Student Stories

Tim Houle

Conducting Service: Tim Houle DPA ’16

At the Minnesota City/County Management Association’s (MCMA) May 2016 Annual Conference, Tim Houle, Doctorate of Public Administration (DPA) ’16, received the Dr. Robert A. Barrett Award for Management Excellence. And from the way things have been going in Crow Wing County, Minnesota, where Houle has been the county administrator since 2008, it is not difficult to see why.

For six years in a row, there has been a property tax levy reduction in Crow Wing, Houle said. And not only that—according to surveys, 95.8 percent of customers are satisfied with the services they received, and county employees are more engaged than two-thirds of other county employees. Each of those measures would be pretty impressive on its own; having all three of them together is remarkable.

Houle is not one to claim ownership of this success, though.

“This does not occur in a vacuum; it could not have occurred without a great county board,” he said. “They have to make the tough decisions that allow this to happen. I have my own contributions, but this is a team sport.”

He compared his team to an orchestra, with the county board as the composers, and the county employees as the musicians, and himself as the conductor. “If the instruments aren’t able to play the same music in time with each other, all we have is noise. But when we can all play in harmony, that’s when we create something magical.”

Though Houle is reluctant to attribute so much success to his leadership abilities, he has by and far proven himself as a leader. In fact, his job history is riddled with the title of “president.” Despite the prevalence of that title, Houle has not let it detract from what he knows leadership to be about—serving others.

Hamline’s school mantra is the John Wesley quote, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

To Houle, this quote perfectly encapsulates leadership. It also is one of the critical factors that kept Houle at Hamline through his bachelor’s (’85), master’s (’04), and doctoral degrees in public administration.

“Hamline’s ethos is all about good citizenship and service to others,” Houle said. “I think that’s one of the things that sets Hamline apart, that they teach that. It’s a remarkable quality.”

Houle has always had a passion for public service, but that is not the only reason he decided to pursue his doctorate.

“I completed my master’s, and, frankly, I enjoyed it,” Houle said. “I work in a fishbowl—I have a very transparent job, and it can be stressful. I found the master’s degree therapeutic, coming together with other practitioners and swapping stories. I was sharing, and I was learning. So when I got done, I wanted to just keep going because I enjoyed it.”

Having a doctorate has opened doors for Houle. When the public administration field first started out, practitioners rarely even held a master’s degree. Now, a master’s degree is a minimum requirement for most positions, so having a doctorate is a way to differentiate oneself in the field.

“There is no question I’m a better practitioner, a more reflective practitioner,” Houle said. “I have more tools in my toolbox and a stronger foundation.”

To incoming MPA and DPA students, Houle would say, “Learn for the sake of learning. Share whatever stories you can, take whatever stories you can and learn from them. Interestingly, if you do that, the grades work themselves out.”

Those stories and experiences have all cumulated for Houle in a career that he is passionate about; which, he says, is one of the best things in life one can ask for.

“My wish for my children is that they find an occupation they would do for nothing,” he said. “We should all be so lucky to be employed in doing what we love.”

To learn more about Hamline’s Master of Public Administration and Doctorate of Public Administration programs, visit the School of Business website or contact Graduate Admission.