Person of the Year 2021 - Maher MasoMay 29, 2021 ● By Lisa Ferguson
On rare occasions when there is a brief lull in Maher Maso’s perpetually busy schedule, you may catch him on the rooftop pool deck at the Omni Hotel Frisco taking in the stunning views that can be had of the city’s ever-evolving skyline.
Peering out from this posh perch, it’s not the gleaming glass skyscrapers, rows of residential rooftops, sizable sports stadiums and towering construction cranes dotting the local landscape that impresses Mr. Maso, Frisco STYLE Magazine’s 2021 Person of the Year. Rather, what inspires his awe are the relationships that were forged, fostered and which have flourished as a result of the structures having been built here.
During his 16 years spent helping to lead the city – first as a member of the Frisco City Council from 2000-2007, followed by three terms as mayor from 2008-2017 – he worked alongside other civic and government leaders, educators and public- and private-industry professionals from around the globe. Together, they showed the owners and developers of multi-million-dollar sports franchises, state-of-the-art medical centers and sprawling office, residential and retail complexes, among others, why building in Frisco and becoming part of the community was a smart idea amid its continued transformation from a former farming town into the fastest-growing city in the nation.
“The reality is anybody can build anything. If you can afford it, it’s easy. What makes it successful … is the people,” Mr. Maso says. “When I look around, behind every (building) there is a story – every one has a relationship behind it. The building is just bricks and cement and steel. The key to the success of Frisco is the relationships.”
Since leaving office four years ago due to term limits, Mr. Maso has continued to serve unofficially as an ambassador for Frisco. In his current role as a principal of credits and incentives for Ryan, LLC, a global tax services and software provider, he works to bring companies to Frisco and elsewhere in North Texas. (“Granted, it’s for pay now,” he says of the private-sector position versus the work he did voluntarily as a council member and mayor).
“It’s satisfying to give back to the community. I love Frisco. … It’s a great community. If I were to walk away from Frisco, it’d be like walking away from my family and friends,” he says. “I built relationships, and you don’t drop them. … Those relationships didn’t die when I stopped being mayor, and the more successful Frisco is, the more those relationships prosper.”
Finding his footing
Mr. Maso was born the youngest of eight children in Madaba, Jordan, an ancient city that is a top destination for tourists who flock to St. George’s Church (where he was baptized decades ago) to view a Byzantine-era mosaic map of Holy Land sites. Seeking a better life in the U.S., the Maso family relocated to Seattle when Maher Maso was around 6 years old.
Despite the strong emphasis his parents placed on their children’s education, Mr. Maso said growing up he “had no plans” for his future. A sports enthusiast who played soccer and rode motorcycles for fun, “I didn’t think that far ahead,” he says.
Everything changed when, at age 20 and while attending college classes, he received a cancer diagnosis. Within a week, he underwent surgery. Monthly testing, including X-rays and bloodwork, continued for a couple of years, even after most of the Maso family relocated to North Texas in 1984.
Mr. Maso said his successful battle against the disease “was difficult. I didn’t really understand it, but the most eye-opening thing was seeing the suffering around you” that others endure. In retrospect, he says, the diagnosis “was probably the best thing that ever happened to me” as it “made me understand the human condition a little better – it made me think more about it.”
Rather than return to college, Mr. Maso dove head-first into his family’s businesses, which included owning and operating auto service stations, acquiring shopping centers, retail stores and other properties. In the early 1990s, he met and married his first wife, Val, with whom he has three children – son Brandon and daughters Alisa and Layna. The family called Carrollton and Plano home before moving to Frisco in 1992.
In those days, he estimates more than 6,000 people resided in the city. Farmland and dirt roads comprised the bulk of the local landscape, and the blinking traffic light at Preston Road and Main Street was the only one around. “It was a beautiful area,” Mr. Maso said. “We liked it. It felt in touch with everything we wanted.”
What he actually wanted was to build a circular driveway at the family’s new home in the Plantation Resort subdivision. After the homeowner’s association denied his construction request, Mr. Maso ran for a position on the HOA board. He eventually became its president (and, consequently, built the driveway of his dreams). His role on the board also served to raise his profile in the city.
Ready to serve
In the late ‘90s, he says fellow Frisco residents came to him requesting that he run for city council. “My response was, `What’s council?’ I didn’t know anything about government.” What he did know was that he was opposed to plans at the time to build a jetport near downtown Frisco. “I didn’t really have a position on anything because I didn’t know the city that well, but just enough to know I didn’t want that airport.”
He initially dismissed the idea of running for office. However, buoyed by the support of community members and his family, Mr. Maso entered the 1996 council race and was defeated. Four years later, the rallying cries began again for him to run for council, and he returned to the campaign trail. Pushing his youngest daughter, Layna, in a stroller, and followed by children Brandon and Alisa on their Rollerblades, the family knocked on doors throughout their neighborhood.
Their efforts were successful: In 2000, he was elected to the Frisco City Council. From 2002-2003, he was deputy mayor pro tem before serving as mayor pro tem from 2003-2007.
A decision Mr. Maso made early in his political career was to include his children in his council and mayoral activities as often as possible. “Every time I was up for re-election, I made a conscious decision to talk to the family and decide whether to run again or not. It was never a given,” he explains.
Over the years, the Maso children met state, national and world leaders. Daughter Layna, who played club soccer while growing up in Frisco and went on to study international affairs at Gordon College in Massachusetts, even posed for photos with President George W. Bush and the Dalai Lama.
She recalls her father “was always running from meetings in his suit in a hundred-degree heat to get to my soccer games, and I’d look over and see him sweating in the corner of the field. ... He stayed very busy, but he always tried to do something simple like come to my soccer games. He always put being a dad first, which is why he involved us so much in his political life.”
Son Brandon Maso, a Centennial High School graduate who now pilots cargo planes professionally, recalls riding with his father on a fire truck during a parade that made its way along Main Street. Being the child of a local politician “had its moments, good and bad,” he says. “You couldn’t get away with anything because … everyone knew who your dad was, but it had its perks, too.”
Mr. Maso’s early years on council were exciting ones as the city’s population swelled and its economic engine revved. The opening of Stonebriar Centre in 2001 was followed the next year by the groundbreaking for Riders Field (formerly Dr Pepper Ballpark), and in 2004 by the partnership between Frisco, Collin County, Frisco ISD and the Hunt Sports Group, which eventually brought pro-soccer’s FC Dallas to the city.
“It was good times,” he recalls of the era when 3,000 new homes were being built in Frisco each year.
Nevertheless, the decision to run for mayor in 2008 was not an easy one, he says. As was the case before he first ran for city council, initially Mr. Maso did not want to serve in the role. Once again bolstered by the support and encouragement of Frisconians, he threw his hat into the ring and was elected – in the midst of a national recession – for the first of three terms as Frisco’s mayor.
“It was a very difficult first couple of years” in office, Mr. Maso says, during which time he, the Frisco City Council, City Manager George Purefoy and others within local government worked closely to keep Frisco heading in the right direction, despite the economic downtown. “We knew people were out of jobs. It was a struggle.”
However, it also demonstrated “what can be done in adversity when you work together,” he says. “It was the whole community coming together saying, `We understand. We’re going to get this done. We’re going to figure this out together.’” The city continued to grow, albeit at a slightly slower clip. “We went from 3,000 new homes a year to 1,000. Unlike some other areas around the country … we were actually doing OK.”
Leading a city is a team effort, Mr. Maso reminds, and he is quick to credit others for Frisco’s numerous successes over the years. “You’ll notice there’s only one mayor. There’s six council members. There’s hundreds of volunteers that support them on commissions and boards. … Their roles are just as important as the mayor and council members.”
He says he “grew as a person” during his years spent working with Mr. Purefoy. The pair occasionally traveled together internationally while promoting the city. “We made a great team … and were pretty synced up on most issues and our approach to them.”
“He’s the best `people person’ that I know. He has a Ph.D. in networking,” Mr. Purefoy says of Mr. Maso. “He is always thinking (about) what’s best for the community and going out and trying to make contacts and do things that help to get projects for Frisco, and good outcomes for Frisco.”
Another challenge came in 2012, Mr. Maso says, with the city’s agreement with Exide Technologies to close the battery recycling plant, which he explains had fallen out of compliance with increased federal standards. For decades, the city grew around the plant. However, “the decisions (Exide was) making didn’t have the best interests of Frisco at heart,” he says.
Many of the plant’s employees were local residents who depended on their incomes. “Weighing the best outcome for the city of Frisco with the negative impact for those families was really stressful, really hard,” he says, “but I knew what the right decision was.”
Scoring for the city
The 2010s were years of tremendous growth and prosperity for Frisco, which enjoyed its status as the fastest-growing large city in the nation. From 2010 through 2019, its population increased 71.1 percent to reach more than 200,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Also, some of the city’s most significant modern-day development projects got underway or were completed during the decade. Most notably, in 2013, Frisco, Frisco ISD and the Dallas Cowboys organization announced a partnership on a development that would bring the corporate headquarters and training facility of “America’s Team” to the city.
The Star, featuring retail, dining, office and lodging space, is among the highlights of what was formerly referred to as Frisco’s “$5 Billion Mile,” situated along the Dallas North Tollway. The stretch also includes The Gate, Wade Park and Hall Park mixed-use projects.
Craig Hall, developer of Hall Park, describes Mr. Maso as “a very hard-working, straightforward, totally honest, honorable (and) just a great person to work with.” Over the years, the two have developed a personal friendship. “He really helped moved things forward in a very thoughtful manner that (has) continued to take Frisco in the direction of being a high-quality, great place to live and work.”
The city is also a great place to play – and watch – sports, courtesy of its affiliations with several professional- and minor-league teams including the Dallas Stars, Dallas Cowboys, FC Dallas, Frisco RoughRiders and Texas Legends. The Professional Golfers’ Association of America is set to open its headquarters here in 2022.
Mr. Maso credits the Jones family – including Dallas Cowboys Owner, President and General Manager Jerry Jones, and COO and Executive Vice President Stephen Jones – as well as Dan Hunt and the entire the Hunt family, which also brought the National Soccer Hall of Fame to Frisco, for forming solid partnerships with the city and Frisco ISD, whose student-athletes call The Ford Center and Toyota Stadium their home turf during games.
Stephen Jones calls Mr. Maso “a visionary. … We could see right away when we started rolling up our sleeves to visit with him and George Purefoy about The Star that we had a firecracker on our hands (with Mr. Maso) in terms of his can-do attitude. He wanted to grow and had a vision for Frisco. … There was nothing that was going to get in his way in terms of making sure that we could get a deal that was … good for Frisco, but also good for us. He never stopped pushing until we got it done.”
Jerry Jones says when he initially pondered plans for The Star years ago, “I didn’t have the scope of this project in mind. … We had our place at Valley Ranch and it was certainly a great office complex for what we needed as a football team. But the idea of becoming a part … of the image of Frisco in the future, I give (Mr. Maso) so much credit for.”
Mr. Jones says he was a bit uncertain about setting wheels in motion for The Star so soon after opening AT&T Stadium in Arlington. However, Mr. Maso’s “confidence and enthusiasm” changed his mind. “He was able to take me from the end of the heavy lifting – the stadium – and then moved me (to) … turnaround and do a project like The Star. That was a small-miracle turnaround,” he says. “He was such a great representative of the energy of the city, and I fed on that and it caused me to expand, in no uncertain terms, my vision and thought about what The Star might be.”
Mr. Maso is especially proud of the relationship that exists between the city and Frisco ISD. “The school district was a joy to work with (and) accomplished a lot,” he says. No other district in the country has experienced the same type of rapid,
significant growth as it has successfully navigated, he contends.
A proponent of education, during his time in office Mr. Maso frequently spoke at local school Career Day events and others, sharing his personal and professional stories with students. “To me, touching a child’s life was probably the most important thing I did.”
He also returned to the classroom as a student himself: After earning his bachelor’s degree, in 2008 he graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington with a master’s in business administration (he also earned a graduate certificate in Asian Business Studies). More recently, in 2018, he completed the University of Oklahoma’s Economic Development Institute Program. He also holds certifications from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
He hopes to continue his education in the future by earning a Ph.D., and would also like to teach someday. “I enjoy education that much, and that’s what I share with kids – that lifelong learning is important. I really believe that.”
Observing her father’s public- and private-sector careers provided Alisa (Maso) Hess quite an education – so much so that the Centennial High School and Kansas State University graduate entered the political realm as well. A former intern for late Congressman Sam Johnson, for the past five years she has worked for a bi-partisan government affairs consulting group in Washington, D.C.
“I’m really lucky to have somebody like him as a mentor and a father,” Mrs. Hess – who recently relocated back to Frisco and is expecting a child this summer with her husband, Chris – said of Mr. Maso. “Politics nowadays is so divisive, but my father has always been a unifier.”
Although “anyone can serve on council, serve as mayor,” she says, “to truly be as successful as he was, I think you really have to be passionate about the city. … He truly cares about the people and the city of Frisco.”
That is evident through the volunteer work Mr. Maso has done over the years while serving on the boards of numerous local, state and national organizations and committees, and the recognition he has received for his volunteer efforts.
Named Citizen of the Year in 2005 by the Frisco Chamber of Commerce, for 16 years he has volunteered with the Collin College Education Foundation, serving as a board member, past chair and executive committee member. He spent a year as president of the Metroplex Mayors Association, and for six years was an executive board member with the North Texas Commission. For nearly a decade, he served on the board of the Regional Transportation Council, and from 2008-2017 was the chief elected official for the North Central Texas Workforce Commission.
Formerly a commissioner on the state’s Red River Boundary Commission, in 2014 Mr. Maso served as a committee member on the Texas Municipal League’s Rights of Way Transportation Committee. For two years, he held the title of vice chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Sports Alliance, and previously was a governor-appointed board member and subcommittee chairman on the state’s Select Committee on Economic Development.
The latter was a particularly good fit for Mr. Maso who, after leaving the mayor’s office, spent more than a year serving as chief executive officer of the Prosper Economic Development Corporation, where he was tasked with rebuilding the organization and implementing economic development strategies for the town. “Showing people how to work together (in ways that are) financially advantageous to them is fun,” he says of his prowess for economic development work. “I like showing organizations how to do things uniquely, differently, by working together.”
Family and fun
When it comes to doing things differently, the relationship between Mr. Maso and his wife Cindy is proof that great things can happen when opposites attract. The couple, who first crossed paths at a Jimmy Buffett concert at Toyota Stadium, wed in December 2015.
Mr. Maso describes his wife, a freelance marketing professional and corporate-events planner, as being “down to earth. … She is very successful on her own, which I really like, and very organized. She loves structure, and I’m the exact opposite.”
As Frisco’s first lady, Mrs. Maso attended a plethora of events alongside her husband – sometimes several per day – and studied international protocols in preparation for meetings with world dignitaries, among other tasks. “I felt that my role … was to support him,” she says. “Back in the day, he went to every … invitation he received,” be it a scout-troop meeting or a groundbreaking ceremony. As the city continued to grow, “it got to a point where he couldn’t do everything anymore, but he was still trying.”
That’s indicative of Mr. Maso’s inability to give up on anything – or anyone. “He has this attitude, which I find infectious,” she says, “that you don’t fail, because if you make a decision and it does not work out, you figure it out, you pivot, you find a way to make it work. He doesn’t see failure.”
These days, Mrs. Maso says they are frequently approached by Frisconians who share stories about positive interactions they previously had with the mayor. “We get stopped regularly by people who say, `Thank you for your service.’ It’s been years” since he was in office, she reminds, “but they still recognize him, they still tell him they miss him. That’s heartwarming.”
The couple is “passionate about travel,” Mrs. Maso says, and has visited numerous locales within the U.S. and around the globe. “We’ve gotten to see some amazing places. We’ve ridden camels in Dubai. We’ve ridden elephants in Thailand.”
However, she is admittedly less fond of riding on the backs of the five motorcycles – dirt and street bikes among them – that Mr. Maso owns.
“I love anything with two wheels,” he says.
For years he has been a member of the Texas Cross Country Racing Association, with whom he has ridden and raced motorcycles. Mr. Maso enjoys the sport “because when you’re on a dirt bike … the riding we do is very difficult, so you can’t think about anything else. It clears your head.”
The pastime is not without its risks: In 2018, while riding along the Rainbow Trail portion of the TransAmerica Trail in Colorado, he crashed and tore a bicep tendon while attempting to upright his bike. The injury required surgery and a six-month recovery. He has since resumed riding and tackles long, technical rides monthly.
What lies ahead
Reflecting on his years in the mayor’s office, Mr. Maso says, “I woke up every day – and I still think this every day – how fortunate and lucky I was and honored to be allowed to be the mayor of Frisco.”
His favorite aspect of the job was meeting new people each day. “I’m not talking about presidents,” he says,
rather “normal people who have skills that you never knew they had, and experience and knowledge. I joke that I became the smartest man in Frisco because I got to meet so many people and learn so much.”
Would he consider a return to politics in the future?
“I get a lot of requests to run again,” he says. After twice claiming years ago not to have any interest in serving on the city council or as mayor, these days, “I won’t say no anymore” to the suggestion, he admits. However, “I really enjoy what I’m doing now.”
Nevertheless, he says, “Every time I see (a situation) that I can make a difference in, a little spark goes off. … Whenever I see something where I can make an impact, it does enter my mind. I loved what I did, so I can’t say I’m never going to do it again. Who knows what the future brings, but it’s not on the radar right now.”
Being Frisco’s mayor is “the best job in the world,” Mr. Maso contends, “because it’s local. You know the people you’re impacting and can see the impact you’re making. It’s so satisfying.”