Leadership guru Ram Charan noted, “Talent, as every leader knows, is the most essential ingredient of business success.” Good to Great author Jim Collins echoed the importance of people when he said “To build a successful organization and team you must get the right people on the bus.”
While most business leaders would agree with these statements, I have found that it is harder in reality to “walk the talk” of valuing the importance of people. One business owner told me, “My employees should just be happy they are getting a paycheck!” In contrast, visionary leaders understand the importance of people and act on it. Starbucks founder Howard Schultz is a great example of this. He recently announced that in addition to providing health insurance for part time employees, his company has partnered with Arizona State University to create a program to help his employees earn degrees for essentially no cost. He explained, “You cannot build long-term value for the shareholder, in my view, without building long-term value for your people.”
My interviewee this week, Hal Miller is one of those leaders that understands the value of people. Miller, a Jackson native, recently left his position as executive vice president of Miller Transporters Inc. to serve as president of the Mississippi Trucking Association. Miller had worked in his family business for over 30 years before joining the MTA full time. He had previously served as a board member for 22 years for the organization that serves over 320 members with a wide array of services. Miller shared with me that the trucking industry plays a vital role in the state’s economy and that 1 in 12 jobs are tied to the industry.
Miller brings a people-oriented perspective to the job. He shared, “My grandfather established a tradition of making sure people mattered in all of his decisions when he started the family business. I had the honor of working directly under two Millers, my uncle Scott and my cousin Lee. Both upheld that tradition started by my grandfather over 70 years ago. I try to make sure that plays a major role in my decision making whether it be the people employed within the association, the members, the employees of the industry as a whole as well as the general public that our industry interacts with every day.” Miller emphasized that his father, Hal Miller, who spent his career as a lawyer, influenced him as well on the importance of people. He noted, “My father has a plaque in his study at home that has been there since I was a child that reminds him daily of the value of people which states ‘People are important. We are God’s gift to one another.’”
I asked Miller about making the major career shift to leave the family business. He explained, “It was very difficult to make the decision to leave my family’s business as I am very proud of what Miller Transporters stands for and think very highly of all of the great people that worked with in that organization. However, being allowed to represent our industry as a whole was very exciting idea for me. Our industry has many wonderful stories of success and perseverance. The trucking industry represents the best of the best when it comes to down-to-earth hard-working people that live by very strong principles. To be allowed to provide support and advocacy for this group is indeed an honor.”
I have observed first hand Miller’s passion for putting people first, and I know that he “walks the talk” like other truly great leaders. I know that the MTA and many others will benefit from this conviction and his commitment to “doing the right thing.”
» Martin Willoughby is a business consultant and regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. He serves as Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC and can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.
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