NU alum and former HUD Secretary to lead nonprofit providing services to job seekers


(Source: Steve Preston)

Steve Preston (Weinberg ’82) was named as Goodwill International Industries, Inc.’s next president and CEO last week. Preston comes off a long and winding career as head of the Small Business Administration and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Avi Varghese, Reporter

Steve Preston has had a long and winding career. After eight years at Lehman Brothers, three at First Data Corporation and a nearly decade-long tenure at ServiceMaster, Preston was nominated by President George W. Bush as head of the Small Business Administration to clean up after its much-criticized initial response to Hurricane Katrina.

His main advice to Northwestern students: focus on developing new skills during college, and maintain that focus throughout their careers.

“I would have never known that I was going to start as a banker, go on to be a CFO, run government agencies, run companies and now lead one of the largest not-for-profit organizations in the country,” Preston said. “That’s a path I would have never known I was going to have, but each step that way, I was able to benefit from things that I had learned throughout my prior life.”

Preston (Weinberg ’82) was named as Goodwill International Industries’ next president and CEO last week. He will take over at the nonprofit — which uses revenues from more than 3,300 thrift stores to provide skill development, financial coaching and a variety of other services to job seekers — next January.

The 58-year-old spoke with The Daily from Puerto Rico, where he’s been working for Liberty Advisor Group as a consultant to an unnamed “large foundation” that aims to assist in redevelopment efforts after Hurricane Maria struck in 2017.

Preston was unanimously voted in as Small Business Administration administrator and headed the agency until 2008, when he was tapped to become Secretary of Housing and Urban Development after Secretary Alphonso Jackson resigned. He left the government sector with the arrival of the Obama administration, returning to corporate life for the next decade.

With his experience from the post-Katrina recovery at the Small Business Administration and his oversight during hurricanes Gustav and Ike, as well as continued post-Katrina efforts to rebuild public housing at HUD, Preston is uniquely positioned to understand the role of both business and government, in what he described as a complex situation with a number of funding sources and pathways. He’s meeting with government officials from Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico as well as other philanthropic organizations and NGOs on the ground to see how the foundation can best assist with the island’s recovery, from housing to power.

“The opportunities are massive and multifaceted, so part of this is figuring out where there’s an opportunity to be most effective in driving change for the people of Puerto Rico,” Preston said.

At Goodwill, Preston will preside over the company’s corporate component, which oversees 161 localized organizations. He said the structure of the company would provide a new challenge, but his experiences overseeing the launch of the Small Business Administration’s e200 Emerging Leaders initiative — which provides free entrepreneurship services and training to cohorts of companies in underserved cities — made him enthusiastic about the possibilities.

“(Overseeing Goodwill) is more akin to being a franchisor, where you’ve got the individual organizations that actually run themselves but you’re providing all kinds of support… that they may not be able to do as a local organization,” Preston said. ”You’ll be able to see people doing really innovative, inventive things on the ground that we can then leverage and show other people.”

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