It seems that Jerome Hoban, Alameda County Fair's newly-hired CEO, has spent a lifetime preparing for this position.
Jeb Bing of the Pleasanton Weekly recently reported that Hoban's previous decades with the Orange County Fair have included a wealth of experience in "master planning, facility maintenance, marketing, sales, community relations, sponsorships and competitive exhibits."
An earlier OC Fair & Event Center (OCFEC) press release explained that Hoban had served four years as OCFEC's Vice President of Operations. This entailed managing "a projects' budget of more than $30 million, 500 employees and contractors, and the operation of more than 100 events each year." He afterwards became the OC Fair & Event Center's CEO.
Hoban's educational credentials are no less impressive. His CEO biography lists the following accomplishments: an Executive Master's degree in Business Administration from Pepperdine University, a Bachelor's of Science degree in Agricultural Business, Marketing from California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, and graduation from the Public Assembly Facilities Management School (PAFMS).
However, his CEO-related education began long before official credentials were accrued. As a youngster, Hoban participated in Scouts, Future Farmers of America (FFA), and 4-H. He began learning leadership principles from his parents, from school teachers who went "above and beyond" to make sure that their students participated in county fairs, and from leaders of the youth organizations that he belonged to. Reflecting upon this background, Hoban stated:
"I realize now in hindsight that all this helped to create who I am. I admired the kind of people who made it an important thing in their lives to participate as leaders of these groups and I wanted to play some kind of significant role in my own way."
When asked about his own leadership style, Hoban readily replied, "I am certainly a learn-by-doing kind of guy. I've always been a hands-on person. When I was in 4-H, the Scouts and FFA, I learned by doing. Even my Ag-Business degree from Cal Poly was not just philosophy, but more learning from doing. Plus, all the while I was coming back to the fairgrounds and working every summer through high school and as a college undergrad."
Hoban continued, "When I went to Pepperdine, I was also working full time. What was interesting about it was that the entire two-year MBA experience revolved around studying the organization that I was actually working in. I wasn't just analyzing Fortune 500 companies, I was instead analyzing the fair and entertainment industry. I'd say that 100% of that was put to immediate use. The second I walked out of class I had an idea of what to do next at work."
This learning-by-doing became very much a part of Hoban's management success. He explained, "I come from the operational side of things. I like the management-by-walking-around model, the one that says to get out there and be among everybody in the trenches. Don't just manage from behind the desk - you can manage numbers that way, but it won't build teams."
And team-building is at the very core of what Hoban does. His way of accomplishing this task is rooted in a deep understanding of human nature. Spending quality time with team members and sharing in their everyday concerns incrementally builds trust, loyalty and predictability - the three essentials of Hoban's leadership philosophy.
He elaborated, "Being predictable in business is very significant. If your team knows where you're going, it can function very synergistically. For a CEO to be predictably unpredictable is not a good thing - people can't become leaders themselves if they're always wondering what the manager is about to do. If you yourself are loyal, trustworthy and predictable, then your team is going to be right with you. But you can't build these three things from behind the desk."
When asked how predictability and healthy change within an organization fit together, Hoban replied, "I think once you truly become a team, change becomes an inspiration for creativity. Change is a scary thing when everyone is on a different page. But if you're already functioning as a team, then change comes naturally and they [the team members] are willing to do what it takes to be successful."
Our conversation naturally flowed towards the big change that was about to occur: Hoban's new CEO position, which officially begins on May 20, 2013. He emphasized, "The Alameda County Fair is an extremely successful organization. They haven't hired me to come fix them, but to come participate with them and continue the legacy and the tradition that the fair has."
A recent article by Jeremy Thomas of the Bay Area News Group included this quote from the Alameda County Fair's board president Janet Lockhart: "With Jerome, we found someone young enough and enthusiastic enough, and with the real world experience... He can grow into a vision we have for the next 20 years."
When asked about this vision, Hoban referred to the mission statement in the "About Us" section of the fair's website. It reads as follows: "The mission of the Alameda County Fair Association is to assure the long-term viability of the Alameda County Fairgrounds, present an exceptional Annual Fair which celebrates the heritage and diversity of Alameda County, and provide year- round opportunities for facility usage."
Hoban said the excitement for him when reading this statement is that "they are on course." One of his first objectives will characteristically be "to join the team that's there and work closely with them in a manner that's not just behind the desk..." His experiences in Orange County of "moving around to many new challenges and teams" will serve him well in this regard.
Team-building will be external as well as internal. Hoban looks forward to also teaming up with the commercial and philanthropic sectors of the community. A major thrust will be to insure both economic and ethical viability. Hoban concluded, "Ethics is a long-term sustainable business practice... It's certainly worked for me in my career." Photo Courtesy of Gerry D / OaklandMofo.com