Mark Miller: An interview by Bob Morris
Mark Miller is a business leader, best-selling author and communicator. He began his Chick-fil-A career working as an hourly team member in 1977. In 1978, Mark joined the corporate staff working in the warehouse and mailroom. Since that time, he has provided leadership for Corporate Communications, Field Operations, and Quality and Customer Satisfaction, and today he serves as the Vice President, Training and Development. During his time with Chick-fil-A, annual sales have grown to almost $4 billion. The company now has more than 1,500 restaurants in 38 states and the District of Columbia.
Mark began writing about a decade ago. He teamed up with Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One Minute Manager, to write The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do. Today, almost 400,000 copies of The Secret are in print, and it has been translated into more than 20 languages. Recently, he released The Secret of Teams that outlines some of the key lessons learned from a 20-year study on what makes some teams outperform the rest. His next book, Great Leaders Grow: Becoming a Leader for Life, is set for release in February 2012.
In addition to his writing, Mark loves speaking to leaders. Over the years, he’s traveled extensively around the world teaching for numerous international organizations. His theme is always the same: encouraging and equipping leaders. His topics include leadership, creativity, team building, and more. Mark has an active lifestyle. As a photographer, he enjoys shooting in some of the world’s hardest-to-reach places, including Mount Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp and the jungles of Rwanda.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of Mark Miller. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing The Secret and The Secret of Teams, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth?
Miller: My mom. She instilled in me early the idea of working hard to be my best.
Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development?
Miller: Dan Cathy, the current president of Chick-fil-A was one of my first supervisors. He’s modeled life-long learning for me for over three decades.
Morris: Was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) years ago that set you on the career course that you continue to follow? Please explain.
Miller: Dan has taught me many things over the years, but none had more lasting impact than the idea that your capacity to learn determines your capacity to lead.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to what you have accomplished thus far?
Miller: My formal education took a non-traditional path. I attended college at night while working on the Chick-fil-A staff. Since that time I’ve had some phenomenal educational experiences – one of the highlights for me was attending the 8-week Advanced Management Program at Harvard,
Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you to work for Chil-fil-A in 1977?
Miller: Everything rises and falls on leadership. Had I known this in 35 years ago, I would have become a student of leadership as a kid.
Morris: In you opinion, what differentiates Chil-fil-A from all other employers for which so many young people now work?
Miller: The success of our brand hinges on the business leader who operates each individual location. We are tireless in our efforts to get the right leader in each location. As a result, the more than 70,000 employees in the restaurants have the chance to work for some amazing leaders.
Morris: Based on your own experience as well as what you have learned from others, how to recognize high-potentials among all the young people whom Chick-fil-A hires?
Miller: It all starts with the point leader in the restaurant, we call them the Operator. We’ve noticed over the years that the best Operators attract the best people. As I said earlier, our success is determined by the local Operator.
Morris: On May 23, 1946, 25-year-old Truett Cathy and his younger brother Ben opened a restaurant called the Dwarf House at 461 South Central Avenue in Hapeville, Georgia, a small town south of Atlanta. With all due respect to what Ray Kroc and Dave Thomas achieved, how do you explain the fact that they have received far more attention as entrepreneurs than Truett Cathy has?
Miller: Truett chose a different path. Because he was not trying to build a big company, he could do things differently: Close on Sundays, all company-owned restaurants, be a privately owned company, etc. The result of these decisions, and others like them, was slower growth. I guess there are fewer news stories on slow and steady growth. A footnote on this point: In 2011 we surpassed $4 billion in sales for the first time and we’re debt-free. Not bad for slow and steady.
Morris: Of all the business books that you have read, from which have you learned the most valuable lessons? Please explain.
Miller: I’ve read more business books than I can count. My goal is to learn something from every one of them. I think I have. With that said, The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker continues to challenge me. It is one of the few business books that I read again and again.
Morris: When did you first meet Ken Blanchard and how did your relationship with him then develop?
Miller: Ken and I met when Chick-fil-A was considering him to speak at one of our events almost 15 years ago. He and I hit it off and the day of my first meeting with him I found myself at his home for lunch meeting his wife, Margie. We’ve worked on several projects over the years – Chick-fil-A projects, numerous book projects and we’ve worked together in the non-profit sector. He’s been a great friend and mentor for me.
Morris: How specifically have you applied his “One Minute” concept in your work at Chick-fil-A??
Miller: We created curriculum for our restaurants around Ken’s book, Leadership and the One Minute Manger. Some of our Operators say it is the best thing we’ve ever done for them. We’ve also had Ken conduct his Situational Leadership II workshop for our Operators and corporate staff.
Morris: Has it also proven helpful in personal situations? Please explain.
Miller: Ken’s ideas are powerful! He has an uncanny gift for making the complicated easy to understand and apply. So, once you get Situational Leadership, or any of his other ideas, you can apply them at home, or school, or church, or work. The ideas he tends to write about have a broad, if not universal application. That’s one reason he’s been so successful.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Mark cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites.
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