A few days after the U.S. government declared an “orange alert” for specific financial institutions, Rosa Miller reflected on a situation most of us deny. “We are under ‘orange alert’ all of our lives. We don’t know what is going to happen.” In light of this, Miller manages a busy career as vice president of 3M’s Abrasive Systems Division with strength and a sense of calm.
Much of Miller’s strength comes from her childhood. She credits her father as a role model. She grew up with brothers, playing the games they played. Her father always encouraged her and never placed limits on her ambitions.
Inclined toward math and science, Miller first expressed interest in medicine, but her conversations with family members and friends who were doctors persuaded her that that path was not a good fit. One of her brothers, an engineer, convinced her of the value of his profession. Her father sent her to college and then, when she expressed interest in a master’s degree, told her that he supported her choice, but she had to figure out how to pay for it. Miller believes her father’s attitude made her self-sufficient.
Following school, she joined 3M as an engineer. As time went on, she became curious about the people who purchased the products she worked on, and she developed an interest in promoting these products. In the early 1980s, she decided to go back to school for a business degree so that people would take her ideas seriously. She considered several alternatives, concluding that she would need a program that would allow her to continue working, since she was traveling internationally and raising a family.
Then she met Herb Leshinsky, who told her about the Master in International Management program. Miller was convinced that this was the program for her and enrolled at St. Thomas. She appreciates not only the specific knowledge passed on to her in areas such as marketing and international law, but also the way St. Thomas gave her an education that mixed theory and practice taught by people with strong business backgrounds.
Meanwhile, Miller’s career continued to evolve. She became more involved in 3M’s international business, leading a subsidiary in Asia and eventually having stewardship over one of three abrasives divisions. In 2003, she was asked to lead the new abrasives division that would be created when the three divisions were consolidated.
The abrasives division has more than 15 plants and thousands of employees around the world. Miller’s days are filled with meetings – a teleconference with China, a directors’ meeting to review new products, meetings with direct reports to make sure they are meeting their targets, discussions with mentees, and travel to meet with sales reps in the United States and overseas locations. And Miller estimates she meets with between 150 and 200 customers a year. She describes her role as being an orchestra conductor that takes employee skills, harmonizes them and together make beautiful music.
Mocking those of us who “don’t have time” for such things, Miller – ever mindful that work is only one part of our code-orange lives – makes time for her family, exercise (including participation in a bike ride across Minnesota to raise money for multiple sclerosis research), and leadership roles in non-profits that focus on children. She reflects with some regret that her volunteer work is currently serving on boards, and she expresses satisfaction as she recalls hands-on volunteer experiences in Asia, teaching orphans to cook, even simply to hug again.
Miller says the best thing about her job is “being part of a growing enterprise. Even in hard times, the company has had growth; there was a feeling of success and hope … and I love being a catalyst in developing high-potential young leaders of tomorrow.”
Miller is obviously proud of a company that values diversity, ethics, community and employees. But she sees beyond her current job to a time “when I’ll have time again for painting lessons, to play the piano again and to do hands-on volunteer work.”