Miller Electric Company: Foundation of core values
For over 80 years, Miller Electric has grown from its roots as a local electrical contractor to a market leading company with a diversified range of services. The company has evolved over time to offer services in addition to its core electrical contracting, including integrated systems such as maintenance solutions, monitoring and security systems.
“We work with clients on the entire lifecycle of their energy systems,” says Henry Brown, CEO of Miller Electric. “It’s about identifying issues and working with clients to provide turn-key energy solutions that allow them to unlock savings and potential in their facilities.”
But despite the growth and diversification of the company over the years, Miller Electric, through Brown’s stewardship, keeps one important philosophy at the heart of the business.
“The company takes a long-term approach to everything, both customers and employees. This allows us to develop trusting relationships where employees, customer and vendors can all work together toward collaborative solutions,” he says.
Brown has been a part of Miller Electric Company for 16 years, working his way up through the company in a variety of roles before being offered the position of CEO, but the company has been a part of his life for much longer.
Along with his brother and COO Daniel, Brown represents the third generation of ownership of the company, following in the footsteps of his mother, Susan Walden, and his uncle, Ron Autrey, who in turn followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, H.E. “Buck” Autrey.
It is this journey through the company, almost from the ground up, that has allowed Brown to lead the company into the future with a ‘new lens’.
Officially entering the company in 2001 in an accountancy role, over the years Brown worked through legal, risk management as well as strategy roles, establishing key relationships and understanding of the way the business works.
“I was able to build deep relationships with so many of our project managers and team members; learning from them and identifying our strengths and weaknesses, what we did well as a company and what we didn’t,” he says.
Now as CEO, Brown works closely with his executive leadership team, developing and leading strategy, working to better understand challenges, opportunities and guiding the organisation into a better future.
Brown has identified key goals for the company, namely strengthening its presence across the country. Expanding from its home base in Jacksonville, FL, the company has established a network of branch offices throughout the Southeast US, and beyond. In certain key markets, such as Tampa, Charlotte, Nashville and Birmingham, Brown plans to invest in those locations to become not only the number one player in the industry but also a major part of those communities.
In order to create those long-term, trusting relationships with clients and employees, Brown and his team oversaw the development and establishment of six core values.
Trust, collaboration, safety, quality, stewardship and community. These are the values that truly define Miller Electric Company, values that Brown works tirelessly to instil into everything the company does both internally and externally.
“Trust is really the core foundation of everything. The company is very transparent – we work open book with clients to ensure we are working towards the most cost effective approach,” he says.
This applies to employees as well. Miller Electric Company actively shares financial statements internally, so all employees are “in the loop” as to the company’s status.
“It’s the same with vendors, we want to establish open trusting relationships with them. We don’t want to be treated as a commodity, so we don’t treat vendors as a commodity,” Brown adds.
Safety and quality are “the price of admission” to Brown, but he is keen to stress that the company must focus on these elements in order to remain in business and these are still values Brown believes are core to the business.
“You can have all the trust in the world, but without a safe and quality operation – you have nothing,” he says.
One of the more important areas, and one that is close to the Brown’s heart, is stewardship. As a third-generation family business, Brown sees his role as “borrowing the company from the next generation. We are stewards of our clients and their money, but we are also stewards for the future generation.”
Following his move to CEO, Brown had a baptism of fire with the company. Miller Electric Company was locked into what Brown describes as one of the worst contracts in its history. The project was a large hotel addition and renovation project, with a general contractor, an owner and an unfamiliar construction type.
It was born out of the recession, where key errors were made and not recognised until the project was well underway.
“After we realised this was a catastrophic financial project, we had to rally a lot of the team together to finish the job,” says Brown.
Following the completion of the project, Brown and his team pulled together and made several key decisions that set up the company for the one it is today, one that works with the right clients and truly values its employees.
“We really picked apart the elements of what made that such a terrible contract and realised that they were buying our work as a commodity,” he says.
This has forced the company to shift its focus onto finding and working with customers that value and appreciate that long-term approach to quality and trusting relationships. It was this very moment that saw the core values of the company established, with Brown, his executive team and all employees to gain a better a richer understanding of the company.
“It allows us to build a cohesive strategy, where we know we are working towards the same goals and everybody has that consistent goal and consistent roadmap to achieve that goal,” he says.
Following such a major challenge and pivotal moment in the history and future of the company, a pathway was paved towards a leaner, smarter and more successful business. For Brown, over the last five years, Miller Electric Company has developed a number of key clients across 40 states at any given time. The major clients from five years ago are still a part of the portfolio, but they have been joined by new clients that fully appreciate and buy into the long-term trusting approach to quality.
Clients now use their working relationship with Miller Electric Company as a standard for relationships in their respective industries. This standard is a testament to Miller Electric’s quality of delivery, commitment to the core values and appreciation of the client.
“They use our relationship as a test to see if our model works in new markets, and in turn they take us with them. That in itself is a major win for us,” he says.
Miller Electric Company is a company that empowers its employees, approaching their careers with the same long-term approach as it does with their clients. The transparent open book relationship creates a culture of connectivity; the employees know exactly where they stand and how much they are valued by the leadership.
In the construction industry, finding the right people with the right talent is often recognised as the biggest constraint to growth. As a third-generation company, Miller Electric Company has second and even some third-generation employees on its books.
“This dedication and loyalty goes both ways creating employees that will go above and beyond for the client,” Brown says.
The challenge then, is replicating that committment going into the future. This is where partnerships with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) comes in with an apprenticeship programme, the Electrical Training Alliance that looks to create skilled employees to fill the skills gap.
“We invest heavily in our relationships with the IBEW and NECA, and in the Electrical Training Alliance. Our company president, David Long, focuses most of his time and energy on these industry relationships because we know they are a large part of our past and future success. As early as the apprenticeship program, we look for employees who can be leaders in the company. From foreman in the field, superintendents, or even employees moving into project management roles and executive ranks, many of them begin their career in the apprenticeship” Brown says.
“We take those and invest in leadership training, executive education and create a culture of continuous learning within the company.”
Of course, not every employee can come from the field and into management. Miller Electric Company also invests heavily in searching for the right college graduates or entrants from other industries to bring into the company and into a management training program.
“The short answer really is that we want to build an environment and provide opportunities that allows individuals to learn and grow, while being continuously challenged. We want people that want to be here,” explains Brown.
“This creates employees that have our culture engrained within them so deeply, it shines through in everything they do.”
Technology is rapidly transforming the construction industry, with the Internet of Things (IoT) changing building electrical systems in a big way.
Miller Electric Company is investing in this space to remain a leader in an ever-changing environment. “We try to stay at the forefront of this change and identify ways we can use IoT to help clients monitor and control facilities through IP based networks,” says Brown.
Miller Electric Company is installing lighting systems that are connected through IP networks as well as security systems and other building management systems.
“This enables clients to run their buildings as efficiently as possible. But then there’s also the opportunity to use information that comes from their buildings, harness it and run their overall operations better,” Brown continues.
The importance of staying ahead of the technological curve is key to maintaining the success garnered over 80 years and enabling success in the future. On this front, Brown hits the books.
“I try to read as much as possible, really paying attention to the other industries,” he says. “Generally, the construction industry lags behind when it comes to technology, so it’s about looking outside the four walls of construction and how the more advanced industries are working.”
It’s all well and good promising a long-term trusting relationship, one that is found on quality assurance, but as a construction company you are nothing without the work of vendors to help deliver on those promises.
For Miller Electric Company, this is no different. The company works with Graybar, a leading distributor of electrical, communications and data networking products. The company allows a flexible distribution model across the US, providing one point of contact to lead the account across the country in which the company is operating.
Graybar also provides a number of manufacturing partners for the company, manufacturers that Brown believes will “really go to bat” for Miller Electric Company.
Much like the relationship with clients, Brown looks to treat the supply chain with the same level of focus and value. “We want to be open, transparent and respectful, and want it to be a truly successful partnership for all involved,” he says.
“Our vendors, to me, are a large part of our competitive advantage. We have vendors who will walk through walls to get us what we need.”
As market leaders in the electrical construction space, a position solidified through generations of employees, core values including stewardship, Miller Electric Company can only look to the future.
Miller Electric Company works with a number of Fortune 500 companies that rely on the company and through the continuous work with IBEW and NECA, Brown envisions a future of sustained growth in the company’s ability to service those clients, all with the goal of remaining the “go-to” partner.
But, with eyes set firmly on growth, success and better services, Brown values one area of the business above all else.
“For me, the most important part is to continue to establish ourselves as the employer of choice in the markets in which we compete,” says Brown.
“To me that does not mean having a ping pong table in the office and a BBQ, it means creating opportunities where employees have meaningful engaged work, they feel good at what they do, they feel good about their company and they know they make a difference in what they do.”