In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Howard Stone, Chair of the Board of Trustees for Prince George's Community College. Howard shares the source of his passion for education, love for Leadership Greater Washington and commitment over the years to Prince George’s County, MD.
Also mentioned in this episode:
Ken Duncan, former council administrator Prince George’s County MD
Wayne Curry, former County executive for Prince George's County MD
Artis Hampshire-Cowan, Senior Fellow at Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges
Lionel Lockhart, former County Attorney for Prince George's County MD
All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten Book by Robert Fulghum
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More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website:
Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm really excited this week to be speaking with Howard Stone, who is affectionately known to people in Greater Washington DC area as Mr. Prince George's County, because of the numerous roles he has held in the county, including serving as Chief Administrative Officer under county executive Wayne Curry, and also being a big advocate of the county.
Howard is also a big advocate for education, and currently serves as chair of the Board of Trustees for Prince George's Community College.
Now, thank you all so very much for the positive comments you're sharing about the podcast, and your support. All I'm trying to do is shine a bright light on the magnificent journey of so many great leaders, what they have done, their struggles and how they have been able to become impactful so we can learn from their experiences and we can also become more impactful leaders.
So keep your feedback coming, partneringleadership.com. You can send me a message there or there is an icon for a microphone, you can leave me a voice message. Don't forget to follow or subscribe to the podcast. And if you choose Apple podcasts, please don't forget to leave a rating and review there. For now, here's my conversation with Howard Stone.
Howard Stone, welcome to the Partnering Leadership podcast.
Thank you Mahan and I'm pleased and humbled to be here.
You have been a wonderful example of leadership in this entire region, most especially in Prince George's County, and can't wait to find out a little bit about your leadership journey. Now you're a native to Washington, DC. And I'm just curious how your upbringing Howard impacted the kind of leader you have become.
I'm not only a native, I'm one of those rare breeds. I'm a third generation Washingtonian. And we're very few very far and few between. But I've learned a lot from family, especially my parents. And what I really learned, Mahan was, to those who have been given much, much is required.
And I guess that's been a tenet that I've lived by, that has always been the thing that keeps me going in public service and work that I do with nonprofits, because I feel that this is a rent that I have to pay for living on earth. And God has richly blessed me, not necessarily financially, but he's allowed me to experience some wonderful things. I've been in the presence of very powerful people, I have been able to travel throughout the world. And it's been just fortunate and everyone and I thank God for allowing me to be on this journey.
And you have lived up to those expectations of giving a lot to the community. Now I understand partly because of your family business, initially, you wanted to grow up and become a mortician.
My family had a business in Washington DC, it was John Ryan's funeral home. And it was fortunate because when you know, kids used to collect little postcards, I'd have postcards of the new models of caskets that were coming out.
Not that I wanted to be on the embalming side of the business, I thought that I would be the one that would persuade people to spin elaborate sums of money for a Homegoing or a funeral. And when I think back, God did not allow me to go into that business because I could have read some people's finances. I could see myself you know, I'm a talker. And you know, I'd say you know, your parents or your mama or your daddy would like that 20 or $30,000 coffin with all the frills. And I would have talked a lot of people into doing some things that they really can't afford to do. So it was fortunate, I did not pursue that.
You are a wonderful salesperson for all the different causes you've advocated. Now what took you to Rutgers to study political science?
It was interesting, Mahan, that was during the era that through conscious or wasn't really integration, that some of our larger and more established white inner universities were encouraging Black students to enter.
I had laid out that I was going to go to Howard University. I had all my parties all lined up for the year. And I just knew I was going to Howard. But my mother looked at me, she said, “I think you better think again. Howard's good. And, you know, I love Howard University and all my friends that are Bisons but they said I think you might do better.” I think I applied to two schools, the University of Delaware and Rutgers, and Rutgers having a fantastic reputation. I said, “Okay, I'll go to Rutgers.” But I did it begrudgingly. Because I just knew that I was going to be for hair for Howard and Howard homecoming, and all the festivities associated with that, but that didn't come to pass.
So that led me to go on the Banks of the Raritan, that’s where Rutgers are located in New Brunswick, New Jersey. And I have four wonderful years with one exception. My mother passed my senior year. And that that was a defining moment in my life, because my mother and I were very, very, very close. And when you saw my mother, you saw me and you saw me, you saw my mother. Like I said it was a defining moment in my life. Because while it took me a long time to deal with that, years later, I look back and I reflect and I think my mother is still watching over me. As our loved ones, when they depart this earth, they still watch over and you get angels in heaven.
I know that there's some things that I have done and my mother has looked out, she is still looking out for me. And my mother has been dead some 40 years now but that is what inspired me. And I also had an end that was a school teacher for 40 years in Prince George's County. And she was a great role model. And that's when the education bug began. And not only for mine, but making sure that these young people got at least a start and got a good education.
I know education has been a big part of something that you've been passionate about. I can tell you there is obviously an angel up in heaven that is really proud of you and the difference you have made on so many fronts, including education in Prince George's County. So what got you so engaged in Prince George's County, Howard?
Well, it was funny Mahan, when I was in grad school at American University, I went to the school of public administrative school government administration. And I happen to have been a TA when I was in graduate school and one night toward the end of my matriculation at American University, I was up at the campus and I saw there was a job opportunities bulletin. And I looked into job opportunities bulletin and I took the information. I think I took the bulletin off the wall. And they said they had an opening for an administrative assistant one, working for the Prince George's County Council. So I said, “You know, I think I'm applying for this job.” I applied for the job. Then I got an interview.
I remember going down Pennsylvania Avenue extended to Upper Marlboro. I walked in, and there was a fabulous woman who worked for one of the council members. And you know, I was sitting there fidgeting. And she said, “Listen, you're nervous, but you should not be nervous, because I think you are better than anybody else I've seen coming here for this interview. So don't be nervous, be yourself.”
And my first boss was a guy named Ken Duncan. He was the council administrator and he hired me, took me under his wing. And that began my journey and my saga in Prince George's County. I started working for the county in 1976. And then I felt, to have a true impact, I had to leave where I worked. So I decided to move out of the District of Columbia and I moved to 1977. And to tell you the truth, I haven't looked back.
You've been very impactful. And in Prince George's County, you ended up getting to know a person by the name of Wayne Curry that eventually became a magnificent county executive for Prince George's County.
Wayne, like I said he befriended me because at that time there were not that many people in Prince George's County that looked like either one of us. There was an immediate connection. And Wayne was so instrumental in my life that you know, I listened to him. He was my advisor. He was also a critic. And of course as people know, Wayne is no longer with us. He died in July six years ago of lung cancer. But he was the one who made me what I am today.
And I'll never forget Mahan, when Wayne first got elected, I was the chief of staff. And I felt it was my job to bring in candidates so we can fill that CAO position, Chief Administrative Officer.
So you know, I would bring about eight candidates in and Wayne would come up with some reason that he did not like the person. So one day we were talking, I said, “Well, Wayne, we've got to appoint the CAO.” And he looked me in my eyes and said, “There's only one person that can be CAO.” I said, “Well, who in the hell is that?” And he said, “You.”
And having grown through the ranks in Prince George's County, because I work for the council. Then I went to the help to be a legislative assistant for Steny Hoyer, I came back to the county, I was their cable administrator, and I sort of knew the government well, and it was true. So he said, “No, you, I want you to be my CAO.”
And the thought of running this government. It was terrifying but it was a challenge. Because we were coming in, Wayne was the first black county executive. And I said, we got to keep these trains running on time and we've got to do the work that we need to do for all the people in Prince George's County. Not just the black people, but the whole realm of Prince George's County, which is a diverse county. And so it was my job to make sure the trains ran on time. There were no issues with any ethical problems, legal problems.
And when Wayne Curry, when we came into the county government, we had a tremendous deficit. We had a $135 million deficit. We had to reorganize the government, we had the right size, we had to pass 26 pieces of legislation. We had to do a lot to deal with that deficit. And you know, in Wall Street, the analysts were looking at us saying, Okay, what are you going to do? Wayne went to Wall Street, and he told them his plan, that he was going to reorganize the government and do everything. And I think they doubted him. But after our first foray to Wall Street, I'll never forget the Washington magazine, the Sunday magazine and the Washington Post's had a picture of Wayne. And the caption was, he's not afraid.
So he had the bowl energy to lay out a plan and my job was to execute that plan. And, you know, I can honestly say that Wayne regarded the county's finances as his own personal checkbook. And he was a very stingy person. And while we inherited a $135 million deficit when Wayne left office, we left the County with $142 million surplus. So that shows you the tenacity and the type of person that Wayne Curry was.
And the people like you that he surrounded himself with. Now I know Howard, Wayne was also a big advocate for Leadership Greater Washington, which is an organization that has been close to your heart.
Yes, it was.
My understanding is you were a troublemaker when you got involved in Leadership Greater Washington.
Yes, Mahan and I just want to say Wayne was in the exalted first class of Leadership Washington. I was in the class of 1996. It was interesting. I came into the orientation and about 10 minutes later, I looked at us, okay, Howard, what have you gotten yourself into? Because there were 55 people in my class and I looked around and I said, “Oh, boy, this is gonna be interesting.”
And then I said, you know, most of the people in leadership Washington are type A people. We are all type-A people. Get it done, do it now, I'm in charge. And I said, this will never work because everybody knows I'm always in charge. And these other people think they are in charge too? No, this is not gonna work but I drank the Kool Aid, I started believing in the process and that began my lifelong affair with this wonderful organization.
And you mentioned what I did. We had our environmental day, and we went off to Great Falls. I admit I have an attention deficit disorder. So after about 15 minutes of people telling us about the environment and the rocks in the water and everything else. I said, Well, I'll never survive this. So I told a couple of my classmates I said, “There’s a place up here, I think it's called Old Angler’s Inn and we can sit out on the patio and drink beers.” And you know, while that's the place where the little ladies come in with their gloves, I said, “But we're gonna be outside on the patio drinking beers. And they said, “Well, we need to go there.”
And so somehow I persuaded all the class and the bus to take us to the Old Angler’s Inn. That's all we did the whole afternoon. And there's a person who has been very influential in my life. Her name is Artis Hampshire-Cowan. And on our way back to the city, I got a call. And she said to me, I want you in my office at 4:30 when you get back, I said, I'm feel like going to Howard, you know, and all this traffic. And so I was there at 4:30. And she proceeded to read me the riot act. And believe me, Artis did that Mahan. But I ended up getting on a board of directors. And four years later, I became Chair of this organization.
And so the mark of a troublemaker is that I don't say I'm a deliberate troublemaker but I've learned to question some things. And it was just like our diversity day, which is always a problem. And we disagree with Washington, because we want people to show their true feelings.
And then my year, we had two wonderful facilitators. But the class we needed to bond ourselves. So I calmly asked the facilitators to leave. And they looked at me and I said, “No, we can't do this with you observing. You got to leave.” They left. And we had a diversity day among ourselves. So some people call me a troublemaker. But you know, I sort of stand on principle and some God given insights or talents that I might have.
And you have used that for leadership, whether in Prince George's County Leadership Greater Washington and the entire region, Howard.
Now, obviously, you've also been very committed to education all throughout your career, including Prince George's Community College, serving as chair of Board of Trustees. And at one point, you served on the appointed Board of Education for school, and then you ran for an elected seat that you weren't able to get.
Yeah, I mean, that was what I call a defining moment in my life, because no one likes to be rejected. You know, I wanted to be loved universally. And I felt that that was people telling me that we don't love you.
But then when I got a chance to sit back and reflect upon, people had had an issue with the idea of an appointed school board. They felt that, given the democratic principles, the school board was to be a democratically elected venue. And so that's really was because they didn't want to have anything to do with anybody that has served on the appointed board.
So you know, I finally realized that but it was a very humbling experience. And like I said, I was going woe is me, woe is me. People don't love me. And I had to come to grips with that. Now, I care what people think. But being loved is nice. But I don't want people to necessarily love me, I want them to respect me for what I have done and what I continue to do, as long as God allows me to live on this earth.
It's great advice for all leaders and all of us. And you are very well loved too, Howard.
Now, who have been some of the people that you consider to have been most instrumental to your own leadership development and growth, Howard?
Howard Stone: Oh, of course, as I say, my parents, I have an aunt named Hester Henderson that was very instrumental. But I've met some people along the way. Certainly Artis Hampshire-Cowan. There's one woman who was no longer with us, Susan Hager, from Hager Sharp and certainly my mentor, Wayne Curry. Ken Duncan, the council administrator.
These are people that I have learned from and I'm going to tell you a little story. And I hope it's not too much but where I started my first job was working as administrative assistant for the county council. And so I used to spend hours staying up late at night. And we had a call we called the legislative officer, an attorney for the council. His name was Lionel Lockhart and he was a true Prince George's good old boy. And we used to talk late tonight about the history of Prince George's County, things that had happened and everything.
And one evening, Jim Lockhart looked at me and he said it just like this. He said, “Howard, you are good. You are a good colored fella.” And at first I sort of said “Oh, God.” But in his own way, he was paying a compliment, did I take offense to it? No. But by him saying that to me, it told me that I had an impact on him. And his views on what black people were and how black people operated and what they did.
And when I came to Prince George's County, it wasn't all warm and fuzzy places. But you know, in this and so in 40 years, it has become urbane, sophisticated, really diverse, a minority majority County. And we've accomplished a lot. We've done so many magnificent things. So you know, I'm proud to be a Prince Georgian. And that's why when people, a lot of people use PG, and I correct them on the spot. I said, I don't know where PG County is. Now, if you ask me, I live in Prince George's County. And I'm proud to be a proud Prince Georgean.
That is absolutely wonderful, Howard.
Now, if you were to reflect on your leadership journey, and give advice to a younger Howard and younger leaders that want to be as impactful as you've been throughout your career, whether in Prince George's County and the entire region, what advice would you give?
There's a book and it's not a big book, you can just know, you can read it in about an hour. It's called “All I learned in life I learned in Kindergarten.” And I used to keep the tenets, I still keep them everywhere at work, I keep them on my wall in my office. But those were the basic rules, the skills of socialization, when you go out in the world of wonder, you hold hands. Warm cookies, and milk are good for you. And you don't hit people.
But that book helped me and it's not a big oratorical one. It's not a treatise on anything, but it teaches you the basic demands of being a person, trying to be a good citizen, and doing the things you have to do.
As I'm approaching my retirement, I haven't decided when, that's sort of uppermost in my mind now and, and people will tell me, “Howard, you need to share your wisdom with others.” And now, it's my quest to deal with some of the young administrators I see in the government and take them under my wing and try to tutor them, and it's impossible to give them everything. But when I see things go wrong, I'll say “No, no, no, no.”
And so that's why I say, there'll be a lot of people in Prince George's County that might say, “Boy, I'll be glad when that old man is gone.” Because, you know, I'm critical. I believe in certain ways things are done. I believe things need to be done professionally, ethically, and it pays off in the end.
Well, Howard Stone, I really appreciate the wisdom that you shared with the Partnering Leadership community, the leadership that you've shown in Prince George's County, and in this entire region, and the example you have set for leaders to follow.
Thank you so much for this conversation Howard.
Well, Mahan, it has been a pleasure, Mr. Chair, because you have inherited a great organization, one that I dearly love, and you have been a fantastic chair and not only a fantastic chair, but somebody I can call and you know, if I have an issue, I'll call you and tell you and you've been open and honest, and I just appreciate you. So it's a mutual admiration society Mahan, but you know, I appreciate spending this time with you and I'm just humbled.
Much love back to you, Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.
Chair of the Board of Trustees for Prince George's Community College
As a Washington, D.C. native he has previously held the positions of Chief Administrative Officer under County Executive Wayne K. Curry, Legislative Assistant to Congressman Steny Hoyer and Executive Director Prince George’s Hospital Foundation. Howard holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and M.P.A. from American University.
Howard has also served the Greater Washington and Prince George's community in a service capacity, as the Chairman of the County Executive’s Advisory Board on Homelessness, Vice Chairman of Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee, and Founder and Vice President of the Family Crisis Center of Prince George’s County. He is the current Chair of the Board of Trustees for Prince George's Community College. Howard previously represented Leadership Greater Washington as the organization's former Board Chair and is a proud member of the Class of 1996.