SCARPINO: The tape recorder is on and today is September 18, 2007 and I’m interviewing Patricia Miller. This is the second interview with her and we’re at the recently opened distribution center for Vera Bradley on the south side of Fort Wayne. She is the co-founder and co-owner of Vera Bradley. In the first interview, we concentrated on Ms. Miller’s founding and development of Vera Bradley along with the standard leadership questions asked of everyone interviewed for the Tobias Project. Today we’re going to concentrate on leadership related to philanthropy and government service. Once again I’d like to ask your permission to record this interview, to transcribe the interview and to have the recording and the transcription deposited in the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives for the use of the patrons.
MILLER: You have my permission.
SCARPINO: Thank you very much. You and I have talked ahead of time so you know that before we talk about philanthropy and government I have a couple of questions that I want to ask you that are related to the overall subjects that we’ve covered. The first relates to the fact that you were nice enough to give me a tour of your new distribution facility here today and I wonder if you could say for the record a few things about this lovely facility that we’re in. How many square feet? How many people are employed here? What’s the process that takes place in here and that sort of thing?
MILLER: Uh hm. Well, we have about 230,000 square feet and it’s a beautiful facility when I think back that 25 years ago we were in a basement on a ping pong table and then every time I take someone like I did you today through on a tour it’s very exciting for me every time. We have state of the art technology right now and we have probably, and I know the head count changes every day, but I would say probably have over 200 people here. That head count will probably remain about the same because of the automation. It’s just, I think I told you, it’s better than Disneyworld for me.
SCARPINO: It certainly was a fascinating tour. Could you say a little bit about the—I know we talked about this last time—but about the machinery that you use to cut the cloth and then the system that you use for filling orders and checking quality control and that sort of thing?
MILLER: Well, we have had this fabric cutter for quite a while but it’s a Gerber and it’s a computerized cutting machine that cuts fabric and I’m sure Gerber probably makes cutting machines that cut other material. But it’s so wonderful because we used to use a ten-inch motorized razor blade which was like a jig saw and I was always very, very worried that someone would cut a finger off. It never happened, thank goodness. But now I don’t have to worry about that and as you saw today when we were going through, our fabric for the most part is quilted. So we have a top layer, a filling layer, and a bottom layer of fabric. That makes a very fluffy layer of fabric and you don’t get a real clean cut and I usually use the analogy of cutting an angel food cake. So, what the Gerber does is, we have a vacuum table and that maybe twenty layers of quilted fabric go through. There’s a plastic put on top. The vacuum table sucks that down as hard as it can. Then we cut the fabric. So, not only do we get a cleaner cut, a better cut, but the Gerber also lays the pattern out so that we get the most efficient cut and do not waste any fabric because that’s where you have so much of your cost. So it’s a great way to cut fabric. I’m sure there are many other ways of cutting fabric but this certainly is a good one for us.
SCARPINO: But it’s a big step from doing it with a pair of shears on the table in your basement.
MILLER: A big step from those orange handled Fiskars which is a wonderful scissors but when you’re doing thousands of cuts this is what you want.
SCARPINO: So once the Gerber cuts the fabric, pre-cuts the pieces, they are then sent out to different facilities where they’re actually sewn into the Vera Bradley products.
MILLER: Yes, yes. We do everything here except the construction and we do do some construction and that’s at this present time. Someday we may do everything. But right now and for the 25 years we’re always—we started as a cottage industry. I spoke about that earlier. And then we let the sewers that did the best job open their own sewing, encourage them to open their own sewing factories and we have over 1,000 sewers in northeast Indiana that do that.
SCARPINO: Once the pieces that are cut on the Gerber are shipped out and sewn into the products they then come back to this facility.
MILLER: As finished goods.
SCARPINO: Finished goods, right. Where they are then shipped out once you receive orders.
MILLER: Yes. Come back as finished goods. We inspect them for quality and then they go on the shelves and then shipped out to our customers.
SCARPINO: Can you talk about the computerized automated system whereby you ship these materials out to your customers?
MILLER: We have, our conveyers have, conveyers now and it’s a wonderful thing. We use SAP [Systems, Applications and Products in Data Processing] and I’m sure there are many others but this is a system that we chose and we think it’s a wonderful system. What it does it weighs, it knows every item that we make. How much it weighs. Then we have what we call a pick-to-light picking
system as well. So once you’ve picked an order and it knows how much that box should weigh and if it doesn’t weigh that much then it is channeled off to a quality control area where they hand inspect to make sure that the order is filled correctly. It’s a great system. We still probably make some mistakes but our goal is 100% accuracy. I don’t know if we’ll ever get there but we’ll try.
SCARPINO: I noticed when you and I stood and watched that system in action that it begins with an empty box or somebody puts what looks like a computerized packing label with inventory on there and then it’s set up so that as the box travels down a conveyer it actually stops at the right station so that the person can put whatever the item is in the box.
MILLER: Yes, we, for years have done it where you’d have a grocery-cart like cart and the picker would move the cart and pick and the picker would move. Well, now the box moves and the picker has an area that they’re in charge of and when the box bar code senses that they’re at a station that they should fill the box with an item, it automatically shoots off to that area. They know from a sign what goes in there. Pick it, put it in, get it back on the conveyer again and it goes to the next station.
SCARPINO: Now, I know from walking through this facility and from talking to you that Vera Bradley is no longer a cottage industry but do you still strive for that market impression?
MILLER: We sure do. We want customer service. We want people to feel the Vera Bradley culture; that we’re a family; that we include our retailers and our consumers in that family; that we listen to you and are very proud of the brand. So that has to continually be reinforced.
SCARPINO: I noticed when we walked through the facility that you called most of the people you encountered by name and I didn’t see anyone who didn’t appear to know who you were.
MILLER: Well, I, that’s one of the things about growing. We now have over 400 employees and I am so sorry to say I don’t know everyone by name. In fact, I might not even—if I recognized someone’s face or I might not recognize them. When you start with two people and are used to knowing everyone’s name and their families and where their children are going to school or whatever, it is disconcerting to not actually know everyone. I wish I could say I do and I try. I work at that very hard to do that.
SCARPINO: Now, I understand that in addition to this recently completed distribution facility that you’re about to begin construction of a new corporate headquarters adjacent to this.
MILLER: Yes. We bought about 72 acres off of US, or Hwy 69, just south of Lafayette Center and west of 69. We have two ponds and we use that water for our heating and cooling system and we call this Stonebridge, is the campus, and we’ll actually have two stone bridges here. As you can see, it’s certainly not nearly complete because we’ve haven’t started our corporate headquarters. But, we want this to be a destination. We’ll conduct tours. We hope to have a visitors’ center. We’ll have our foundation headquarters here and want this to be a destination center for people who may be traveling, vacationing, or just live in this area.
SCARPINO: When you have an opportunity to watch this facility and look at all the technology and the volume of raw materials that come in and finished products that go out and all the employees and so on, what do you think?
MILLER: I think wow! I do. It’s a wow. People will say did you ever imagine? The answer is no, I don’t think either Barb nor I imagined. But, we didn’t not imagine. I don’t think we put a ceiling on anything, but certainly, this is terrific.
SCARPINO: Do you think that the ability to not place limits on yourself is a mark of a leader?
MILLER: Probably so. Probably so. If, sometimes if, you think you can you can do it. We were watching Tiger Woods play golf this weekend and some of the amazing scores that that man is posting and I mentioned to my husband—it’s almost like the time that the five minute mile was broken—sometimes the mindset actually works as a barrier. If you don’t think you can do it often you can’t. But if you see that you can. I mean that’s the wonderful part of being a human being. You can continually improve.
SCARPINO: The last time when we did the first interview we did it at your current headquarters which is on the north side of Fort Wayne and as a person walks into the lobby where visitors are received there’s a display of Vera Bradley products and so on but one of the things I didn’t do that I should have done was to ask you to describe in your own words your original product line.
MILLER: Alright, well we—and I think earlier on I talked about the fact that the men were carrying the Land’s End canvas and we thought women should have a utilitarian bag but it should be attractive and feminine. So, our original thought was, if we had an original thought, was that you should be able to see a Vera Bradley bag and even though we have many different patterns, maybe as much as fifteen or more right now, that you would recognize it as a Vera Bradley and that has happened. Our bags go anywhere from a duffle bag to many, many different accessories. They all have a trim which was the inspiration. I think part of that inspiration was seeing the Provence look on bags and they all had a trim which makes it much more appealing, much more interesting. So we always have a trim on something. It is usually a cotton-quilted although we do have bags that are microfiber now or other materials. We’re expanding the product line. But I think you can still see – I was showing someone through the other day and they said your patterns have evolved because some of them are very bright. Some of them are bigger, floral patterns. I’m used to more—we call them little ditseys [this is a term for a specific fabric print]. Well, we have changed but we still have that original look. But we’ve expanded it and some of our other patterns look much different but always a lot of color, a lot of pretty design. We like to think that when you look at a Vera Bradley fabric that it’s very pleasing; that you like it. Everybody has certain colors they like. You might be a blue person. You might be a red person. And that we have enough variety that you find something you love. I think I might have mentioned before that it is a collectible too because you might have a pattern that you love and you can’t go out and buy everything you want at once but you can tell someone I have a birthday coming up. I love Villa Red. I have the duffle bag. If you want to buy me a present I’d love would be the garment bag to go with it or the cosmetic bag or whatever it might be. So it’s a collectible because it is—you might have a matched set.
SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you for the record to explain what Provence is.
MILLER: The Provence fabrics actually evolved from India and if you think of Indian fabric you think of paisleys and foulards which are little designs and I read once, and I think this is true, that the French started buying so much Indian fabric, this was years and years ago, that the French government put a high tariff or duty on the importation of Indian fabric to France. So what they did, I think they smuggled the wooden blocks that you used to use to print fabric and they started printing their own fabric but they used their own color pallet and they, in that way, got around paying the high duty because people liked it. Well, we liked it too. So a Provence fabric is a small little design usually, beautiful colors and most of the Pierre Deux which is a brand will have bags made out of this fabric and it usually includes some type of trim.
SCARPINO: You work mostly in cotton fabric?
MILLER: We work mostly in cotton. Yes. We do have other fabrics but primarily cotton.
SCARPINO: Now in recent years you’ve clearly branched out from hand bags and travel bags and accessories to other design categories—tableware, stationery, eye wear, furniture, rugs, and linens. I understand and I read somewhere that you have a pet collection. Is that true?
MILLER: We, you know, pets are huge. We have department stores where you can buy things for your pet. So we made a pet carrier and we also have pet collars and pet leashes in our fabric.
SCARPINO: We talked last time about the fact that you, Vera Bradley’s published two cookbooks—Our Favorite Recipe in 2000 and Cooking with Friends in 2006. What was the business objective of adding these new product lines?
MILLER: The original cookbook idea came from when we used to have many fewer employees and we’d all gather together for example if the Olympics was on and we’d say well let’s have a pitch-in which is when everyone brings something. We’re all busy and we had a lot of women employees and you’d say oh, this is great. I’d love the recipe. We should do a cookbook. Well, we did and it’s a cookbook with very good recipes that aren’t that difficult. You don’t have to go to specialty food stores to find the ingredients necessarily and it was a hit. So we decided to do another one. It is just another extension of the brand.
SCARPINO: So that would include then the furniture and all those other things.
MILLER: Uh hm.
SCARPINO: Is it an effort to develop new markets?
MILLER: I think to keep that corporate culture because the cookbook will identify this is Susan Brown’s recipe and she’s customer service and then she might say something about the recipe. It’s that personal touch that makes a difference.
SCARPINO: That obviously is a part of the corporate culture of Vera Bradley…
SCARPINO: …even when you have this huge distribution facility, is to try to hang onto that personal touch.
MILLER: Yes and it’s something that is more innate than not. It’s not something that we have to play at. It’s what we are.
SCARPINO: Do you think that adding the new product lines represents business leadership on your part?
MILLER: I suppose it does because not every item that we introduce is a huge seller. So we have some blips too. But it—we mentioned the other day—we were thinking, well how many tote bags do you need? How many handbags do you need? How many cosmetic bags? Do they cannibalize one another? You know, the perfect manufacturing as far as efficiency would be if you made one of something in one color and you made millions of them. That would be easy.
SCARPINO: Right and it was an unlimited market.
MILLER: In an unlimited market. It’d also be pretty boring.
MILLER: And especially in this society. We’re in a throwaway society and people always want what’s new, what’s new, what’s new. So we think we have to keep that pipeline going and it’s also good for us. It keeps our creative juices going.
SCARPINO: Would you say that your original Vera Bradley products were aimed at any age cohort among women?
MILLER: I would say it wasn’t. In the beginning we heard many people think it was, maybe, a little country. It was, maybe, for an older woman and maybe it was. As we have evolved we’ve introduced a lot of color and also Phil, I think I told you earlier, we weren’t originally able to design our own fabric because we weren’t printing enough fabric. You have to print a certain number of yards to be able to print your own designs. Once we got into that, then we could do whatever we wanted.
SCARPINO: We actually looked at hundreds of rolls of fabric that have been designed and does your partner, Barbara, design the fabric?
MILLER: She’s head of the product development and we have an entire department of product development.
SCARPINO: I’ve asked you several questions about your own personal philosophy of leadership. I’m wondering if you think it’s possible for an institution or a company like Vera Bradley to exercise leadership.
MILLER: I think so.
SCARPINO: In what ways do you think?
MILLER: By example. I think by example. We were reading the newspaper the other day and someone was doing something that we didn’t agree with and in fact we were disappointed. It was someone who was running for public office and he said something that we said was just a little bit wrong. It’s my philosophy that to live within parameters of right and wrong, that once you move out of that into just a little bit of wrong, it’s much easier to go out again and again. So there aren’t many black and whites in the world but I truly believe that you need to always do the right thing. Now that isn’t always obvious but most of the time it is. To always do the right thing because if you rationalize and think no, just this one time it’s going to be alright. It isn’t.
SCARPINO: You were, as we were talking and walking through the facility here you mentioned that you had originally had an appointment today with Mrs. Jordan and her first name is?
MILLER: You know, I don’t know. This was arranged by someone else.
SCARPINO: Okay. I shouldn’t have asked you on the record.
MILLER: It was Michael Jordan’s mother. Yes.
SCARPINO: The context for that was an interest that you share with her in education.
SCARPINO: I wonder if you could just say a few words about that and then I’m going to just switch the subject.
MILLER: Well, I think even if I hadn’t been a teacher, certainly as a mother and as an employer, I believe education is certainly one of the, if not the most important avenue for someone to improve themselves. If we’re going to have a strong country and a strong economy we need to have the most educated workforce we can possibly have. With an education people also gain self worth and that, going back to Andrew Carnegie, what did he do? He built libraries so people could learn. That was his way of—even in the little town I grew up of 2000 people we had a small library but it was a wonderful library and it was an Andrew Carnegie Library. That was amazing to me. I didn’t realize it at the time but when I look back and I see that library I think how amazing that he did that in little towns as well as big, large cities all over the United States.
SCARPINO: I think Indianapolis originally had—I think it was seven. Quite a few. There are only a couple that are still standing. Who was it that facilitated the contact between you and Mrs. Jordan?
MILLER: A gentleman by the name of David Reynolds is head of Merrill Lynch Northern Indiana. I don’t know how he happened to contact me but he was, he is a friend of Stedman Graham and Stedman is a motivational speaker and also he calls, Oprah Winfrey’s boyfriend is how he acknowledged himself. So Stedman did come and I met with him. He gave a motivational program for business women that evening. But during the day he stopped at two women owned businesses in Fort Wayne—Vera Bradley and to DeBrand Chocolate. So when he came through this building that we’re in—and then he also stopped at a Vera Bradley store that’s at Jefferson Point, one of our malls—he was very humble. Very gracious. Wonderful personality. Very interested in everything here and I thought him to be a very nice person.
SCARPINO: You said your particular focus was the schools here in the Fort Wayne area. What do you preliminarily think could be done or what needs to be done?
MILLER: Well, we’re working on it. I’m part of the Northeast Indiana Corporate Council which is made up of CEOs from northeast Indiana and we have an education roundtable coming up very shortly. Every business owner knows that you have to have an educated workforce in order to be the best that you can. So we’re doing whatever we can to help that.
SCARPINO: Do you think there’s room for improvement and if so what direction do you think that improvement might take?
MILLER: Always room for improvement in anything, always. We just have to somehow show the children and students what connecting the dots do for them. If you do this, this will happen. If you do this, this will happen. If you have a baby at 15, life’s going to be tough. Why would you do that? If you get good enough grades in high school to go on for more education and not necessarily college—you might go to a vocational school to learn a trade. I feel strongly that we don’t emphasize the value of a vocational education. Where would we be without all the people that help service us every day? They are a valuable part of our economy and our lives. So you hear all the time: high school-college, high school-university. So what does that tell someone who might be interested in motors or might be interested in whatever? That they are of no value? That they’re secondary citizens? That isn’t true.
SCARPINO: I wanted to talk to you a little bit about your role as a philanthropist. 1998, you and Barbara Baekgaard established a Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer. Why that particular cause?
MILLER: When we reached the point where we could give back monetarily Barbara’s college roommate contracted breast cancer and Mary Sloan died at age 51. She was just a wonderful, wonderful person. We heard the statistics—one in every seven women. Which, when you think of sitting at a table for dinner or at a program where you’re at a table of eight, one of those people will contract breast cancer which is an epidemic and just not an acceptable statistic. So we didn’t stretch very far to decide that it would be breast cancer. Thank goodness for Betty Ford. She was one of the first celebrities to come out saying—I have breast cancer. People just didn’t do that before. We first worked with the American Cancer Society but then were approached by Indiana University—Myles Brand and Joe Franklin. Joe Franklin’s a friend of mine who worked for the Foundation. They suggested that we endow a chair for breast cancer research. Ten minutes after they suggested it, we signed it. It was for 1.6 million that we agreed to raise in—it’s hard for me to remember now—it was three to five years: sounded like a lot. You know, you talk about a million… Who was it? One of the senators said a million here, a million there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money.
SCARPINO: But it’s your money though. A million dollars is a lot of money.
MILLER: It’s a lot of money and it was a long time ago.
MILLER: But we felt we could do it. We decided on a—that this golf and tennis tournament called the Vera Bradley Classic would be one of the vehicles and we have that every end of May/first of June. However it works out. It’s the first Monday in June is our golf tournament and we have, right now, we started with just a nine-hole tournament. Now we have two nine-hole tournaments and an eighteen-hole golf tournament and we have a tennis tournament. So we have…
SCARPINO: Where do these tournaments take place?
MILLER: Well, the tennis exhibition starts on Friday at one of our tennis centers—Wildwood Racquet Club.
SCARPINO: Here in Fort Wayne?
MILLER: Here in Fort Wayne. So we have a tennis exhibition and a reception. Then on Saturday we have an all day tennis tournament that is maxed out as far as people line up at five a.m. to sign up for it when the registration opens. I forget how many, close to 200, tennis players playing. Then, we have the golf tournament on Monday and that tournament is an eighteen-hole golf tournament at Sycamore Golf Club in Fort Wayne and two nine-holes. That nine-hole moves around from Fort Wayne Country Club, Orchard Ridge, Pine Valley. It’s just a terrific tournament and on Saturday evening after the tennis tournament we have this enormous tent at Sycamore Golf Club. We decorate it to the nines, absolutely gorgeous. All the tennis players and sponsors of the tennis tournament are there for a wonderful dinner and the tennis dinner has a DJ or live band. Tennis players have fun. Not that golfers don’t, but tennis players like that. Then on Monday evening we have the golf dinner. We had close to, oh gosh, I think we had close to 900 people.
SCARPINO: At the golf dinner.
MILLER: It’s huge. It’s the biggest tent, I think in, one of the biggest in Indiana and it’s just a wonderful event. On Sunday evening we have the sponsors that have contributed—and I believe this year it was 2500 and above—to a reception at a private home. We want it to be, if not the finest, one of the finest women’s charity events in the Midwest and I think we’ve done it. Last year we raised well over a million dollars.
SCARPINO: In a single year.
MILLER: That’s just the tournament in a single weekend.
SCARPINO: My goodness.
MILLER: We’ve raised more than that for the Foundation because we always have at least one pattern, we design one fabric, that we make different bags and that fabric is the breast cancer fabric and it has pink and pink ribbons in it. Part of the proceeds of that will go to the Foundation. Then we have all of our, not all of them, but those who want to particulate, the retailers can contribute to the Foundation. We also have…
SCARPINO: That is, retailers in the city or retailers with whom you work?
MILLER: Throughout the United States. And our vendors. We also have the Pink Ribbon Campaign. We have huge pink ribbons on stakes and going up to the country club or to the tennis center are pathways of pink ribbons and on every pink ribbon is a name of either a survivor or in memory of. Very, very touching—thousands. So our goal, of course is, to eliminate as many women as possible that succumb to this disease.
SCARPINO: People purchase the pink ribbons?
MILLER: Yes. They can put…
SCARPINO: So it’s a donation?
MILLER: Five dollars or whatever.
SCARPINO: So they become like a physical symbol of the donation?
MILLER: Yes and we wanted people who either didn’t play golf or didn’t play tennis to be able to contribute in some visible way so we came up with the Pink Ribbon Campaign. So for as little as five dollars you can purchase a pink ribbon.
SCARPINO: So you endowed, at the suggestion of Myles Brand and one other individual, a Chair in Oncology at Indiana University.
SCARPINO: When did you do that approximately?
MILLER: I think about ’98. I should have these numbers in front of me.
SCARPINO: I should have them in front of me just to let you off the hook.
MILLER: Well last year was our fourteenth year.
SCARPINO: I believe it was 1998.
MILLER: So l think last year was our fourteenth year so what does that make it? Anyway, we looked for probably three years. We, I should say we—it was Indiana University Medical School—for someone to sit in our chair.
SCARPINO: How long did it take you to raise the $1.7 million that you pledged for?
MILLER: Oh, you’re asking me numbers here. We raised it within the allotted time.
SCARPINO: A few years.
MILLER: We did what we pledged. It was either three or five years. And now with—we have either donated or pledged ten million so far. We keep re-upping.
SCARPINO: To support the research?
MILLER: Yes. Dr. Malkas is the bio-scientist, the PhD that we found to sit in the chair for breast cancer research, the Vera Bradley Chair for Breast Cancer Research.
SCARPINO: That’s Linda Malkas?
MILLER: Dr. Linda Malkas. She came from the University of Maryland. We joke: we’ve taken the Colts from Maryland and now we take Dr. Malkas. But she and her team of scientists which includes her husband, Bob Hickey, work at IU and they have found a detector for breast cancer. It looks—you saw all the bar codes we had out there. It’s a bar code and, you see, it’s a blood test, so when they—don’t ask me how they do this—but if they take a blood test and this machine reads it, if I have one molecule of breast cancer and there’s several different kinds of breast cancer. There are other cancers that it will also pinpoint. One molecule, it will identify that. So what it means is early detection. She’s not saying I’ve cured breast cancer. But early detection will push the survival rate into the upper ninetieth percentile and she is very close to getting these kits, this knowledge, to the docs so that women can go to their doctors, have the blood test. I could be sitting here with breast cancer and I’ve had it for ten years and I don’t know it because it hasn’t manifested itself. With that blood test I would be able to tell and the medicines available are strong, good medicines. So my chances of survival and/or cure of that will be in the upper ninetieth percentile.
SCARPINO: So the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer raised the money to endow a professorship in Oncology at Indiana University.
SCARPINO: That professor in turn has a staff of scientists working for her including her husband.
SCARPINO: And you annually raise money to support her research?
MILLER: Yes. The money goes to the IU Medical School and they in turn—you know it’s a lot more complicated. I’m making everything sound very simplistic. It’s much more complicated than that. But they know that we are supporting Dr. Malkas and her research.
SCARPINO: I—I mean truth in advertising—I have done some fundraising so I have some familiarity with the bureaucracy that goes along with it.
MILLER: Yes. I think the thing we’re very proud of is Vera Bradley pays our Director of Philanthropy, we pay her out of corporate money. So our ratio of what we raise and what we contribute is very, very high.
SCARPINO: People sponsor the golf tournament? Sponsor the tennis tournament and the dinner and all that stuff?
MILLER: Yes, yes. But Vera Bradley’s the biggest sponsor.
SCARPINO: Any idea how much money that the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer has raised since 1998?
MILLER: Right now we’re well over six million and we might be more than that but I know we’re going to get to that ten, again, before the due date. We will get there.
SCARPINO: What happens after that?
MILLER: Hopefully, what we hope for, and here goes back to if you think you can do it you can do it. I think she can do it. If we have to go to another cause such as ovarian cancer or whatever, we would be thrilled to death.
SCARPINO: I read a little bit about the Vera Bradley Classic Golf and Tennis Tournament which noted that the goal was to raise funds for research, education, and patient services.
MILLER: Uh hm.
SCARPINO: Could you talk a little bit about your visions in each of those areas: research, education, and patient services?
MILLER: Well, we want everyone to, we want to help people who cannot afford mammograms to be able to do that. There are just many other ways that you can help women, and men are 1% of the victims, of this disease. Very small but, in fact, I have a friend who contracted breast cancer—a man. But we think that the impact is going to be felt with the research. But we do contribute to the mobile mammography vans and we contribute to other services but primarily we think we’re going to get more bang for our buck with the research. That’s what we’re interested in.
SCARPINO: I read an interview that you gave in 2005 in which you said—talking about philanthropy and the money you raised for breast cancer—you said this is about giving back and being a good corporate citizen. How do you define a good corporate citizen? What makes a good corporate citizen?
MILLER: I like to see our managers sit on boards or anyone, any employee, to be able to contribute to sit on boards, to contribute to your community in any way that helps the community and I think you always get back more than you give when you participate. And maybe it’s part of growing up in a small town where, I think we talked about this before, you had to do a little bit of everything and how I’m a dabbler. Because growing up in a small town you had to be on the school newspaper, you had to be on the yearbook. I suppose you didn’t have to be but in order to get any of that done you just—you had to multitask. I’ve always enjoyed that and I’ve always gotten more out of participating in something like that than I’ve given. It’s also a learning process. If you engage in something and participate in something you learn so much. That was one of the—my husband and I went to the master’s golf tournament one time and I was told that most of the crowd control people were some of the top CEOs in the country. And if they helped, and I don’t know if this is true either, but if they helped—it’s a good idea if it isn’t—with that they were able to play Augusta even though they weren’t a member at some time. That gave me an idea. The idea was that we would like—by the way, the Vera Bradley Classic golf and tennis—only women can be the players. Men cannot play. This is a women’s tournament: both golf and tennis. But we want, for example in the golf, we want a top CEO to be the scorekeeper for that foursome. Thinking that if you do more than write a check, if you actually participate and actually see what the event is about it is going to be much more rewarding to the person who is sponsoring or donating to that and it’s also important to the event as a whole because it’s more meaningful to everyone. And I think that’s what—and I thought of that when we went to the Master’s—when those CEOs were doing the crowd control they became a part of that tournament. So I want the movers and shakers of not only northeast Indiana but anyone to be a participant even though they can’t play the golf or play the tennis game, but to be a participant rather than just sending in a check. We’ll take the signed check anyway. But it’s more meaningful if you actually participate.
SCARPINO: Now, do people come from outside the metro area to participate?
MILLER: They do! They come from all over. We have people from all over the country coming. It’s a fabulous event.
SCARPINO: 2002 you received the IUPUI Spirit of Philanthropy award which is usually given in Indianapolis at a luncheon ceremony. What did that award mean to you?
MILLER: I think philanthropy is probably one of the most significant rewards. It’s a reward for me, and I know I speak for Barbara as well, to be able to give back. I don’t remember if I mentioned seeing an interview by Andre Agassi and he has built a school in Las Vegas in an area where they have children that are truly underprivileged. That school has posted higher scores than most schools in the area. What he’s done is remarkable and he mentioned and I think most people that you talk to will say that it’s very, very rewarding to give. It’s like a boomerang. It is so rewarding to give. To know that you are actually making a difference in someone’s life.
SCARPINO: When you first started Vera Bradley did you ever think you’d be in a situation where you could have an impact like that?
MILLER: Probably not. Probably not. When my husband and I got out of grad school at IU and I know we—my husband’s a lawyer—and we were saying if we could ever just make—and this is still a lot of money to people—if we could just make 50,000 a year we would be rolling in clover, you know. But to think that I’m now in a position with the company that we’re able to pledge ten million dollars to charity? It’s special. It’s very special.
SCARPINO: I read, among the research materials that I read about you, August 2005 you spoke at a conference sponsored by the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy and the subject was Women in Philanthropy Gaining Momentum. Do you think that women are gaining momentum in the field of philanthropy?
MILLER: Oh, absolutely.
SCARPINO: Do women have an impact as philanthropists?
SCARPINO: What do you think that impact is?
MILLER: Well, more women are in positions of management—top management. And if you’re making more money you can give more money. I think it’s as simple as that. You can’t give if you don’t have it.
SCARPINO: That’s true.
MILLER: So women are in positions now where they are demanding and receiving equal salary for equal work and they’re in top management. We have a long way to go but they’re in a position to give because they’re making more money.
SCARPINO: You also gave a talk which I read the text of called From Entrepreneur to Philanthropist: Turning Dreams into Reality One Step at a Time. Can you say a few words about your journey from entrepreneur to philanthropist? I mean, you talked about the creation of the Vega Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer and why you did that and the tennis and golf tournament and so on but…
MILLER: Well, I think that there’s—it’s just an evolution. It isn’t—we’re just taking one step at a time. Remember we’ve been doing this for 25 years now. And it’s just a point where you think yes we can do this and again, you don’t start out by pledging ten million. You start out by pledging which was what we thought, and was, a great deal of money—over a million dollars. So it’s just one step at a time. You keep increasing. Continuous improvement again. Whether it’s improving how much you’re able to give or improving your operation of your business or whatever it is. I think most people evolve and there’s no secret to it. It’s just what you’re able to do. It has to be the right time and the right cause. And this cause—people that raise money for certain things know that you raise money from people who have a vested interest whether it be music or health or education or whatever it is.
SCARPINO: Do you consider yourself to be a leader in the area of philanthropy?
MILLER: I consider myself and the company to be responsible to be leaders for primarily the women who are coming after us because Barb and I are of an age where we were on the cusp. Many women didn’t work outside the home other than say nursing and teaching and so to be in the corporate world we were paving a way sometimes I think by our example for women that would come after us. I hear that anyway. It means we’re old. (laughing)
SCARPINO: Well, for anyone who’s interested, we did give your birth date in the first interview.
MILLER: Oh, darn, but I do feel I have made a friend in Alice Dye. Alice was the first woman on the PGA Board, Professional Golf Association, and she’s a golf course architect of renown as is her husband Pete. I read her book recently. We go back to biographies again. She said that she when they asked her to do that she felt a responsibility to be someone who was a first. A woman who was a first to do it because it would open the door for others to come through. Billy Jean King was at our Vera Bradley Classic as a tennis player.
SCARPINO: Is that right?
MILLER: And she said the same thing. Why in the world did you play Billy Riggs? That was his name, wasn’t it? Well, anytime you can do something, a first that would open the door for others, it’s important. So it’s important for us to set a good example.
SCARPINO: We’ve spent quite a bit of time in the first interview and in this one, talking about leadership in the area of business, and a little bit of time talking about leadership in the area of philanthropy. Do you see any differences or similarities between leadership as an entrepreneur and leadership as a philanthropist?
MILLER: Probably a difference. What I realize gaining some recognition in business as a success has allowed me to approach people to ask for certain things. It’s—how can I put this? People like to identify with success. I do. And you like to know how people tick and so if someone like Michael Jordan’s mother says she wants to come here and talk about education and I know she has a program, I don’t know a lot about it, I’m very interested in hearing that. Not because it’s Michael Jordan’s mother but it’s part of the equation isn’t it? Because you do, I don’t know her personally, but you know that she has the capacity to do something and that she’s obviously interested in doing something. So having a celebrity come out to say they have a disease and it helps to raise money. We mentioned Betty Ford but there are people who have a disease who acknowledge that publicly and help to raise funds for that. Katie Couric, her husband died of colon cancer, and she’s a champion for that. And good for them. She’s saving lives.
SCARPINO: You, among the positions that you hold outside of Vera Bradley, you’re on the IU Foundation, Indiana University Foundation Board of Directors.
SCARPINO: Is there any correlation between your service to that board and your interest in philanthropy?
MILLER: Well, the fact that Vera Bradley donates monies to the Indiana University School of Medicine, the Oncology Center, has something to do with that probably. Also, I owe a lot to Indiana University because I had over, well, I was there seven years.
SCARPINO: That’s your education and your husband’s education.
MILLER: My education. I did some grad work and my husband also got his law degree there. Again, education has opened so many doors that would never have been opened for us and I owe them a lot. Yes, and so if I can give back in any way, sitting on a board or raising money for their medical school, I couldn’t be happier.
SCARPINO: You’re also a member of the IU Varsity Club or you were.
SCARPINO: Will you say, for the record, what the IU Varsity Club is and what it does?
MILLER: The IU Varsity Club is the arm of the university that raises money for sports. You might have gathered I like sports.
SCARPINO: I picked that up between the lines.
MILLER: I like sports and we’re trying very hard to—we’ve had some rough times with basketball and football and also…
SCARPINO: Meaning Indiana University.
MILLER: Meaning Indiana University. And actually we have a better record than Notre Dame this year in football which tickles me to death but I’m also interested in women’s sports. With Title IX we’re finally getting equal and I’m very happy about that.
SCARPINO: Do you raise money for women’s sports at Indiana University?
MILLER: Not women’s sports per se although I wouldn’t count that out for the future. I think sports is another part of your education—how to win, how to lose, how to work as a team, how to set goals and reach them. There are many life’s lessons you can learn with sports plus we have a nation of people that are not fit and we have to reverse that because it’s cost: first of all it’s not good and secondly it’s costing all of us so much money. So, I’m a proponent of fitness.
SCARPINO: What impact do you think Title IX has had on the lives of women?
MILLER: A great impact. It’s so great.
SCARPINO: Define great.
MILLER: Oh, it’s so great! They are able to experience, those that want to, an area that they were not privy to before. You think of the scholarships. How many women are able to go to school now that might not have been? And again, it used to be you thought women couldn’t even run a marathon. You’re probably too young to remember that.
SCARPINO: (laughing) I do remember that. Actually in graduate school I was a long distance runner.
MILLER: I do think it’s just wonderful. It’s just wonderful.
SCARPINO: Is there anything else that you’d like to say about your interest in or engagement in philanthropy before I change the subject? Before I get into politics?
MILLER: The only thing, and I don’t know anything about statistics with this but I’ve heard that the upcoming generation of professionals isn’t as giving and I don’t think I believe that. I think they are and I think you just have to reach a certain point and then, you know, we all do get a little smarter as we get older and you realize the value of certain things. Sometimes when you’re younger you’re just very preoccupied with your career and raising your family and timing is important and I do think the generations coming up, in due time, will be great philanthropists.
SCARPINO: So you think it takes a certain maturity?
MILLER: I do. I do. I do. I think so.
SCARPINO: I actually would like to spend the remainder of the time that we have talking to you about your recent foray into state politics. In 2004, you agreed to serve the campaign of then Republican candidate for governor, Mitch Daniels.
MILLER: Uh hm.
SCARPINO: You and I have talked about this off the record but for the record how did you meet then-candidate Daniels? And had you known him before you met him for lunch, I guess?
MILLER: No, I did not know him. And I happened to be at an IU Foundation board meeting and I had a phone call from Jim Morris who was head of the World Food Bank and he had been president of the IU Board of Trustees and he’s on the IU Foundation board. I knew Jim, not well, but I knew him from association in those boards. And he said, phone call, and he said—Pat, I’d like you to drive to Indianapolis and meet a friend of mine, Mitch Daniels. So I said fine. Be glad to. So I did that and went to his campaign headquarters which, first campaign headquarters I think I’d been in because I had not been involved in politics before. I’m now not proud of that I will add because I think that public service is also a part of give back. But, so we met for lunch, the two of us, and he asked me many questions that you’re asking me. What do you do and tell me about your business and I found out, I can’t even remember if I knew he was running for governor, I think I probably did, but I certainly didn’t know him. Had not met him. Exactly an hour later—because he was a busy man, on the road, and RV-1 was parked right outside—I knew that he was a special person. I knew I liked what I heard and somehow there was a connection there. I didn’t know if it was reciprocal or not. So then I was invited to meet other supporters of his and friends and I realized that I was being considered, because he told me for—and he didn’t say what position—one of the positions in his administration should he win. And then eventually he did ask me to run as Secretary of Commerce Designee. There was not a Secretary of Commerce for the state. We had a Department of Commerce and he wanted to…
SCARPINO: And the department was overseen by the lieutenant governor under previous administrations?
MILLER: Yes, yes. So he wanted, should he get elected which of course he did, he wanted to change the Department of Commerce to a quasi-public/private corporation which was the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. He would be the Chairman of the Board, I would be CEO. Mickey Maurer, an incredible businessman would be President and we had Nate Feltman who was Executive VP. So, I campaigned from May ’04—in fact I found an article the other day. I’ve got these all stashed in boxes, all of my articles and memorabilia that some day—it’s like that box of photographs you have—someday you’re going to get them put in an album. Well, I have that with this campaign and when I served as Secretary of Commerce. But from May of ’04 until the election in November I was on the road constantly campaigning for him as Secretary of Commerce Designee.
SCARPINO: I want to back up to that first lunch that you had and I realize that Mitch Daniels is still the governor and so on but I also gather that your impression of him was a favorable one so this then, this question I don’t think will put you on the spot.
MILLER: Uh hm.
SCARPINO: When you met him the first time what were your impressions of him?
MILLER: I liked him. I liked him.
SCARPINO: What did you like about him?
MILLER: He was personable. I was very comfortable talking to him. You know, sometimes when you meet someone and there’s just a—there’s a connection and it’s hard to describe what it is but I felt very comfortable with him. I believed he was sincere and I tell him this and I truly feel this way. In fact, I just wrote a note to him today, this morning. Every day I’m a total political junkie as far as reading now the news. And I put an exclamation mark after his name every day when I read. Because we had a road map and it was truly a map of Indiana and the road map was what he wanted to get done should he become governor. And every day I see that he’s doing it. This morning there was an article in the paper about the BMV, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Now, everyone that lives in Indiana—I heard years ago going to the license branch is the way the state has of keeping us humble. (laughing)
SCARPINO: I was going to say getting root canal. (laughing)
MILLER: But today in the newspaper, The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, there was actually an article saying how pleasant it was to go to the BMV. When we campaigned he wanted you to be able to receive your license plate at the dealership where you bought your car. You can renew your license when applicable online. Why do you have to renew a license every four years rather than… It was thinking how to do things and make it better—continuous improvement. Now, I know they got off to a rocky start in this state because of the antiquated Texas technology they had trying to update it and it had a hard time. But they’re on the downhill slope now. They’re doing so well. It is improving and the article was about how pleasant it was. They’re not calling out your number—number 23. They’re actually calling your name and they’re pleasant and it’s the way it should be. We’re their customers and they’re there to serve us and that was his vision. And it went one point after another of what he wanted to do. The coal gasification was one of the—the clean air. One after another. Attracting, helping to grow business, attract business and keep business here. We have a long way to go and every time I hear him speak it’s always—we have so much more work to do. Yes, we’re making some victories but we have more work to do. It’s continuous improvement. It’s the same as running Vera Bradley or running GM across the road; continually knowing you can do better.
SCARPINO: You campaigned for Mitch Daniels from what, May ’04?
MILLER: May ’04 until November, until the election.
SCARPINO: It almost seemed to me from the material that I read and from watching you across the table as you talk about what you did, you were selling Mitch Daniels much like you would sell the products you make here at Vera Bradley.
MILLER: Well, it was easy. I believed in it.
SCARPINO: Marketing I think is better than selling.
MILLER: Yes. You know, you can sell anything you like or believe in. You can do it I think. It’s hard to sell something you don’t like.
SCARPINO: So what was your role? I mean what did you do as you campaigned for him? How did you go about marketing Mitch Daniels?
MILLER: The reason I believe he chose me to do it was that we had actually started a business, we were growing a business. I don’t know what gender had to do with it. But when you talk to someone who has started a business from $500 to a multi-million dollar business, I don’t know everything; I don’t have the answers to everything. But, I know how to build a team and keep them excited about things and Mitch did the same thing. He saw that if I went through the 250 companies, over 250 companies I went through, that I would have some validity. That I’ve been in their shoes with—he kept saying I want someone that is actually signed their name to a paycheck for someone; that kind of knows what it’s about.
SCARPINO: So were you mostly proselytizing for Mitch Daniels among corporate executives or were you out on the rubber chicken circuit giving speeches?
MILLER: All of the above. All of the above. I went into companies that might have mom and pop that might have four employees and I went through companies that had thousands of employees. Fortune 500 companies and mom and pop shops. Companies that probably would be buggy whip companies very soon because of the outsourcing overseas probably…
SCARPINO: You mean they’re going to become obsolete?
MILLER: Obsolete, yes. And how could they reinvent themselves? We went overseas to try to attract business. We attracted Toyota. Then he did get Honda after we came because we had a number in the hundreds of Japanese companies that are in Indiana.
SCARPINO: I’m going to connect this interview with an earlier one that I did. One of the individuals that I interviewed for the Tobias Leadership Project was John Mutz who ran unsuccessfully for governor after a long career as a politician in Indiana and he felt in analyzing his unsuccessful bid against Evan Bayh that maybe one of the things that hurt him was his championing of Subaru Isuzu and what he thought maybe was, at that time, a streak of xenophobia in and among the electorate. Did you run into any of that? Do you think Indiana had gotten beyond that by the time you were, had the whip in your hand?
MILLER: I think they had gotten a little beyond that because of the globalization of the world economy. It’s a market economy now. There are certain people I’m sure that don’t like to see that. We had a map with all the different countries that have companies in Indiana but we’re in a global economy right now and we have, people have to understand that.
SCARPINO: Who do you think that challenges the chief executive of the state or the secretary of commerce in the state? I mean, what does that challenge those leaders to do?
MILLER: It’s tough. It is very tough. There are certain things that, certain industries, that are on a priority list for us. The only thing is it’s on a priority list for every state in the union. Our wages are more than say the wages in China. And they should be. But it does present many challenges. So, what areas can we excel in in the United States? And there’s your education again with your design, your creativity, your entrepreneurship. We’re used to thinking outside the box. We’re used to thinking as entrepreneurs. Not every society is that way if you haven’t had a market economy. If you—for example, some of the communist regimes where the government owns everything and you have nothing to gain by thinking of better ways to do something or new ways to do something. We have a wonderful society here but the world changes and it’s changing dramatically and it’s changing at a pace that it’s never changed before and it will continue to change faster and faster. So, we have to make sure that we have the vision to know where we want to go, where our priorities are. It’s very complicated.
SCARPINO: So how did you market Indiana to foreign investors in competition with Ohio and Pennsylvania and West Virginia and Florida?
MILLER: Just like I market Vera Bradley—personal interest. Going to a customer, wherever they are, and saying we appreciate your business. Mitch says over and over. You know what we would be happiest with—if you made a lot of money. Because, then the state’s going to get the taxes from it. But, be successful. That would be the best, that would be our reward as Secretary of Commerce and IEDC, if businesses were successful. That’s what we want.
SCARPINO: Well, we know that Mitch Daniels won in November of 2004. He was successful in his bid for governor and he, as he indicated he would, he appointed you as Indiana’s first Secretary of Commerce and Executive Director of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. It’s my understanding, and I hope I get this right for the record, that Indiana had had a Department of Commerce. It was a state agency.
MILLER: Uh hm.
SCARPINO: And what he did was to eliminate the Department of Commerce and create the Indiana Economic Development Corporation but with the Secretary of Commerce as the head of that.
MILLER: Uh hm.
SCARPINO: So you were Secretary of Commerce and Executive Director of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation but those were the same position.
SCARPINO: Is that right?
MILLER: Yes. I was CEO of the IEDC. Governor Daniels was Chairman of the Board. And then I had a president in Mickey Mauer who went on to become Secretary of Commerce. Then when Mickey left Nate Feltman is currently the Secretary of Commerce. Mitch, I should say the Governor, recruited business people. Not in its entirety but many of his cabinet was composed of business people—successful business people. And Mickey was one of those. Nate was a partner in…
SCARPINO: Mickey Mauer’s background was?
MILLER: Mickey is entrepreneur of renown. He’s a tax lawyer. He started many successful businesses. He owns the IBJ—Indianapolis Business Journal. An incredibly brilliant man and one of the most generous people I know. So recruiting these business people to serve in the cabinet, we promised him a certain amount of time. So now when you read that so-and-so’s leaving and so-and-so’s leaving it’s that we weren’t career politicians. We came from a job. We came from business. But we all bought into what Governor Daniels was trying to do. We all use him as an example of how to do it right. He’s bold, audacious, he has an agenda, and whether it’s popular or not, if he thinks it’s right he wants to do it. He’s fiscally very, very sound and it’s an incredibly complex, complicated job to be governor. And I still believe that he’s one of the most brilliant governors in the country and I think we’re very lucky to have him and I, because he works harder and smarter than almost anyone I know.
SCARPINO: So as Secretary of Commerce you were then a member of the governor’s cabinet.
SCARPINO: Okay, what was your portfolio as a member of the governor’s cabinet? What were you charged to do?
MILLER: Attract, grow, and retain businesses.
SCARPINO: Was that the same as your position as Executive Director of Indiana Development Corporation?
MILLER: Same thing. Same thing. Serve the businesses of Indiana however we could. Also, not to just give money away as far as tax credits or whatever but to also get a return on our investment. Because the money we had belonged to Indiana—Indiana citizens. So we wanted to make sure when we invested monies in a company, as far as attraction, growth, or retention, that we felt particularly good about the fact that it would generate more money than we gave.
SCARPINO: So, you kind of looked at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation as a generator of economic growth.
SCARPINO: Okay. If you look at the Department of Commerce that was once an agency of the state government overseen by the Lt. Governor and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation that replaced it, could you talk about what was different about the Indiana Economic Development Corporation? How was it organized? What was its purpose?
MILLER: Well, the Department of Commerce, and again, I wasn’t there when that was going on, but it had Agriculture, it had many, many different objectives. By focusing the IEDC on commerce—and the Lt. Governor now has Ag and other areas—it focused on what the governor and we thought was the most important element in state government to get the wheels rolling and that was to have a healthy, growing economy.
SCARPINO: Now is the Indiana Economic Development Corporation a state agency or public/private partnership?
MILLER: It’s both. It’s a quasi-public/private. And what does that mean? It means that yes we have a leg in the government.
SCARPINO: Because you sat at the governor’s cabinet.
MILLER: And the governor is our chairman of the board.
MILLER: But we can also raise private money.
SCARPINO: So your funding was a combination of tax dollars and private money.
SCARPINO: What did you do with the money to accomplish the mission of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation?
MILLER: With the money that we were able to raise, if we tried to attract, for example, a business from another state. States all over are trying to attract that same business if they felt it was good business. Some states laid cash on the table for them. Some gave tax incentives. All of the above. So we’re all in competition. One conference—they always have a Midwest U.S. Japan conference once a year and it includes nine Midwestern states. At one of those conferences—the year I was Secretary of Commerce—the conference was in Cincinnati. I was able to hear each governor—and not all governors were there. I think there might have been seven—had a ten minute presentation, one right after the other. So I heard Governor Granholm from Michigan, Governor Daniels, the governor of Illinois. One right after the another. We’re all after the same golden ring. So what do you do…
SCARPINO: The Japanese investment.
MILLER: Yes. So what do you do to break out of the crowd? You have to do something a little different. We didn’t have as much money as some states. In fact we were in the red when we went in. We’re not now but we thought well, we can out-customer-service them. We can tell them you’re very important to us. Thank you for your business. We want your business, whatever. We made a vow to return every phone call, to just give the same service that I said, that Bureau of Motor Vehicles customer service. That is a way of attracting business. If you walk in a store and a clerk comes up to you and shows an interest in you and knows what they’re talking about, you may be willing to pay a little bit more.
SCARPINO: How did you go about establishing your leadership as Secretary of Commerce/Executive Director of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation? I mean I assume at some point you literally and figuratively walked into the door of your office and then you have to set up a mechanism in the new administration.
MILLER: We did. We did. And I did it like we’ve done this. We had a team. We had myself, Mickey Mauer, Nate Feltman and we started a company is what we did because in politics when you have a change in administration and we went from a Democratic administration to Republican, the house cleans out somewhat. So we had to make up our team. That was like starting a business. That’s the hardest part of anything because trying to get that team together is an unknown. So that was a tough time but between all of us we interviewed many people, we got recommendations and talked today to my administrative assistant. They’re very special people to me. They become part of your business family.
SCARPINO: Your administrative assistant when you were in state government?
SCARPINO: What was his or her name?
MILLER: Dixie Morton and she was a Dixie. She was a great gal.
SCARPINO: So she’s still there?
MILLER: She’s still there. Yes.
SCARPINO: Can you explain a little bit about how the Indiana Economic Development Corporation worked? I believe it had a twelve member board. The Chairman of the Board was the governor and so on but how did it function?
MILLER: We set up a board and the board was made up of top CEOs around the state in different areas. We met on a regular basis. We presented to the board what we were doing as a corporation as any corporation presents what they are doing to their board. They were able to give us input and suggestions and they also were our ambassadors throughout the state and the world. Some of our board members were in global businesses like Cummins Engine or…
SCARPINO: Who were the board members? Or the ones that you can remember off the top of your head.
MILLER: Well, John Mutz, Bob Cook from Evansville. We had Mr. White from Merrillville—White Signs and he’s a hotel person. John Mutz. I don’t know, did I mention John.
SCARPINO: You mentioned John, yeah.
MILLER: John and we had, let’s see, oh gosh. We had, oh, Dan Miller from Biomet. We had—I’m probably missing very, very obvious people here. We had Sally Burn who was from Lafayette. She’s an entrepreneur; started her own company. We had, where am I, seven. We’ve got more to go. But anyway a very impressive board of people who had done it, were business people. They always say politics is different than business but as far as IEDC, we were running it like a business and we wanted a return on investment and if we were incentivizing a company and they decided to leave the state, we needed that money back.
SCARPINO: Back from the company?
MILLER: We needed the money. If they left before their obligation was over we wanted that back to help invest in another company. We were using your money as best as we knew how.
SCARPINO: So in effect you were, at this point, marketing Indiana.
MILLER: We were.
SCARPINO: Economic opportunity in Indiana I guess.
MILLER: Yes, we were.
SCARPINO: Which is something that you had a lot of practice at.
MILLER: Yes and I went around and spoke as often as I could.
SCARPINO: I did a lot of reading about your time as Executive Director of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and I pulled out a couple of examples that look interesting. So I hope that I’m right and I’m going to hit on some that are worthy of remembering. The Indiana Manufacturing Extension Partnership Center that was affiliated with Purdue.
MILLER: Uh hm.
SCARPINO: What were you trying to accomplish there? I mean I thought that was kind of interesting that a major land-grant university was involved from which you were…
MILLER: Well, IU is a research university. Purdue is also a research university. Certainly, IU’s research, primarily medicine but certainly chemistry, bio-sciences. Then, Purdue with the engineering, also bio-sciences. Universities play a very vital role in economic development because they can assist companies with research to come up with new ways to do things, better ways to do things. And I truly did not understand how significant it was that universities partnered with economic development on a state level as much as it is a vital partnership and they get it. Research companies such as Lilly and many, many different companies that not only have wonderful products but are continually researching new products, new ways to do things. So, Purdue University has the top research center in the country as far as universities.
SCARPINO: In which particular area?
MILLER: Primarily engineering. One of the—with Homeland Security, some of the devices that they’ve been able to come up with—one young man who was a graduate student, as far as detecting objects that should not be in an airplane, like a bomb. So you can see where this would be very—well what it is it’s giving birth to new innovation, new companies, because the companies of the future, many of them, we won’t even imagine today.
SCARPINO: Right. Did you get involved in development of ethanol?
SCARPINO: In what way?
MILLER: We didn’t—we were very far behind in ethanol plants and last Saturday Jay Berry, who opened his ethanol plant, had the grand opening on Saturday, was one of the first projects that I worked on.
SCARPINO: Where was that plant or where is that plant?
MILLER: He’s down around Marion, Indiana and Senator Lugar spoke at that opening. But agriculture is a huge industry in Indiana and you have many pros and cons to using ethanol plants as economic development. It’s a clean fuel. It’s maybe something that’s going to be here a long time, maybe not. But certainly the grain that we raised, the farmers are getting more money for it but it also has a domino effect of the grain prices are going up which means the farmers that feed the livestock have to pay more for the grain which costs them more. I mean we’re all connected and it takes someone much brighter than me to figure all of that out but we started very far in the hole as far as ethanol plants that were up and running and now we’re one of the leaders. That was Lt. Governor Becky Skillman’s area. But it was also ours because it’s a company but it’s also related to Ag. So often our departments were together on businesses because of the Ag business and it was a business.
SCARPINO: Do you think that the benefits of ethanol lie mostly in the area of providing a market for grain or a substitute for reliance on foreign oil, or all of the above or some of the above?
MILLER: I think all of the above. I think we continually have to be looking for alternative fuels. I just bought Alan Greenspan’s book yesterday and one of the statements he made to the press was the reason we’re in Iraq is because of the oil. Whether that’s true or not I don’t know but certainly we know oil plays a big role in that and for many, many reasons we need to find a way to sustain our energy other than oil.
SCARPINO: Did you have anything to do with the Indy Racing Leagues, that option of ethanol as its motor fuel?
MILLER: Yes. The motor sports was under the IEDC. That was so interesting. I didn’t know much about it certainly other than the fact that I’d gone to the 500 Race. But that’s a huge industry—a huge business industry. Some of the schools were starting to have majors and coursework in the auto industry management and the wind tunnel that’s down there now, we had a gentleman at IEDC whose job was motor sports.
SCARPINO: The wind tunnel is where?
MILLER: In Indianapolis. It’s not the only one but it is significant. So we’re known for motor sports and it’s so much easier to keep a customer, speaking of the state, than to go out and find a new customer. So we’d always been known for motor sports but the Daytona and, I mean, you see that other states were also doing this. So we made a concerted effort to pay particular attention to motor sports because we’ve got it. We want to hang onto it. We want to help it grow. That’s going back to those three words—attract, retain, and grow business. So we didn’t necessarily have to attract it. We had it. But we had to retain it and we had to help it grow.
SCARPINO: And when they made the switch to ethanol as the fuel for their race cars, was that something that?
MILLER: That was part of it. That was part of it. It’s like a celebrity saying I have a disease. If the celebrity driving the race car says we’re using ethanol that’s good.
SCARPINO: Did you play a personal role?
SCARPINO: What was your role?
MILLER: Well, to encourage these companies to come here. Oh, you’re talking about the car owners deciding to use ethanol?
SCARPINO: Use ethanol, yes.
MILLER: I did through the gentleman that was in IEDC whose job was paying attention to motor sports, yes. That was one of our agendas.
SCARPINO: But overall, the building up in the motor sports industry was one of the initiatives that the governor.
MILLER: Yes, it was and the governor. That was on his road map in ’04.
SCARPINO: You hired a man named Stephen Akard—A-K-A-R-D.
SCARPINO: Who had been on the staff of…
MILLER: Colin Powell.
SCARPINO: …Secretary of State Colin Powell. The Service Director for International Development which I assume must have meant he was charged with promoting foreign investment. How did he do and how did Indiana fare in the area of foreign investment on your watch?
MILLER: Yes. I think we fared very well. To get someone of Stephen’s caliber. He spoke five languages fluently; traveled the world with Colin Powell. Really set up his itineraries to make sure that everything, all his trips, went smoothly. So, how did we get Stephen? Well he was an Indianapolis person or at least Indianapolis-area. And they had grade school children and he traveled extensively and it was time, he said, to come back to grandma and grandpa-land. You know, when you’re in that time period where you’re raising small children and you’re gone all the time. So, we had this incredibly talented person. We had stories like this at IEDC over and over again. The Midwest is a wonderful place to raise a family. So we were able to get Stephen and he helped us immensely on the trip in ’05 that we went to Japan. We had many, many foreign dignitaries come to the state from all over the world and Stephen was very helpful in that area because of his great experience. So, very fortunate to have someone of Stephen’s caliber and character. Wonderful person.
SCARPINO: Did you pick him?
MILLER: That was one of our great hires and it wasn’t just me. It was our team building this team.
SCARPINO: In June of 2005 you, I guess, gave a keynote at a meeting of the Columbia Club in Indianapolis and you were featured in a session called building a roadmap to the next Indiana. I don’t know if you remember that. You probably gave a lot of speeches but how did you imagine the next Indiana? Where did you think we were going?
MILLER: Well, we have so many natural resources here. We have water. You know what’s happening right now with forest fires and of course a lot of people have water right now. I just said Jackson Hills flooded right now—Jackson Hills, Florida. But with the Major Moves, which was another of Governor Daniels’ initiatives, we were able to—Mother Nature put us, we can’t take credit for it, Mother Nature put us in the middle of the country. So if you’re going east to west, north to south, chances are a high percentage of traffic is going to go through Indiana. So we have many, many highways in Indiana but we need to have more and better; keep them upgraded which Major Moves will allow us
to do because we have the money to do it and we’ll also be employing thousands of people.
SCARPINO: And briefly, for the record in ten or fifteen years, what was Major Moves?
MILLER: Alright. Major Moves was understanding that we were at this intersection. Part of that was the governor leasing the toll-way along the northern border of Indiana.
SCARPINO: Interstate 80?
MILLER: Yes. Yes. A huge influx of money that not only gains interest, huge amounts of interest every day, but we are now able to start building these roads right away. Evansville, Indiana. The only time I had an irate group during the campaign was in Evansville, Indiana. They have been cut off by not having an adequate highway down there for as long as I can—forever. And in spite of that has grown to be quite a nice city. But if they had that highway and they have, they’re on the river—it’s going to help enormously. But I was speaking to a group at one of the country clubs during the campaign and several people finally stood up and said, like the movie, we’ve had it. We’re mad as hell. We’re not going to take it anymore. Bobby Kennedy was here when he was campaigning for president and promised us this highway. What are you going to do? You know, this was when I was campaigning for him. He’s doing it. We weren’t able—it’s like any company or household. If you don’t have the money you can’t do very much. We were in debt. We’re now solvent and we can do some things.
SCARPINO: And you credit Major Moves for that?
MILLER: That was part of it. It was a big part of it.
SCARPINO: As Secretary of Commerce/Executive Director of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, what were you most proud of? What do you think was your greatest accomplishment?
MILLER: Gosh. Probably getting it started and hopefully we let people know that we were working for them. Now I know people at the Department of Commerce, I’m sure they did too. I mean no one goes into work thinking we’re going to do a bad job I don’t think. Not very many people. But with the organization the way it was under IEDC I think we were able to move with speed and flexibility and those are two very important words—speed especially. In this day and age you have to work with speed. We were able to do that. We were able to move faster because we didn’t have to go the legislators for everything. We could do it.
SCARPINO: Was that the point of this type of an organization was speed and flexibility?
MILLER: Yes. Right. Because if you’re going to do business in 2005, 2006, 2007, what’s it about now? It’s about a good product, delivering on time or better than your competitor, and customer service. Same thing I’m doing here.
SCARPINO: What was your good product?
MILLER: Indiana. Indiana was our product, that we have a labor force. One of the things was the—shovel ready. We wanted to have sites for businesses that had all the paperwork done and you come from California to look at a site to build a factory and it’s shovel ready. It’s ready for you to put your shovel in the ground and start building. And you only have to be as good as your competition and much of our competition, the other states, was doing that. It’s like when did you have to have a fax or when did you have to have the internet? There’s a point where you have to have it because your competition has it and you’re going to be left in the dust if you don’t.
SCARPINO: When did you step down from those positions?
MILLER: I stepped down the first part of January ’06. I had been on the road or in that position for a little over twenty months and I promised the governor two years. I knew that Mickey would be a wonderful Secretary of Commerce. It meant that he would have a year to do that because he also had promised two years. And the company, Vera Bradley, was growing very rapidly.
SCARPINO: Had you already broken ground down here at that point?
MILLER: No. No, we hadn’t. But it was, I thought the timing was good. The continuation of IEDC was assured with Mickey and Nate and so I announced that I would come back to Fort Wayne.
SCARPINO: As you look back on your time as the head of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and so on, if you could do it over again is there anything you’d do differently?
MILLER: I’d do it all over again because, I don’t know that I could because I’m a little bit older now. It was exhausting. I don’t think I—because I lived in Indianapolis and commuted on the weekends back to Fort Wayne. But we hardly ever got out of there between nine-thirty or ten o’clock at night. I had treated it as a sprint. I knew I wasn’t going to be there ten years. I knew I had a job to do. It was one of the first times I ever had a boss and of all things he was Governor of the state. And he was doing a heck of a job himself. I wanted to make sure—it made me a better boss—because I wanted to make sure that I did a job that he’d be proud of. I hope I did. I don’t know. I hope I did.
SCARPINO: Do you see any differences or similarities between being a leader in business and being a leader in government?
MILLER: Many similarities. You have to know your business. You have to be responsive to the business. Be responsive to your vendors. Be responsible to your customers. Give them over the top service. Be fiscally responsible. Be morally responsible. Same thing.
SCARPINO: Are there any differences? I mean, between say serving a governor and serving the electorate as opposed to…
MILLER: Yes. If you’re running your own business you can make decisions pretty fast and you don’t have anyone saying—having all these other agendas. It was frustrating at times because when you—but it’s the way to do it.
SCARPINO: What were the other agendas for example?
MILLER: Well, take daylight savings time.
SCARPINO: Okay. Let’s take—that’s an interesting one. (laughing)
MILLER: That was the very first week, I think, I was in office. Someone came in and said—Pat you’ve got to go over to the Senate and lobby for daylight savings time. That was a little daunting because I felt that it was absolutely the thing to do. If you have three states out of fifty who don’t observe daylight savings time…
SCARPINO: Indiana, Arizona and…
MILLER: …it meant that you were out of sync. If you’d had—if we were three states and we were observing daylight savings time and the other ones didn’t then I would have gone in the other direction. But we were out of sync. We needed to get into sync with the rest of the United States. And people were, some people, were getting time zones and daylight savings time confused and what it amounted to—we needed to get the entire state on daylight savings time but some parts of the state would be on central time and they were more economic time zones. So if you lived in northwest Indiana you would identify with Chicago. If you lived in southeast Indiana you might identify with Cincinnati because chances are you might work there. So I can understand certain parts of the state being on different time zones but as a state we needed to all be on daylight savings time. Otherwise, it was just a patch work quilt of times and it was just very, very confusing to everyone. I thought it would be a slam dunk. It wasn’t. It passed with one vote and that vote came from a democrat who…
SCARPINO: Why do you think Indiana was so quirky on the subject of daylight savings time?
MILLER: I don’t know. I don’t know. You know, you heard everything from—our children can’t get to sleep at night because it’s still daylight and all kinds of things. People get set in their ways or have legitimate reasons for why they feel that way. But for the betterment of the state—one company said in order to do business in Indiana, especially because of the computer age, they had to change things for Indiana. It cost millions of dollars to do business in Indiana above and beyond what it should. So it was an economic reason that I was pushing for daylight savings time.
SCARPINO: You must have had to deal with the press on a constant basis.
MILLER: A little bit. Not too much. They seemed to be understanding of what we were trying to do for the most part.
SCARPINO: I mean but, for example, as the head of Vera Bradley or co-head of Vera Bradley, you’re not accountable to the press and to the citizens of the state the way you are…
SCARPINO: …as Secretary of Commerce. So, were some differences there in the way that you exercised your authority and so on?
MILLER: Well, if I was interviewed as Secretary of Commerce I knew that I was speaking for the administration whereas if I’m interviewed for Vera Bradley, I’m speaking for Vera Bradley but it’s different. And also I don’t, things don’t have to be quite as transparent here. If you’re a public servant, anything that you get on the internet is public information or any email or anything. So, not that you would do something or say something you wouldn’t want published but they said to us make sure that whatever you do if it landed on the front page of the newspaper, you wouldn’t be embarrassed by it. And that was—and that’s right.
SCARPINO: In that kind of environment, were there any differences in the way you function as a leader?
MILLER: As a leader, probably not. But, when I did speak to the press I was more—I don’t know, guarded isn’t probably the right word—but I was very aware that I was speaking for the state and I wanted to make sure I said the right thing.
SCARPINO: I’ve just about reached the end of the questions that I wanted to ask you but before I turn the recorder off I want to ask you is there anything that I should have asked you that I just didn’t have the insight to cover or anything that you wanted to say for the record that I didn’t give you an opportunity to say?
MILLER: I think you covered it all. I would mention that I think I’m about one of the luckiest people in the world to be able to enjoy the experience of starting a business, growing a business, later in life being able to participate in public service. That was a, definitely a who’d-of-thunk-it out of the blue. It was one of the most fascinating experiences I could ever dream of and along with that I’ve had a husband who not only puts up with all this but actually enjoys the process as much as I do. I’ve been blessed my entire life to have great partners that make me look better than I probably am and feel very blessed. I’ve had a great time. I’ve had a great time.
SCARPINO: Well, thank you very much for giving me and the Tobias Center the time for two interviews. Appreciate it very much.
MILLER: Thank you.
[end of recording]