March 10, 2023

Episode #71: Mark Dobson – Eight-Four

Mark Dobson has a wealth of experience in both the public and private sectors. He is an entrepreneur and a community leader. In January of 2019 Mark and Tina [his wife] launched Eighty-Four, LLC. – a real estate investment and development entity headquartered in Indiana. In the short time Eighty-Four, LLC has been in business, acquisitions have included Dollar Generals and Family Dollar Stores in Indiana, Michigan, and North Dakota. In addition to the investments in Single Tenant Net Lease Retail locations, a sale/leaseback of an Indiana based manufacturer was added to the portfolio.

Prior to the launch of Eighty-Four, LLC, Dobson served as President & CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County. During his tenure, Elkhart County saw unprecedented growth in jobs and investment. His efforts to attract new businesses and support those already in Elkhart County resulted in over $750,000,000 in new investment for the County. Because an adequately trained workforce is one of the keys to success of any Economic Development strategy, he collaborated with Horizon Education Alliance and Local Higher Education institutions to ensure Education and Commerce are collaborating to produce the best trained workforce in the region. Additionally, he served the Elevate Indiana Advisory Committee that is developing an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem for Northern Indiana. In 2018 the EDC collaborated with the Purdue Manufacturing Assistance Program to launch a workforce leadership series targeted to manufacturing supervisors. This was in response to business roundtables where management identified key challenges faced in the Elkhart County manufacturing environment. In addition to the job creation successes, he oversaw an annual budget of public and private funds. During his time leading the EDC of Elkhart County, annual budgets were consistently exceeded by his team’s fund-raising efforts.

Previous to his engagement with the EDC of Elkhart County, Dobson was the President & CEO of the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce. He focused on ensuring the Kosciusko Chamber was the Public Policy leader for the region. He also oversaw the absorption of Warsaw Community Development into the Chamber. And he was the President of the Northern Indiana Coalition of Chambers. Those experiences – and the execution of the Kosciusko Chamber Strategic Plan – earned Dobson the designation of 2014 Chamber Executive of the Year by the Indiana Chamber Executive Association.

Dobson also served the Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County where he established a Community Leader Forum and rebuilt the Public Policy Division. Prior to his service to that Chamber, Dobson served as the President of the St. Joseph County Commissioners. His two terms of service to the citizens of St. Joseph County were distinguished by his fiery advocacy for his constituents and a vision of reducing government influence on the people. His concept of Metro-Gov is still discussed when looking at ways to reduce the cost of delivery of government services.

His time in the private sector included a distinguished career in the Oil Industry and Real Estate. Dobson served B&R Oil Co., Inc. as its Vice President of Operations. B&R Oil was once the highest volume gasoline distributor in the nation for Phillips 66. The company also distributed Mobil Oil and Union 76 fuels in Indiana and Michigan. As Dobson turned to Real Estate, he earned International Diamond Elite status with Coldwell Banker for sales and marketing excellence.

Dobson holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Butler University with concentrations in Marketing and Management. He completed his Institute of Organizational Management training from the US Chamber in 2012. He earned the designation of Accredited Executive from the Indiana Chamber Executive Association in 2014. A believer in life-long learning, he also has been designated as a Master Petroleum Marketer by the Phillips 66 Marketing & Management Institute.

Dobson is an avid golfer and winter sport enthusiast. However, he is most proud of his family. He has been married to Tina for over 38 years. His son, Mitchell, is a Captain in the Air Force. And his daughter, Shelby, is a School Counselor in Whitko Community Schools.


hello this is coach Tim Campsall and I’m your host for the self-made as a myth make a difference together show where we’re talking with successful business owners to hear their stories of the journey to building their business and because we know that success in business doesn’t happen on our own we are taking some time to acknowledge and recognize the people who have helped us along the way today I’m excited to have a fellow business owner from Indiana with us my guest enjoys golfing as well as winter sports and he’s most proud of his children and their accomplishments so we’ll hear a little bit more about that in a minute here it is my pleasure to welcome Mark to the show today hello Mark Tim how are you today I’m fantastic thank you for asking hey let’s start with having you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit of your personal story like where you were born where you live about your family and uh and some of your hobbies so Mark Dobson I was actually born in Ottumwa Iowa so if you watch the show MASH you know where Ottumwa is or what you’re talking about uh moved around the Midwest as a kid uh family find that my father mother and father settled in South Bend Indiana area so I went to high school in South Bend Clay High School I was a Butler University here in Indiana grad and uh stayed pretty much for most of my working career in the South Bend Elkhart region just recently we moved to Fort Wayne Indiana area to actually move closer to where our daughter is how wonderful yeah so tell us about your your family so I’m uh I think we might be a rarity my wife and I have been married nearly 40 years congratulations yeah thank you we have a great time together we have a son who is a captain in the Air Force he’s a pilot I was actually an Air Force Academy grad and our daughter is a counselor in uh local high school area high school and middle school I was a teacher and uh saw a need for a little bit more in-depth uh engagement with her students and so she went back got a master’s degree from Butler as well and uh is now a counselor so both married one of them bringing our first grandchildren to us sometime this summer oh wow congrats now tell us about what winter sports do you like playing uh I will I love to snow ski although uh if you know Indiana there’s not a lot of places to do so but I also ride snowmobiles and I usually head up to the North Woods of Wisconsin to do so with some dear friends awesome I figure if Winter’s going to be honest we might as well be out in it and enjoy yes indeed where in Wisconsin do you go uh Presque Isle Wisconsin it’s right on the up border beautiful area absolutely stunning area fantastic awesome we were just up in the Wisconsin Dells this past weekend for a wedding nice very nice well one of my good friends that I ride with is lives right there right outside of the Dells and uh yeah beautiful area as well hey Mark tell us a funny story uh that your family likes to to share about you that you’d be willing to to let us all know about you know I was trying to think about that and I I couldn’t think of anything and then I I realized I I might be one of the most gullible people uh in terms if you’re gonna throw a surprise party I’m easy to get done I’ve had several uh occasions and my wife has been involved in most of them where there was an event held either in my honor or it was a birthday and yeah you know a milestone birthday and uh they got me five I had no idea I showed up with a big dumb grin on my face so I think they would all say I’m pretty gullible oh I love it Mark tell us how the business came about and at what point did you have the confidence that you could run your own business you know a great question we launched in 2019 uh we uh I had as you can see from my bio when I grow up I figured I’ll figure out what I want to do I’ve been in the oil business I’ve been in politics I’ve been a real estate agent or broker uh taught some courses I ran Chambers I’ve been a lobbyist so I’ve had a varied career and and come along around 2019 I had spent so much time working in Economic Development helping companies locate their sites and our community I had always been around real estate even when I was in the oil business I was developing convenience store sites around Northern Indiana and Southwest Michigan so it always just been around real estate but I had never really done it uh for my own bottom line and so 2019 happens I my wife and I had actually been on a spring break trip visiting our son helping him with some stuff around his new you know his first home and uh you know I told my wife I I have worked so many hours for so long I I think I would rather be doing things like this helping our children I’ve reached that point in my life and I think it’s time that we started something that uh would allow me to control my agenda better than in the past so I always I think perhaps it’s a bit of arrogance and and perhaps it’s confidence but I always felt that we would succeed based on my my past history yeah fantastic that’s awesome um that’s great that you uh you’re helping out your son with her home with his home my dad did that for me as well in my first home and wow what a difference it makes to to have that help well it’s just rewarding you know and you see how it changes you know your relationship with your with your children or your parent evolves over the years and you go from having to raise the child to seeing a young man who’s doing all the right things and if there was just something we could do to make his life a little bit easier we were more than happy to do so and and you know been able to do the same with my daughter as she and her husband moved into home so yeah yeah it’s it’s rewarding Mark tell us a little bit more about your company 84 and what do you guys do and how do you help folks so we are uh real estate uh investment and development entity uh currently we we are as you know we’re still just short of uh three years old or we’re just three years old and a little bit of Pocket Change we continue to build our foundation uh uh we built uh uh we acquired Dollar General and Family Dollar stores uh we helped uh a factory owner who was having some financial difficulty with a sale lease back and gave him an influx of cash and gave us a really solid industrial site so we have built ourselves to the point of where the foundation is very strong and now we look at how can we take uh the foundation and then start getting into a little bit riskier real estate adaptive reuse uh taking you know there’s a church building where looking at currently in the downtown Market that would be a really good conversion to housing perhaps housing with a little bit of a recreational space in it so um you know that’s where we’re evolving to at this point fantastic Mark share a story of where someone pushed you or inspired you that you could do it even though maybe you didn’t think you could and the impact that that person had on you kit you know it’s funny to say that and it’s the same story almost every time for me it actually goes back to my years at Butler um and people who know me would would laugh at this description but I was very shy uh very introverted uh didn’t speak out well really pretty average to below average grades I I’ve kidded it when I’ve made presentations that I was Butler’s most average student ever because that’s really you know the GPA was not where it ought to be uh but I had a sophomore year in entrepreneurship course and uh we were working through a why a business was failing it was a professor Nichols uh Archie Nichols was his name a fantastic guy God Rest his soul but we were working through the failure of this company that sold was trying to sell I should say uh heavy duty suitcase to carry snow skis and the ABS plastic foam padded 150 dollars at the time which in 1982 that’s a lot of money for something like that so we worked through that and uh at the time I was in a snow skier but my brother was and I remembered he used to carry a little velcro strap that he bought at the sporting goods store to strap his skis together when he carried them and I just made kind of a dumb observation that while my brother paid 3.25 cents for this strap that he uses I don’t see how 150 dollar case can compete with that and I remember Professor Nichols using a curse word that I won’t use in our podcast it’s in you’re a blanken genius you have figured out the problem and he from that point he took me under his wing and really pushed and encouraged uh entrepreneurship matter of fact he was a little bit discouraged when I went into Corporate America at first because he said you’re an entrepreneur and you you should this is what you should be doing so I I will think back you know that many years ago 40 years ago to Archie Nichols that really inspired me to to to grow in entrepreneurship what a wonderful story Mark what’s your biggest learning as a business owner I I think there’s a couple that that go together really well and one is to surround yourself with the best talent you can potentially find um don’t be afraid of people who are smarter than you more talented uh because they’re going to just make you grow that much more and then just as important uh Empower them to succeed and celebrate their success if you Empower those people with that kind of talent it’s amazing what they can do for your company what they can do for your personal growth it’s always been and that even goes back to Archie who as we were doing business planning used to say hire the best attorney hire the best accountant they always talked about hiring the best and that stuck with me it’s interesting how some people can be afraid of that or intimidated by what if my what if my employer my staff is smarter than me right it isn’t that a bad place to be as a business owner and and what you’re saying is not at all so just expand on that thought a little bit more well I mean uh God bless them we have just so much talent we have in our in our in our minds and and and I will joke and say my talent’s not very deep but if I have great people around me uh think how much more they can do for me and when I was running Chambers of Commerce I always had to have I tried to build teams that really excelled at what we did and those same people uh I used to make me look so good so somewhere in my bio you know you read that in 2014 I was chamber executive of the Year well that was a wonderful honor for me to receive and I have the plaque and I’m very proud of it but it was the team that made that happen by the things that the team were able to accomplish everybody doing their job so that the things that I want that I won the award or what the basis for the award I was able to work on and able to work with my team to succeed so I I really do believe you’ve got to put the best people you can around you yeah the reality is is there’s way too many things to be responsible for in running a business that we can’t be an expert at them all right so having subject matter experts who are yes smarter than us in those different areas become better overall yeah I absolutely agree Mark we know that business success doesn’t happen in isolation so tell us about one of uh the biggest challenges you’ve had in the last three years and and maybe a fellow business owner who came alongside and helped you to get through that yeah so uh we were fortunate blessed we started uh this company and what was considered a real estate buyers market right at the tail end of it so we were able to launch rapidly but then the challenge of sustaining that buyer’s market or finding opportunity became uh really uh uh quite a challenge and it’s rapidly turned to a seller’s market and so uh we were you know we’re not able to look at deals at the same level that when we first started so um making sure that uh that I didn’t let passion for sites or uh those sorts of things get in the way I went back to what I used to call my uh one of the people in my kitchen cabinet when I was elected official I stoled the term from a previous president and I had my kitchen cabinet people that I could rely on and I sat down with them and and we walked through you know why is this deal good why is this deal bad and he was you know the one who said be willing to walk away it’s not the right deal you have done nothing that has described to me why you should be buying this site walk away and you sometimes you need to hear that from somebody who can be that impartial uh voice that it’s absolutely needed yeah awesome um is it okay to share who that person is yeah his uh his ego is bigger than mine which is awesome gentleman’s name is Mark turner He’s with the South Bend Chocolate Company okay um he is probably one of the greatest entrepreneurs I’ve ever met and ever known wonderful uh if I I’m gonna kind of put you on the spot here if I asked you to pick three people in your business owner Journey that you’re most grateful for them being there to help you uh in your business’s growth who are those three people and how they help you that’s uh you know I’ve thought a lot about that and and I’ll even I’ll add a fourth um uh because while we didn’t always see eye to eye my father was the guy who taught me just do it right he would from a young age I was always told just do the right thing yeah even if it costs you do the right thing so that’s that’s the foundation of how we try to do things but I I do look back at a guy uh a gentleman’s name is Michael Pitts uh God Rest his soul Mike pass some years back but uh before I was running Chambers of Commerce Mike taught me the lobbying craft he he was an amazing talent and how to properly Lobby in such a way that was nonpartisan that accomplished what the entity he needed that he represented got done and I learned so much from Mike that uh to this day I still think back of how influential he was to me and this was in the 90s and then I was in uh chamber world you know starting in 2010 and we got a lot of things done and it was a lot of it was surrounded about what Mike taught me another gentleman who uh uh his name is Ray Brackett he was a Phillips 66 marketing uh person that called on our company and Ray taught me Grace Under Pressure um that that’s it’s so easy to fly off the handle I’m I’m a bit Irish and so you know I can I can get aggravated and I learned from Ray how how to function with such Grace with uh when there’s so much pressure and uh so he’s another one I’ve always considered a mentor and and then finally the third one would be my buddy uh Mark tarner he was part of my kitchen cabinet when I was in office he’s still a guy I talk deals out with at times and uh you know probably talk at least once every other month or even more frequent when the need is there wonderful well I I’m glad to hear that you have such a a strong bench or or what you call the kitchen cabinet that’s an awesome term you also talked a little bit about uh your your political career so I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you uh what did you do that’s so exciting well I was a local elected official and and really kind of a an accidental candidate uh at best I uh uh when I was in the oil business I did a lot of lobbying out of Washington DC on behalf of our company uh spent a lot of time uh doing uh zonings and just a lot of Engagement with public officials and uh happened to go one night to a meeting because I heard there was a state’s uh representative retiring um showed up at the meeting and I was asked if I would consider running for County Commissioner and uh we took some time my wife and I talked about it a lot I had no political experience but we went ahead and said yes to the ask was completely in over my head in terms of campaigning and even remember in one debate uh uh writing a note to my wife saying I just lost this debate and uh said somehow uh with a real Grassroots campaign we won uh it was in the minority party in the community so that created some challenges uh Indiana has a three commissioner structure so two were of the other party um but we did win and I uh

you know I I you you be careful because you don’t want to take too much credit but I think we got a lot accomplished in in the two terms that I served in terms of getting some real impactful Community things done and uh well you know it’s something that I was very proud of at times uh you know would if I could find an Avenue back in I probably would do it again very cool that’s awesome I I like the The Accidental description that you said yeah we were uh at that times we were outspent in both races ten to one oh wow um had a very negative campaign ran against me on my re-election and uh we chose uh that we would never go negative we learned a lot from uh then Governor Mitch Daniels that he never went negative in his campaign to be Governor it was always his positive vision and we just stayed focused on positive vision and uh I heard from a lot of people after the elections that that’s what swayed the even the opposition party then you know there was never any negative campaigning it was all about a positive vision for the community yeah awesome well people need to hear that positive right they people want to want to believe in something bigger than themselves and and want to have hope for the future and the way that politics is turning is is certainly not that indeed yeah indeed you know on a local level I think you’ll still find that strong character and that strong level of cooperation even if it happens to be opposite parties but yeah on a nationally Statewide and National basis it is ugly I agree Mark as you think about the next three to five years what are the biggest challenges that you see that you’re going to face in terms of getting to your goals and who are the types of people that you’re going to need to help you to achieve your goals so the challenge will be uh really is is scale you know we’re small in comparison to our competition we’re you know a mom-and-pop operation and some of the uh like when I look at the Fort Wayne area Market there’s some really fantastic real estate people in this market that have had a real impact and then there are even some folks that are similar to us in terms of their structure of their organization but their pockets are are very very deep so uh scaling up uh does create our challenge so when I look at you know how will we move forward um I again I go back to Archie Nichols hire the best I I need to make sure I have a banker that understands uh what we’re trying to accomplish and can bring me a menu of services that beats everybody else’s I need to have Brokers that understand what we’re trying to accomplish and bring us the kinds of deals that that you know are of Interest not that every single one is what we’ll need and then uh as as always I will need my partner which is my wife to continue to have my back and to continue to be my sounding board I a lot of folks don’t run ideas off their spouse if if my wife can’t explain back to me why we’re buying a site then I’m not doing my job as as a partner in this company with her right yeah I love that yeah and then um for me I know for sure that you know my wife is my is my support she’s my my solid strength you know there’s as a business owner there’s a lot of you know ups and downs and a little bit of roller coaster ride and I things kind of left field and yeah um she’s the one that keeps telling me that you know that I’ve got this and right that that she believes in me it’s like well if she believes in me then then I better figure out how to make this work yeah absolutely I uh and I I do have a dear friend who uh was very uh heavily impacted by the pandemic and I will say it was his family that pulled him out of it because he went through a significant amount of layoffs he he you know his business was deeply impacted and it was his family that that was his Rock and that you know pulled him through that that event that was really difficult so yeah uh any advice I would ever give to anybody getting the business is make sure your spouse is on board and make sure your spouse has your back yeah yes I like that you’ve got this that you hear from your wife because those are impactful words it can be Lonely at the Top as a business owner when when we work for someone else there’s always somebody we can go to to you know to to get some advice and somebody else who can make the final decision but as a business owner it can be very lonely you know that’s you know that’s fair very fair yeah last question here all right um Jim Rohn uh great author says that we become the average of the five people that we spend the most time with so as you think about that quote what advice would you have for business owners who are trying to do it on their own who think that they they don’t need help that they you know that they’re they don’t they shouldn’t ask other people’s advice what what what advice would you have for those folks well I would be blunt and tell them you’re wrong you do need other people um from the start of my career till now there has always been somebody that has been an advisor a sounding board I had competitors in the oil business that I could call and talk through issues uh might not you know you never wanted to get into competition but there were a lot of environmental regulations that you wanted to make sure you were doing right or we had just an example we had a A truck hit nobody hurt but actually lost a truck at a railroad track and I had competitors calling saying hey if you need our trucks we’re here for you um yeah I I think of my peers and friends who are in the business now we we talk quite frequently uh I’ve got a good friend from high school that took over a family business and he’s done a great job with it and he’ll call once in a while just to kind of walk through some things I know nothing of the printing business I uh you know it makes a great business card but there are things that you know your your peers your friends can help you with and absolutely reach out it is no sign of weakness matter of fact I think it’s a sign of weakness if you try to do it all on your own and you don’t reach out I uh yeah yeah I just absolutely reach out have a peer group a kitchen cabinet if you want to call it that or join an executive forum there are uh there’s a good group I’m not a part of it but there’s a real strong executive forum uh in the area and I know uh at least uh uh six or seven businessmen I know are part of that and do a great job together really help each other build each other up the the thing that a lot of folks don’t realize is that the challenges that we face in our business are very similar across Industries right and so to your point by talking it out loud with other people if two things typically happen first of all there’s a sense of relief of oh my goodness I’m not the only one that’s struggling with this right and and then the second thing is you there’s always somebody who is a couple steps ahead right or a couple steps behind so there’s a a natural helping of one another by sharing oh how did you get through that situation when you had it happen or right and and you can always help one another by sharing what’s going on and the things that you’re you’re you’re putting into place or the strategies that you’ve used and even if you don’t have that example just talking it out loud and sharing your opinion and and your the thoughts on how you would approach it inspires other people to to think differently and and always people walk away with answers to to the challenges that they’re facing by having others you know talk it out loud with them I I absolutely well said yes that’s that’s so true I can’t even think of times where talking through issues with peers uh trying to help them with their issue I end up helping myself and and you know coming up with my own answer when I I thought it was elusive so yeah yeah 100 that’s an awesome Point there’s a a lot of times we already have the answer within us we just don’t know that we do so having the opportunity to think it out loud helps us clarify our thoughts and and connect some dots and get to that oh yeah there’s the thing that I should do I didn’t realize right yeah absolutely mark it sounds like you’ve had some pretty incredible people in your life that you’ve been blessed to to have come alongside you in your journey as a business owner so if they were all here on the show with us today what would you want to say to them

thanks sounds so trite but I would want to tell them of the impact that they had that I would want to be able to share with them that if you look at that bio I don’t like talking a lot about uh my own success I I was taught to be a humble person but I would say if you look at that bio and if you think that bio has uh some relevance or some level of uh gold medal to it then you were a huge part of that because you were willing to invest in me and uh they a lot of times those folks they don’t realize they’re investing in you just watching Ray Brackett and his the complete Grace Under Pressure because Oil Business is a high pressure business and learning from somebody who knew how to be so gracious it’s impactful and so I I would just want to tell them I’m maybe I’m the amalgamation of the things that you did and you’re the reason I am where I am today that’s awesome thank you so much for that I I love the that picture that you just painted of you’re the amalgamation of each person’s investment into to you over the years that’s cool Mark it’s been a pleasure speaking with you today thank you so much for being on the show Tim thank you I appreciate your time very much everyone who tuned in thanks for listening to the self-made is a myth show with your host coach Tim cancel be sure to help us spread this Movement by liking uh the show and posting about us on social media and to join our movement go to be mad all right folks that’s a wrap make sure to pay it forward and I’ll see you all next time take care thanks Tim