Jody Greenstone Miller has a great level of appreciation and respect for the work done by the men and women at the White House.
She served as a White House fellow in the Treasury Department under former President George H.W. Bush and as a special assistant to former President Bill Clinton during his first administration.
“It’s not like any place I’ve ever been before,” Miller says of the building at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. “The most important thing I learned that has been critical is it’s the ultimate matrix organization in the sense that you have to lead by influence and by rolling up your sleeves and doing the work.”
Miller has had a diverse career doing just that through her work with Lehman Brothers, the Walt Disney Co. and Time-Life Television in addition to serving as legal counsel for former South Carolina Gov. Richard Riley.
These days, she is the founder, chairwoman and CEO at Business Talent Group LLC.
“Like a lot of businesses, you build the business you wish existed in the world,” Miller says. “I had experience after running Americast, which was a digital television joint venture with Disney and regional telephone companies. People were calling me to do consulting projects for interactive television because of that experience.”
The opportunities intrigued her, so she started to build teams using former consultants who were looking for projects to work on. The goal in each case would be to help companies build models to get work done both flexibly and cost-effectively.
“Before I knew it, I was doing this for a number of clients who were saying to me, ‘This is really interesting. What you’re doing is unique. It’s producing a better result than a lot of the traditional firms we would go to because you’re blending real-world experience with consulting expertise and it’s significantly less expensive,’” Miller says.
BTG has about 80 employees and has grown by 60 percent each of the past three years, which led Forbes to name the company to its list of America’s Most Promising Companies in 2015.
“We serve the crème de la crème of corporate America, as well as major private equity firms and major nonprofits,” Miller says.
As Miller says, the goal of many entrepreneurs is to build a company that allows you to take the skills you have and apply them for those who need the support. She was surprised at the level of responsiveness she got right from the start.
“The openness and interest of senior executives to take calls to just hear what we were doing,” Miller says. “That surprised me on the positive side. On the challenging side, it just takes a long time to build a business like this.”
One of the most challenging aspects was the fact that her company was delivering services that had not previously been available.
“If you went out into the world and said I want to hire a client service professional for a firm that specializes in bringing independent talent to companies for project-based work, that didn’t exist,” Miller says.
“We’re a new emerging category. It’s just a nice confluence that some of the skill sets that it takes to serve our clients are also useful in building a business. We have a lot of consultants in our business, so you can imagine we have a lot of good strategy discussions.”
When creating a new category or trying to help a company find direction to get to the next level of growth, it can be tricky to maintain focus. Overachieving entrepreneurs thrive on getting things done and moving on to the next task.
“It’s a challenge personally and a challenge for your company to keep your focus on the things that you’ve got to get right in order to move forward,” Miller says. “There are endless opportunities and this is true for any company. You could draw a long list of potential extensions or things that a company might do. You just can’t get spread too thin.”
Brainstorming and collecting ideas is a tried and true method for getting discussion points on the table. But you ultimately need a disciplined process to evaluate the ideas and make sure you pick the ones with the greatest potential return on investment, Miller says.
“When you are a little company, you all sit around and do it. As we grew, what we found is we need to establish our first corporate development function,” she says.
“They collect the ideas, they evaluate them and they make presentations. It’s part of the annual budget process. Which ones are we going to fund? Which ones are we going to really pursue? It starts with the brainstorming, but it’s got to end in a disciplined analysis.”
Empower with discipline
As she builds out her business at BTG, Miller says she continues to be cognizant of her own need to continue growing and developing as a leader.
“Every evening I write my list of things to do, near term, long term and really long term,” Miller says. “Every morning, I revise it and organize myself pretty carefully. It’s the screen that I look at for how I spend my time. At the highest level, I try to do the things that move the needle of the company that only I can do.”
The other things, she says, get pushed down in an intentional way to help her people continue their own development.
“I want to stretch people,” she says. “If there is something that I think somebody else in the company can do, than I would rather that they do it. If someone who is working with me doesn’t succeed, that’s my failure not to have helped them figure out how to be successful.”
At the end of the day, it’s a balancing act between conveying confidence and empowerment.
“It’s a balance between accessibility, but also inspiring confidence and making sure you’ve done what you can to make the whole company feel that they have reached their personal goals, as well as your corporate goals,” she says. ●
How to reach: Business Talent Group LLC, (310) 882-5460 or www.businesstalentgroup.com