When Brother Mark McLaren (CA-TH ’69) was a sophomore at SDSU he knew there was more to college life than being a student athlete. He had earned a place on the Freshman crew team and the Dean’s list, but felt it was time to expand his social activities particularly during the several real estate downturns,” he said. “But it’s been a personally and financially rewarding profession. I have especially enjoyed the creative side of the business, where for example, you can take a rundown property and turn it into a successful business center.”
A key turning point in Mark’s career occurred when he partnered with a San Diego-based developer who specialized in the redevelopment of foreclosed office and industrial buildings in Austin, Texas. “It was a major transition and challenge for me, requiring weekly commutes from San Diego,” he said. “But I learned a great deal and it was a big boost to my overall success following the financial train wreck of the late 1980s and early 1990s in my home town.”
In addition to the many projects he coordinated in Texas, Mark also was responsible for overseeing development of numerous San Diego area buildings, including several in the Carlsbad Research Center.
Other professional milestones included his founding First Landmark Financial, a mortgage brokerage firm, and being appointed regional director of the Owens Financial Group (Walnut Creek), a large commercial private lender.
In 2010, Mark thought it was time to slow down, although he was reluctant to actually retire. “I had been working since high school and knew I wasn’t going to be able to just stop,” he said.“I didn’t want to have too much down time.”
As Mark was considering his next move, another door opened—a special chance to use his development experience and give back to the community. He was accustomed to volunteering for worthwhile causes, having already been involved with such groups as Junior Achievement, Downtown San Diego Rotary Club and their Camp Enterprise for students. He felt that his busy career had made it difficult for him to do enough for the community. So when the board of directors of the Monarch School—established for young people impacted by homelessness—asked for his help, he readily agreed.They wanted him to help coordinate the development of their new school in downtown San Diego. His initial commitment of a few hours a week soon evolved into the demanding role as the Facilities.
“I thought about rushing a fraternity and was considering ΣAE and a couple of others,” Mark recalled. “Mike Drake (CA-TH ‘68) and the late Tom Pittsford (CA-TH ‘67) convinced me that ΣAE was the way to go. I’ve never looked back.”
Mark quickly embraced the ΣAE brotherhood. “I enjoyed all of it so much,” he said. “It was a great experience, living and socializing with such a diverse group of guys.” He was also an active active. In addition to enjoying the occasional party, Mark helped Brother Mike Matson (CA-TH ’70) build our iconic lions and also served as pledge trainer with Dave Dibble (CA- TH ’69).
Upon graduation in 1969, he benefitted from the ΣAE network. Although Mark initially considered being a stockbroker or an attorney, he followed a different career path. “I decided to focus on financial analysis, which would capitalize on my economics major and math background. Brothers Dick Troncone (CA-TH ’65) and Pittsford were both with Union Bank in Los Angeles and said the bank had a great training program, so I decided to start my career there.”
After moving back to San Diego as a real estate lender for the bank, he had an opportunity to move into real estate development. “I was fascinated by the business and accepted an offer to join one of my borrowers in development. That was my start as a developer.”
Over a 40-year span, Mark has enjoyed success as a commercial property developer and investor, specializing in office buildings and retail centers throughout San Diego County. “Commercial development has definitely been challenging at times Committee chair and a 50-hour work week. “It was all consuming and at times very stressful, but the board and the kids were counting on the new school to open so it was most definitely worthwhile,” he emphasized.
After more than three years of work involving site location, entitlements, financing, fundraising, plan approvals and construction, the new Monarch School finally opened in East Village this past May. “I was very relieved when we had the ribbon cutting and the school actually started,” Mark said. “It was a great privilege to have been there to head up the school development. It is such a worthy cause and was a true labor of love for me.”
Of course, Mark is still not the retiring type. “I’m already restless and looking for something else to do part time,” he said.
Meanwhile, he has some extra hours to spend with Kathy (Little Sister of Minerva, Pi Phi), his wife of 44 years, his two adult sons and three grandchildren, all of whom live nearby. He’ll also be able to more fully enjoy his interests of golf, rough water swimming, traveling and wining/dining with his couples dinner group, whose members include brothers Troncone, Tom Gable (CA-TH ‘66) and Bob Cleator (CA-TH ‘67), and a “token” Sigma Chi. “We formed the group 40 years ago,” Mark explained. “It is yet another way that ΣAE has enriched my life. Through the fraternity I’ve developed a wonderful group of friends, many of whom I see at the monthly luncheons and Founders’ Day. I can say without reservation that ΣAE vastly improved the quality of my life.” ~ By David Robinson