made a one page document of the rules and said my wife is the CFO – and we renamed the culture to Culture Service Growth. It was all about our culture as a company. Take care of employees, they grow, clients grow, we grow.” And grow it did. Into over 800 employees within 5 years and being listed as one of the fastest growing companies for 2 years in a row.

After selling that business in 2016, Handren discovered his next opportunity, at Santikos Entertainment. He continues, “I got on the Santikos Board about three and a half years ago now. 2017ish. I knew a couple of people on the Board, and they wanted a different perspective, and I said ‘Sure, I’ll do that’. I got engaged with them, and started helping the operations of the organization and in September of 2018 a change occurred and the Board asked me to step in as CEO. I said I would do that on an interim basis. A year and half later and I’m still doing it. I changed the culture in that company. I did a lot of other things, but streamlined the operations and took out a lot of costs…and I’ve had good success doing that. I enjoy putting a culture in place and allowing people to thrive. I wasn’t even an employee – I was just a consultant. In March of 2019 it was a decision point – are you going to find someone permanent or am I going to stay on? So I’ve been doing it ever since.”

After a year on City Council for Boerne, Handren began to identify more opportunities and ultimately ran for Mayor and was sworn in May of 2019. When asked how the balance has been with his professional career and his civic one, Handren answers quickly. “It’s been tough – I underestimated how much time this would take. I could easily spend less time here, but I don’t say no to anybody. When I have a blank spot, it’s always filled. I spend mornings in Boerne, have meetings here, and then run into Santikos and spend my hours there, try to leave there by 4pm most days, and will close out meetings late day here. Kiss my wife, go to bed, wake up at 4am to catch up with emails and get back after it. I’ve seen other mayors and I have realized I don’t have to say yes to every request I get, but I think it’s the right thing to do. But yes, it’s a lot of time.”

But as we have learned, Tim Handren doesn’t do it unless he’s loving it, so he’s also quick to speak to the positives. “My favorite part would have to be I believe we’re setting the trajectory for long term future planning. We haven’t done a good job of that so far. The numbers about incoming growth are scary. I know some people don’t like the growth, but the wheels are in motion and there’s nothing that can stop it. We’ve had one new road in 40 years – Herff Rd. No wonder traffic is bad. Most of the growth isn’t even in the city, but it’s going to take the brunt of it.  The transportation committee is doing good work on some of these things and some big decisions have to be made. Water issues are real. That’s a big deal. Putting in new rules for updating the Master Plan and it hasn’t been updated since ‘07. It’s like running a business and getting in place some structure that can help the community long term gets me excited. This is an important time in Boerne. A lot of things are changing. If we can put in the infrastructure people wise, that’s what I like doing.”

As he closes out year one of his two year term, Handren is hustling to accomplish his goals and have the impact he sought when he signed up. He continues, “I have fifteen months left as mayor – I haven’t contemplated what’s beyond that. I haven’t really planned out what I’m going to do. I don’t get hung up on having some long legacy as mayor or anything like that. If I can get a lot done in 2 years and be having fun and making a difference, then I ‘ll make that decision. This is a hard pace for me right now. I’m working to build up Santikos, and this is a lot of work. We have a lot going on there with expansions…and almost $100 million of real estate transactions going on there. There’s a lot on my plate. I want to make a big impact at Santikos, I want to make a big impact here, and then I want to get back to traveling with my wife. But I do maintain that I want to remedy five key areas in town: Communication. Master Plan Updates. UDC implemented. Traffic. And Water. If I can put a dent in those, I’ll think it a success.”

AUTHOR’S NOTE:
As mentioned above, I wrote this well before the COVID outbreak. So I was able to get a few minutes with Handren to add to this article and make it a little more timely.

Q: How are you feeling right now with everything?

A: (laughs) Well, I can tell you that this is not what I signed up for. I was supposed to do ribbon cuttings and give fun proclamations, not handle a global pandemic that is crippling our world. This has been nonstop here in town and at Santikos for the past 10 days. I take it with more seriousness than many people. I’m researching so much stuff than I never wanted to learn including my own role in this saga. Including the data. Including the 900+ things sent to me via email every day from folks here in town. I’m trying to take it in, and I’m not overwhelmed, but I’m keeping up. I’m making decisions that might not be popular…because I don’t care about re-election…they’re based on the data I can put together that are best for this town. I’m trying to communicate with regularity and sincerity, and I hope that people see that because I’m striving for them to see that I care.

Q: What do you think about those that might not like some of your decisions?

A: I want to be the most conservative mayor in history that went too far… and I’d rather be that than the guy that didn’t go far enough and a lot of people were hurt.

Q: Grade the City itself. How has it responded?

A: 95% of the town has responded with the right attitude. They’ve taken it serious, but you do have a small minority that don’t care. Some are parents that let kids run, or they just don’t think that this applies to them.  We have to prevent this stuff – the 5% are putting us at risk.

Q: Small businesses are being hurt badly. What can be done?

A: Politics is happening right now at a federal level and I find that frustrating. Some people thinks this is just politics, and it’s not. In the next two weeks, I really pray that the governmentt can put something together that recognizes the toll this is taking on the country and that they are here for us. We need a good package put together for those that have  been impacted…and I could then tell my 700 employees at Santikos that they didn’t lose their job, they just took a hiatus. I wish I could say that. So very much.

Q: When do you think this is over and life returns to normal?
A: I think that everything will be under control by summer. That’s not what some want to hear, but I think it’s reality.