Mark McDaniel is president and CEO of Cinnaire, a full-service community development financial organization, and oversees teams in nine states throughout the country. He is a well-known community partner and expert in his industry, but beyond the business side of McDaniel is a generous and passionate philanthropist, a dedicated husband and a caring father.
McDaniel found his place in the business world early in his career when an internship assignment turned out to be a kick-start to a lifelong passion.
“I studied urban planning at Michigan State University and did a summer internship in Kalamazoo with an engineering and architecture firm. They were working on affordable housing development and they sent me down to the public hearing for the project. I studied up on everything before I went and really dug into the research to show them how it fit within the market,” McDaniel said.” We were successful in getting the project approved and that process really got me hooked on the whole idea of what this area of work can do.”
McDaniel found success through hard work, passion and perseverance; key qualities he relied on when times got tough. McDaniel was laid off during the downturn in the 80s, and with a young family to support, McDaniel found what work he could, which led him back to the Lansing area.
“I started a market research division within that company and worked on affordable housing deals for a few years. But with the downturn in the 80s, all the Federal programs were cut and I was laid off. I was married at the time to my first wife and had a baby on the way, and I was desperate and unemployed for nine months. But I found ways to keep moving. I would knock on doors to rake leaves and mow lawns. I was making it work, but it was hard and scary. But ultimately going through all that brought me back to Lansing,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel found a new role in the Lansing area and poured himself into his work. He found new opportunities within the affordable housing market to partner with nonprofit organizations and worked to build morale in the workplace to show employees the impact they were making for families in the community. McDaniel stayed committed to these ideas and found his own voice and vision, which would be at the core of everything he did moving forward.
“I saw the opportunity to work with the nonprofit sector, where we could help them and they could help us on these development projects. I went to the owner and gave him the plan on how to make it work. I gave him a plan on how to keep morale up among the employees and that it was more than the idea of how many “boxes” they were building but rather showing them how many people they’ve helped,” McDaniel said. “To show them they are helping to give thousands of people safe, affordable places [to live]. And he bought into it for a while, but I remember when he said to me, ‘if you think that way, you’re never going to make any money.’ And that is when I knew I had to do something different.”
McDaniel stayed true to his vision and started his own company before joining an organization that saw the same opportunity in the market. But it wasn’t long before another unique opportunity came along and McDaniel took a risk that would change everything.
“I had been in my role for about 18 months when Jim Logue contacted me and asked if I’d consider coming to start this new nonprofit to solve a problem that MSHDA had at the time. After my divorce, Mary and I dated for six years and had just been engaged and had three little kids between us, and when I told her I had quit my job she decided that she wanted to stick with me even with the 50 percent pay cut and no set future,” McDaniel said. “She stuck with me, and now we have 88 employees in nine states. When we started, I wanted to do it right and treat people right and build a culture around doing the opposite of everything I had seen where I worked before.”
McDaniel succeeded, leading Cinnaire for nearly 26 years and creating a supportive and inspiring culture where each employee is motivated by lives changed rather than quotas met. McDaniel’s generous and passionate spirit has permeated every area of his life, as he encourages his employees to get involved in in the community and charities that matter to them. He matches their efforts in all of his countless charitable activities, donations and sponsorships. To McDaniel, bettering the community is personal.
“It’s personal to me. I believe people should be part of their community; be involved, make a difference; don’t just sit on the sidelines and complain,” McDaniel said. “We share that with our employees. We encourage them to find something they are passionate about and make a difference.”
McDaniel has done just that. He has supported numerous charities over the years, with a soft spot for children’s and veteran causes. On May 18, 2016, McDaniel was awarded the Children’s Advocate Award by the Michigan Children’s Trust Fund, a charity he has worked closely with for nine years. “We went to an event several years ago at the suggestion of a friend and had a ton of fun, but when we heard about the work the Trust Fund does for abused and neglected children and their focus on prevention, I really connected with that,” McDaniel said.
“We went from buying a few tickets to an event to being a top sponsor and board member, but I really wasn’t expecting anything. I was shocked when I heard about the award. I don’t do any of these things to win awards; I do it because I believe in it.”
And as much time, energy and support that McDaniel’s has provided children through charities, he has poured even more into his own children in his role as dad. Together with his wife, Mary, the couple has four children: Kelly, Jennifer, Michael and Matthew. Even though the CEO has found great success in his own right, his wish as a father is not that his children follow in his footsteps, but that they find their own passions and do the best they can to follow them.
“I never wanted to live my life through my kids or have them molded into another me. I see that happen with a lot of parents and the children resent it. We just wanted our kids to be happy and have passion for whatever they do. I remember my son Mike when he was young came to us and told us he wanted to be a garbage man. I asked him some questions about it and told him I thought it would be great to be a garbage man and that being one would be very important to the community. I told him if he was going to be one he needed to try and be the best garbage man that he could be. He got a big smile and felt good about it,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel notes though that as much as he worked to encourage and teach his children, they taught him valuable lessons as well.
“I think you have to love them unconditionally. It’s cliché, I know everyone says that, but with everything we have gone through, loving them unconditionally is really the most important thing. To be there for them, listen to them and stay connected. It is easy to think about yourself when times get tough, but when you realize they are going through the same and they are probably having a rougher time than you, you need to be there for them,” said McDaniel.
But McDaniel knows as a parent it takes so much more than love to make a household run, and would offer a little advice to other dads to embrace their role in the family to the fullest.
“We are in a reality now where fathers need to play an active role in the household, not just go to work and come home and have everything else handled by their spouses,” said McDaniel. “I still see dads who don’t see their role in sharing household duties like making meals, doing laundry, getting up with the kids at night when they are sick or as babies needing to be fed, cleaning the house, and taking their kids to appointments. I see many women struggle still to try and do all of these things with little support from their husbands. I don’t think it is a good reflection on us as men that we can be so helpless. Maybe being a single dad for quite a while made me realize what it takes to run a household. But I remember back when my mom made sure I knew how to cook, do laundry and clean the house when I was young. She always told me I had to be prepared to take care of myself and a family by having those skills.”
Taking time to reflect on his role as a leader, husband and father gave McDaniel a fresh perspective for this Father’s Day.
“Thinking through these questions, made me reflect on a lot of things I haven’t really had to verbalize before,” McDaniel said. “It got me thinking about a lot of my time as a father and husband. I’ve screwed up a lot over the years, but have tried my best to be the best dad I could be.”