Updated: Wed, 11/28/2012 - 00:59

Mark Toth: Head of School, St. Andrew's

Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News Mark Toth, Head of School, St. Andrew's on Wilmington Island.  Savannah Morning News
Savannah Morning News
Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News Mark Toth, Head of School, St. Andrew's on Wilmington Island.
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age

59

occupation

Head of School, St. Andrew’s

where he’s from

Mt. Clemmons, Mich.

family

Married to his wife, Mitzi; one son, Chase, who is a sophomore “student-athlete” at Michigan State University. One sister, Kris Flaury, lives in St. Clair Shores, Mich.

education

Bachelor’s degree in psychology, Michigan State University; master’s degree in labor and industrial relations, Michigan State University

what do you bring to St. Andrew’s?

“I believe, generally speaking, I have a wide variety of philosophies. There are a lot of things I do poorly. However, something I’m relatively good at is that I observe and translate, and do it in a diplomatic fashion that helps. It’s more of a world of abundance than a world of scarcity.”

first jobs

“In high school in the summers and even during school, I worked in factories; blue collar kinds of things. ... My father was a master contractor with his own business, John Toth & Sons, which he inherited from his father. I didn’t have a natural affinity towards that kind of work. In our extended family, I was one of the few that went to college. When I got there, I immediately had to work. I had enough money to get there, but not enough money to stay there. I painted dormitories and worked as a night receptionist when I first got to Michigan State. Later, I fell into a job as a resident assistant, which gave me my room and board.

business experience

Toth was recruited by Rockwell International after graduating in 1977. “The job market was tough, and I sent out about 100 job letters ... and proceeded to collect rejection letters from all these Fortune 500 companies.” He was hired as a college recruiter. “My first week on the job, I went to MIT, Dartmouth and Cornell. After about nine months I was promoted to a labor relations kind of job and relocated to Newcastle, Pa.”

After five years at Rockwell, he was hired by PepsiCo, as the Michigan Division’s Director of Labor Relations. He did well and moved up quickly, but had what he called an “epiphany.” “The epiphany was that labor relations wasn’t really for me. I am a world of abundance guy, not a world of scarcity guy ... (in) the labor relations and grievance process, people have to win and people have to lose. As I evolved with that, it was not my path. It wasn’t in alignment with my nature.”

After four years with PepsiCo, he was hired by Comerica Bank as director of employee relations. He worked for about three years in HR and about two years in a business unit within Comerica that he and a partner actually purchased.

“That was a second epiphany, to move from HR into business development for a very entrepreneurial business unit of Comerica. And I loved it. So in 1995, we spun off and called the company Great Lakes Strategies, LLC. So now we were entrepreneurs … I was essentially the chief strategist and bottle washer.”

During a five-year run, they grew the company to three divisions and for the next five years, GLS was named as one of Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s “Michigan’s Future Fifty.” Then, in 2001, Great Lakes Strategies, LLC won the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for the state of Michigan. Nine months later, they sold the GLS’s Benefits Division to Ceridian.

Toth worked at Ceridian for a couple of years and then retired for the first time at 48. He took a year off, and then worked for Hewitt Consulting as Marketing Manager for five years before retiring the second time.

how did you get to St. Andrew’s?

“My wife is from Perry, Ga. When we got married, I promised to bring her back home after 10 years of Michigan winters. When my son graduated from high school, we moved to our house at The Landings. A friend here in Savannah knew St. Andrew’s was in a search for a head of school and thought my business, HR and leadership experience would be beneficial to the school.”

He was offered the position and accepted Nov. 1, 2011. For the next seven months, he met with each faculty member one-on-one and over 300 families to gather perspective on the school and establish a Board of Visitors.

what is the Board of Visitors?

“The Board of Visitors consists of about 30 leaders and influencers in the Savannah landscape and meets twice a year. We had our first meeting here at St. Andrew’s where we largely presented my vision and “line of sight” for what we saw was the direction of the school … and in turn, asking them to think about how they could assist us in creating a higher degree of presence and relevancy here in Savannah.

“We are an International Baccalaureate (IB) school that has some very significant and relevant underpinnings of the “line of sight” Savannah is going down, which is increasingly international and globally minded.”

what do you see as your contribution to St. Andrew’s?

“I would bring a leadership style that is contrarian, in the sense I’m looking at how we bring (together) all of the constituent components of this school. What I’m really trying to do is not unlike synchronized rowing we saw in the Olympics.

“I am trying to get a lot of constituent groups to begin to share a vision of where we play, and move them forward in a kind of ‘lock step’ together. An element of what I do is internal administration, but more of what I would characterize as a bit of leadership development and transformational change kinds of conversations.

“When you bring in someone like me, the idea would be that I learn a bit more about the school and what makes it good and great, and in turn they learn a bit more about me over time.”

what is the shared vision?

“This school has a history of both tradition and innovation, and we talk about it being a perfect balance. We only have one earth. How are we going to leave it for the next generation? We have some things right now around curriculum heavily focused on sustainability, environmental and ecological issues. This is specifically the mission statement of the IB program and the learner profile.”

what changes would you like to see by this time next year?

“In some instances, making some tough but focused and disciplined decisions to support this vision. (The fact that) St. Andrew’s is the only school in the area that has an IB program tells us this is a place where we truly have something to offer … and to grow the school within the framework of the IB program.

“We learned from a college admissions perspective that the IB program is more highly regarded than the AP program. And the reason is…it is not teaching to a test to get a particular score on an SAT or ACT. It’s about the individual learning, how they learn, and being a detective in their own lives. When someone leaves here from the IB program, they may qualify to waive five or six college level courses. This translates to hard dollars in credit relief for families. The IB program has the opportunity for the student to get into the college program they want, and after they leave college, to get into the kind of company and profession they want.”

what do you do in your spare time?

Play golf, work out at the fitness center; boating. We are avid moviegoers.

last movie seen?

“The Bourne Legacy.” Likes classic movies that have a message, like “Rudy” or “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Stories of character and resilience.

last book read?

Reading Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs. Favorite books — “The World is Flat,” by Thomas Friedman. “Good to Great,” by Jim Collins. “Outliers,” by Malcolm Gladwell.

favorite quote?

I have a lot of them ...

“When all is said and done, more is said than done.” Lou Holtz

“Carpe Diem.” Horace

“Play Like A Champion Today.” Sign outside the Notre Dame locker room, attributed to Lou Holtz.

looking forward

“I believe that St. Andrew’s’ best days are ahead of it. I really believe we are the secret potion and … because of it (St. Andrew’s) being here, we are going to be able to turn over to the world somebody that is better from having been here. It would be too easy to say, here’s this Mark guy, and kind of in the spirit of ‘Good to Great,” he’s this transformational leader that has these arrows in his quiver and he’s going to in some way change things.

“And that’s not the truth at all. There are a lot of really fine things the school has done. I am just trying to help them recognize…that this is a time to do less and focus more on what really has made you great, and really suggest to anyone that wants to listen to that conversation, that it’s really about the importance of sticking to our knitting ... that all I’m trying to do is translate and observe what’s happened and pull it into something that we can rally around.”

Compiled by Mary Nestor Harper

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