TopVet: Frank L. Miller, Jr.

Frank L. Miller, Jr.

Major General Frank Miller (US Army, Ret.) is a great example of how a military background can transform an organization in the civilian sector, valuable lessons for a new generation.

"For 32 years the Army was my profession," said Frank L. Miller, Jr., VP for Public Supply Chain and Demand planning at Dell Inc., and now a Dell veteran of almost 15 years. "It provided a nurturing and supportive environment to develop whatever talents I have."

Towards the end of his military service, however, the transition wasn’t exactly crystal clear.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would retire from the Army after almost 32 years and someone from Corporate America would think that I had something of value."

His start in business came thanks to a serendipitous introduction to a Dell sales VP during the end of his military service, at the Pentagon, and since then "I’ve done basically everything at Dell, except maybe finance and procurement."

Now Dell is his profession, and his life is his family - "My siblings, my wife, my children and my grandchildren and it is the people I’ve been able to touch and hopefully make a difference in their lives." The father of three, all of whom are or have been Dell employees, and the grandfather of five, Miller was "outvoted" by his family and relocated back to Dell headquarters in Austin after several years supervising fulfillment and manufacturing operations in Nashville.

"Dell turned out to be a great company, with great people, perspectives and ethics, and a great "purpose" for what they do."

Before Dell, Frank Miller learned life’s lessons well during a career that sent him to some of the world’s hot spots, some of which he still doesn’t talk about. He learned about dedication and commitment, intensity and integrity, loyalty and focus, all of which he learned to keep in perspective: Too many of his friends had no other interests beyond the military. When they retired, they were lost, he said, "because you can’t live just off your memories."

Not that all of Frank Miller’s memories are happy. "I’ve seen my share of death and destruction and mayhem," he said. He’s also seen troops perform with extraordinary valor and with tremendous passion and compassion.

Role Model
The son of an US Air Force master sergeant, who spent 21 years, 11 months, and six days in the military, several with the 10th Cavalry, a unit of the famed Buffalo Soldiers, Frank L. Miller, Jr., spent much of his boyhood in Europe, including several years in France. He came of age as the war in Southeast Asia was heating up.

"My mother always thought I had the ability to be a doctor, and I started out in college as a pre-med student," he said. "Deep down, though, I suppose I wanted to emulate my dad." He worked two jobs while attending college. He dropped out when that got to be too much and enlisted in the Army.

Accepted for Field Artillery Officer Candidate School after basic training, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in September 1966. Following his initial assignment, as a basic training company training officer at Fort Lewis, Washington, he served a little more than "one and a half tours" in Vietnam. While this was a real training ground where he learned about courage, loyalty and leadership, he also learned about loss.

Brothers in Arms
"Before I went to Vietnam, I was dating the woman who would become my wife. On the dance floor at the Beach Club at Fort Lewis one evening, we bumped into another couple. This fellow officer was to be my recon platoon leader in Vietnam. He was killed in a mortar attack and I had to write his wife.

In Vietnam, his next duty station, he became fast friends with Terry Hendricks. "Terry was a fellow forward observer. We shared one of the most dangerous assignments in the combat arms. We became friends. Even though he was white, people mistook him for me and me for him, we were just very close.

"Terry was assigned to D Company, 1/26th Infantry. I was with A Company. We made a pact: 'If I don’t make it, you write my girlfriend, I told him. And if I don’t make it, you write my wife, he told me.'

"In November 1967, the first time A Company didn’t lead our battalion, we were ambushed. Terry was killed. All the forward observers were killed or incapacitated. I was choppered out to the battlefield" to help fill the void.

Amid the confusion and chaos of combat, Lieutenant Miller found the body of his best buddy. That day was the most painful he would experience in the military.

The Long Haul
Over the next three decades, as he rose through the ranks, Frank Miller took on assignments of increasing importance and responsibility stateside and abroad. During Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, he "owned" most of the Army’s multiple launch rocket systems and supported them from Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He supported operations in Haiti, an experience he termed "uglier than most people know." Perhaps most searing, though, was an assignment to help pick up the pieces in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, which devastated much of central Florida in 1991.

Along the way, he earned a few awards and decorations, including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with four Oak Leaf Clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star with "V" device and two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal with "V" device and 19 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star.

Following his assignment as the Assistant to the Chief of Staff Army for Installation Management, Washington, D.C., he retired on the first day of January, 1997. He was already at Dell plying his skills.

Mutual Attraction
His association with Dell, he said, became "a natural extension of my military career in another arena." After serving in a variety of leadership positions in operations, engineering, and sales, he now runs teams who serve Dell customers globally. His responsibilities include management and supervision of high performing teams that manage existing and new products, customer demand, customer order execution and delivery experience and industry trends analysis and communication.

Prior to his current position, MG Miller served in several sales support operations positions, fulfillment operations and manufacturing operations in Dell. He also served as the vice president and general manager for the Federal Civilian sales team and as the vice president of Dell's custom factory integration business.

Nowadays, as an active member of Dell’s Employee Resource Groups, MG Miller has a personal interest in his fellow Vets. Just this week, he met with a fellow Dell employee – a Navy reserve Lieutenant – who was moving to Kuwait and seeking advice on keeping her career moving forward at Dell. MG Miller reviewed her resume and a comprehensive 3-year development plan. She is committed to that plan and they will track her progress through quarterly discussions and updates. When she finishes her year, she is going to return to Dell. Miller said he is committed to helping her get back into the organization and progress with her career path.

Miller believes there are many more stories like this in Dell and elsewhere in Corporate America. Thankfully, there are executives who may not have served, but still want to offer advice and guidance for those who have.

"In this economy, and with all the vagaries of our current fiscal policies and demands, I actually think Corporate America is pretty well aware that they have a larger purpose that is beyond revenue, units and margin and self-promotion."

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