Mills James embarks on a journey to be a stronger company


Ken Mills and Cameron James started Mills James, a creative media company with offices and production facilities in Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, more than three decades ago. Today, a team of five managing partners runs the business that fully transitioned into an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, in 2014.

Cameron, president and CEO, says the founders try to let others in the company make decisions and run the business, while still sharing their experiences. But, he admits, it’s been hard to let go.

“Emotionally, it’s like anything else. You’ve dedicated a lot of your life to this and now you’re stepping back and that doesn’t feel very comfortable. But I think both Ken and I are guys who look to the future and we’re excited about other opportunities, too,” he says.

The founders want to see Mills James, which has around 170 employees and $24 million in annual revenue, reach its full potential.

“That would make us most pleased,” Cameron says. “We think we’ve done things to give it a good foundation. Our hope is that they’ll continue to develop and find ways to grow and be innovative, and to continue to make clients happy and solve client problems.”

Arthur James

As part of reaching its full potential, Mills James began a journey to build a healthier company — physically, culturally and financially. Arthur James, managing partner, chief administrative officer and Cameron’s son, says last year they developed a strategy around that and it’s already showing some results.

Nurture organic ideas

To improve health and wellness, Mills James formed a committee to enhance the culture through supportive worksite, health education and wellness activities.

The committee conducted lunch and learns and held contests to encourage employees to be more physically active. Mills James also offered CPR and safety training and added a benefit enhancement program to its health care coverage, which gives free memberships to any gym.

As a result, Arthur says Mills James had its smallest insurance cost increase in years.

“Because everyone here is an owner of the company, they realize that helping to control overhead is a direct benefit to them,” Cameron says. “One way we can do that is by controlling health care costs. The healthier we are, the better.”

A focus on physical health and wellness also encouraged people from different departments to form bonds and get together, Arthur says.

A big part of the cultural identity already was that the employees love what they do, he says. They asked to update the company’s visual identity and a team led Mills James through a rebranding that took more than year.

“It was interesting,” Arthur says. “After we did that initiative, an offshoot of that rebranding took place and employees then took it upon themselves to have a dialog about what our values are, what they should be. That was a great process where I think people feel like they all had a chance to be heard. We ended up with some core values that we’re now trying to live by.”

Another initiative was increased professional development, which included more licenses for an online training platform, a learning resource library and additional training.