- Education: Mills received his bachelor of arts degree in communications from The Ohio State University in 1968; James earned a bachelor of arts degree in broadcasting from the University of Cincinnati in 1971.
- First job: Mills was a newspaper carrier; James started a company in high school "to do psychedelic lighting for bands."
- Why I chose this career: Mills says, "When I was very young, I made pretend television stations. I wrote plays in elementary school and put them on. I was on the school newspaper in high school. And once I got to college, I realized I really liked this kind of work. I was going to major in business but I found out I didn't like that as much as I thought I would." James's lighting company, Noremac Productions-Cameron spelled backwards-gave him his first taste of the business. After that came a stint at WLW radio and television in Cincinnati, where he worked with The Bob Braun Show and other live studio audience broadcasts. Then James headed to Manhattan. "I was an NBC page," he says. "The Tonight Show was still there and so were some of the big game shows like What's My Line? and To Tell the Truth. I gave [studio] tours, which is still my greatest strength at Mills/James."
- Greatest achievement: "I think business success is great, but keeping friends and family balanced is more important," Mills says. "I'm very proud of what we've done here, but it's not what life is all about." "My greatest success is learning to read," says James. "I'm dyslexic. Dealing with that was very important to me."
- Best business decision: "Going into business with each other," says Mills. "We're really opposite types and it provides a nice balance. It's a good sanity check on what you think you want to do." Although James concurs that going into business with Mills was one of his best decisions, so was "building this great staff," he says. "There are times when we have 20 to 40 shoots going on in a week ⊃ and when you're really busy, it's amazing. So many people have to carry the ball and not drop the ball. All the details have to be shared among the staff and the ball has to be passed several times without being dropped."
- Worst business decision: "I don't think there is a worst," Mills says. "There are a lot of little things you wish you hadn't done, but nothing that's a major, major regret. I think we've been very fortunate in that regard." James, however, cites one decision that haunts him still: "Taking too long to realize something is not working; that it's not making money."
- Biggest professional challenge: "Each level of growth makes you realize you have to re-examine the processes that got you here and will continue to let you grow," Mills says. "Our job is to be innovators and constantly reinvent our business," adds James. "Every day we ask ourselves, 'Are we putting magic in the message?' That's our promise to our clients."
- Most important professional lesson: "It really is all about relationships," Mills says. "Making sure you understand the client's expectations and that you exceed those expectations if possible. It can be very difficult, but you cannot know your customers well enough." James agrees: "Always put your client's interests ahead of your own. Sometimes that means referring them to someone else or only doing part of the project. But it boils down to trust. If you lose that, you're not going to be successful."
- Advice to aspiring leaders: "Know and understand the industry you are in; know and understand the competitors in your industry and the market you're in; know and understand who your customers are," Mills advises. Adds James, "Look around the world at who's doing what you want to do the very best and go there and get that experience. It may not always be possible, but I think too many times we limit our experiences."
- Unfulfilled dream: "I'm really content with my life," Mills says. "There was a big part of me that thought about working in Hollywood and making a major motion picture, but I've become less enamored of that over time. Most of the things I really care about, beyond my family life, are right here." James's dream ties into his greatest achievement: learning to read. "We know about this tremendous failure of the educational system to teach people to read- and we know how to fix that. My personal goal is to do that. If we can put people on the moon, we can teach people to read."
About their company
3545 Fishinger Blvd., Hilliard
Annual revenues: $14.5 million
Line of business: Media production services and studios
Meet the 1998 Innovators of the Year Featured
Nancy Byron 10:00am EDT July 22, 2002