Don’t Build Your Own Ceiling
Cindy Miller joined Stericycle, Inc. in October 2018 as President and Chief Operating Officer and became Chief Executive Officer in May of 2019. She is a highly accomplished executive with 30 years of global leadership in transportation, logistics and operations formerly with United Parcel Service (UPS).
I had the opportunity to interview Ms. Miller recently. Here are the highlights of that interview:
Jill Griffin: Where did you grow up? Describe your early childhood and its significance on your life.
Cindy Miller: I grew up in a small coal mining town in Northeast Pennsylvania named Tamaqua. From Tamaqua, I got a strong sense of community. We were the town that had a lot of parades and publicly celebrated the holidays. There was only one high school, and the town had a lot of school pride. It really helped develop my sense of belonging to something bigger than me. I was engaged in sports and civic activities and that team spirit that formed in me growing up has played a significant part of my life and remains something I consider very valuable.
Griffin: When did you first get the whisper you belonged in business?
Miller: I started my professional life as a driver with UPS a little over 30 years ago. Soon after driving, I was asked to become a supervisor; it was my second job with UPS. In that role, I developed a communication and engagement style where I could explain complex messages to fellow drivers or to other managers. That ability helped me to direct teams to achieve goals and drive results. I realized then that many of the keys to achieving business success stemmed from leadership and teamwork building qualities. Those skills continue to serve me well today no matter the size or complexity of the task at hand.
Griffin: Was there an early teacher that inspired you? Who and how?
Miller: Early inspiration in my life came from my grandparents, especially on those on the maternal side with whom I spent more time. My grandfather was a coal miner and worked a second job in a steel mill. My grandmother, I remember, worked in a sewing factory and then as a hospital switchboard operator. She also cleaned houses, did other folks’ laundry and cut people’s hair. There wasn’t a time I remember seeing my grandparents truly relax. From them, I understood the value of hard work, no matter what it was, and that’s driven me to want to be the best I can. Their tireless effort to take care of themselves and contribute to the family has served as an inspiration to me.
Griffin: What’s a great piece of business or life advice you received, who gave it to you, and how has it enhanced your life?
Miller: The strongest pieces of advice that I received and that live with me every day are two phrases that my father said relentlessly. One taught me humility and the other taught me to be a person of action.
His first phrase was, “If your horn is shiny enough, someone else will toot it.” He believed that you don’t want to be the person that has to brag about all the things you’ve done. If you’ve really achieved something that is worth recognition, others will bring that recognition to you.
The other piece was from his phrase, “there’s a big difference between those that talk and those that do.” As a marine, my dad believed that folks will rally around people who can communicate and take action. He said to me, “Cindy, if you want to be known for something, be known for being a doer.”
Both of those pieces of advice have had such a lasting effect on my adult life both personally and professionally.
Griffin: Please give me the top 3 bullet points in your Personal Leadership Credo.
Miller: There are many values that I strive to live, and I just can’t narrow it down to three. However, these five elements of my credo have been the most valuable in guiding both my personal and professional life.
1. Humility – my father taught me to be humble and be kind to all of those you meet.
2. Integrity – do the right thing, but the key is living up to that which we want others to see even when they aren’t looking.
3. Authenticity – be genuine in who you are. The people around me know me as me; there’s not a separate persona for business and personal life. Being authentic has helped me connect with and engage people on a deeper level throughout my life.
4. Accountability – My parents and grandparents instilled in me that you are accountable for your actions. You are not a victim to anything.
5. Team work – in order to drive success, you need to be able to motivate people to collaborate and achieve more than they ever thought possible.
Griffin: Describe a painful setback in your life and what it taught you.
Miller: My father was an entrepreneur, and my parents provided a great childhood for my brother and me. However, in my early 20’s, my father’s business went bankrupt. It was a time of tremendous difficulty for my family, but it was during that time I really learned I had to take care of myself, more so than I ever thought I would have to. That lesson hit home at a very formative time in my life. From then on, I’ve been driven to be self-sufficient, support my family and contribute to society.
Griffin: What advice do you have for young, talented, ambitious women who want to rise?
Miller: My advice is really for both young men and women who are trying to do well in business. In your professional career, you have to say “yes” more often than you say “no.” Every time you say no to an opportunity, you are building your own ceiling. By turning down experiences, you are self-imposing your own limits. One of the things I’ve learned in the corporate world is that companies move forward, and they want people who are willing to take the adventure with them. You get to take the adventure by saying yes to the opportunity.