Ken Miller, the President and CEO of Nasco Healthcare—a company committed to improving patient safety—has positioned his company to play a role in reducing disparities and racial bias in clinical health settings. “Racism is a public health crisis,” says Miller, “and as the only Black male CEO in the simulation market, I believe that to truly confront racial inequality in the healthcare industry, our customers and partners need to support and align with Black-owned businesses.”
It was a long road for Miller to get to where he is able to give back. African American professionals occupy only 3.2% of senior leadership roles at large companies and less than 1% of Fortune 500 CEO positions. According to a recent study by Coqual (formerly Center for Talent Innovation), most African American professionals agree that they have to work harder to be noticed for promotion than their colleagues, and Miller felt that as he rose through the ranks.
“You feel like you have to be perfect. You can’t make any mistakes like other people. Yet from a growth mindset perspective, you always want to perform at your best; however, you don’t always want to be the smartest person in the room. It is a constant juggling act.” Being judged by a different set of criteria where the goal line is always moving led Miller to a powerful turning point in his career. “You get criticized for being too this or not enough that. ‘Is he inspirational as a leader or is he too much so?’ I found that I was trying to modify myself so much that my peers didn’t see who I really was. Finally, I just looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘I’m just going to be me. I’m going to be the best that I can be whether I win or lose.’”
There are consequences to being your authentic self, notes Miller, but relying on the strength of his faith and the support of his family, he was able to achieve his vision for success. Then, he shared it, which is the mark of any true leader.
Miller’s advice to the next generation of Black leaders is to get comfortable being uncomfortable because it can unlock new approaches and passions. His was creativity.
“I am not a creative person per se,” admits Miller, yet he discovered a passion for creating language that resonated powerfully with the marketplace. Doing so, he was able to pivot from sales to marketing and rise to the top 1% of the workforce at Pharmacia/Pfizer. He said that everyone has it; you just have to lean into it and leverage that side of your brain. He said it can enrich problem-solving, reignite passion, and provide a competitive edge. Another important lesson for Miller was learning to take advice.
After he transitioned to Pharmacia/Pfizer’s marketing team, he was nominated to go to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business for an MBA—paid for on the company’s dime. “Initially, I didn’t want to go back to school because I was learning so much in the role I was already in,” says Miller. His manager told him he had to do it, noting that with the lack of diversity in pharma leadership, an MBA would give companies one less reason to pass him over.
“I don’t think there was a female CEO in all of pharma, much less an African American, Asian, or Latino,” says Miller. “It was the best decision that I made—my career basically took off.” And it was all because he listened to his manager.
After graduating, Miller became the global director of marketing at Roche Pharmaceuticals. Education was an investment that has paid dividends ever since.
After successes at Roche and a subsequent start-up where he helped build the brand that took the company from $13 million in annual revenue to over $300 million, Miller was ready for a new, meaningful opportunity.
The opportunity that came was twofold. He became a first-time father and the new Executive Director of Business Development and New Product Commercialization with Novo Nordisk, the global diabetes company. Miller, whose grandfather died from complications associated with diabetes, was attracted to Novo Nordisk’s triple bottom line of caring for the economy, environment, and society.
His professional success was mirrored in his personal life as he was named Father of the Year by the American Diabetes Association. “My philosophy about family is to be genuine, sincere, and ever-present,” says Miller. He stresses, “It’s important to be a good father.”
Miller’s experience is a testament to remaining open to change and opportunity—and never giving up. “You have unlimited options,” says Miller. “You may not like most of them, but don’t feel like there’s only one way you can go.”
Miller’s earlier vision to someday become the CEO of a company was realized when he was recruited by Nasco Healthcare, a medical training solutions provider, to be their President and CEO—a few months after being passed over for CEO position at another company.
“One of the things that happen, particularly to African Americans and minorities, is that they are not supported. They are not given the opportunities they deserve, but you can’t give up,” says Miller, who is committed along with his company to the fight for racial equality and social justice.
From developing training solutions that reflect and represent all patients to building a diverse and inclusive workforce in regard to gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, Miller puts his money where his mouth is.
“I run a for-profit business, so at the end of the day, I’m going to hire the best of the best,” says Miller. “This means giving everyone an opportunity at the table and being willing to listen to the perspectives and views of others. We need to encourage these hard discussions—and if we can do that, I’m confident that good people will make good decisions to make the world a better place.”
By having faith, building community, and using creativity along with a growth mindset, Miller holds firm that anyone can succeed and make a difference in a time when every person is needed to make positive change possible in the world. “There’s nothing like building something from the ground up and seeing it and the people around you succeed,” says Miller.