Inside Track, Real Estate, and Technology

Kicking her comfort zone to the curb

September 17, 2012
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Michele M. Miller’s career has sometimes taken her to far-flung regions of the world, yet deep within, there’s a part of her that’s akin to Dorothy wanting to return to her beloved Kansas.

For Miller, there’s no place like home when she can surround herself with the soothing sounds of water, relaxing on the shore of a lake. As for the white stuff Michigan is known for in the winter, forget it.

“I’m not a big fan of the heavy snowfalls, but I like the Great Lakes and access to four of my six children who live in Michigan,” said Miller. “I enjoy the tranquility of the Great Lakes. I’m not a big fan of swimming all the time — it tends to be a little too cold for me — but I enjoy the relaxation.”

She also enjoys stage productions and has high praise for live theater in Grand Rapids, musicals in particular.

“I’ve gone to plays in New York City, Miller Auditorium (in Kalamazoo) and Lansing, but I like the proximity of being able to go to Grand Rapids,” Miller said.

“They’re excellent. They're absolutely on par with Broadway theater. I really enjoy musicals. I used to be a member of the Broadway theater group in Fort Wayne, Ind., but had to give my tickets away because I was always on the road. I’ve seen ‘Beauty and the Beast’ three times and absolutely love it.”

That said, it would be inaccurate to characterize Miller as an entrenched homebody.

Now director of shared services and outsourcing advisory for KPMG, Miller has accumulated 20-plus years of experience with client relationship management, service delivery, governance, and program and project management, with an emphasis on information technology, call center/service desk and end-user support.

KPMG is a global network of professional firms providing audit, advisory and tax services. It is one of the largest professional services companies in the world. The company ranked No. 1 on the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals 2012 list of the world’s best outsourcing advisors. KPMG was established by H. Ross Perot in 1962 and acquired by Hewlett-Packard Co. in 2008.

MICHELE M. MILLER

Company: KPMG
Position: Director of Shared Services and Outsourcing Advisory
Age: 53
Birthplace: Owosso
Residence: Grand Rapids Township
Family: Husband, Ronald; six adult children and one grandson.
Business/Community Involvement: Executive membership, Inforum; professional member, Athena International.
Biggest Career Break: Changing careers in 1994 when she moved from real estate development/management to information technology and began a 10-year career with EDS, now Hewlett-Packard.

Miller said she pushed the career envelope when she decided to switch from her profession in real estate development and management, a role she held from 1981-1994, to launch a career in information technology.

Her current role at KPMG relies on the skills and knowledge she gained during her 10 years with Electronic Data Systems, where she worked from 1994-2004. EDS was acquired in January 2004 by EquaTerra, an advisory services firm in information technology and business process transformation. Miller remained with EquaTerra until KPMG acquired it in February 2011.

EDS invested a great deal in her continued education, she said, and she was assigned international and national clients that broadened her business acumen and cultural experiences.

“Going into IT afforded me the opportunity to explore different challenges of leadership and travel the world for consulting,” she said. “I’m constantly working with clients to assess opportunities to improvement their business management and IT environments.”

Miller’s cadre of strengths and skills includes being adaptable to change. Working for KPMG is, in Miller’s estimation, a hand-in-glove fit because the company supports continued growth and development.

Miller is the type of person who enjoys kicking her comfort zone to the curb.

“I thrive on that,” said Miller. “Traveling to different states, maneuvering through different cities and working with a variety of clients who want to outsource services for a particular functional area: I assess their environments and tell them if there’s a viable option for them. I change clients every six weeks to 16 months.”

Miller credits her hard-charging determination with parents who always thought she could do whatever she put her mind to. They expected her to avoid dipping into the shallow waters of education and employment.

“My parents were not wealthy and had to work hard,” said Miller. “Consequently, they instilled a solid work ethic in me, as they did my older sisters, and while I would like to think I was career minded in the beginning, it was more a result of the need to survive and raise my family that I sought out the opportunities and took the risks necessary to get where I am today.”

Miller added she learned from her father, who earned his living as a truck driver, not to whine about whoever was providing her paycheck at the time.

“My father used to say, ‘We don’t bad-mouth anybody. If you’re unhappy, find another opportunity where you’re happy. You’re paid to work and you do the job you’re paid for.’

“My parents had a lot of integrity and instilled that in me,” she said.

Along the way, there were others besides her parents who played a role in helping her pursue a successful career.

“There have also been mentors that provided guidance in developing relationships, following through on commitments and expectations, and finding my footing,” continued Miller.

“They include Joel Altman and Tom Runquist, whom I spent a total of 10 years with in real estate development and management, followed by William Carroll who was one of my first managers at EDS, and finally, my KPMG colleagues Glenn Davidson, Charles Collier and Mark Voytek, who play a significant role in my ability to achieve my goals and objectives within KPMG.”

Miller also believes in paying it forward to up-and-comers.

“I have been a mentor — a career counselor who’s shared my experience with people who report to me,” she said.

To be sure, success in life requires its share of self-determination, said Miller, but she also believes there’s an undefined puppet master that decides the circumstances that make it possible for a person to achieve.

“Fate always plays a part in somebody’s lives,” Miller said. “I feel fate plays a role in the opportunities that are presented to you in life, but I believe free will is what allows you to take advantage of those opportunities. I don’t think fate has control of things over me.”

As such, she does less hand-wringing over possible outcomes than she did earlier in her life.

“I used to think about the ‘what-ifs,’ but that really became a waste of time,” said Miller. “I’d rather think about the ‘how’ I am going to achieve something I have set my mind to, knowing that it is up to me to see it through.”

As fate would have it, Miller’s first job was working the counter as a waitress at a donut/coffee shop in Owosso, starting when she was 12 years old. The name of the now-shuttered eatery was Ichiban, which means first or No. 1 in Japanese. She worked there full time in the summer and part time weekends during the school year.

It’s clearly a far cry from the work Miller is involved with now, but she still feels there is some cross fertilization of life’s lessons that remain applicable today.

“I used customer service skills — the same skills I use today to support my clients,” she said. “Working there helped me to be accountable to somebody other than my family.”

But don’t expect to meet Miller over coffee and those small fried cakes of sweetened dough.

“I can’t eat donuts,” she said. “You start to age and you can’t eat anything.”

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