At just 33 years old, Wills Miller EMBA ’16 is responsible for overseeing the daily operations at Light Tech Inc., a fiber optics splicing company that services contracts throughout Virginia. The company was established in the early 2000s by his family and according to Miller, it is projected to grow significantly over the next several years.
Miller’s professional journey to become a young business executive is a unique one. The Norfolk, Virginia native attended Hampden–Sydney College where he majored in History. After graduation, he entered the container shipping industry working for several companies on the operations side. When the last company he worked for decided to relocate their port offices to Austin, Texas, Miller found himself at a critical juncture in his career.
“My dad owned several businesses in the Norfolk area and this was where I wanted to stay. I knew there was one business in particular that he was looking to grow. He wanted succession help and wanted it pretty quickly so the timing aligned well,” he explained. “But at that point, based on my previous work experience and schooling, I lacked the knowledge and tools I needed to run a business successfully.”
Miller’s father, W. Sheppard “Shep” Miller III EMBA ’88 graduated from William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business with one of the first Executive MBA cohorts. He encouraged his son to consider applying to the program as a way to bolster his business toolkit as he concurrently learned how to manage the family business.
“I had heard a ton of stories about William & Mary from my dad but I didn’t have a lot of experience with the school,” Miller said. “I went for a visit and everyone was so nice. I had the opportunity to sit in on a class and was really impressed by the faculty.”
After looking at several other programs, Miller says he made the “professor-driven decision” to apply to William & Mary’s Executive MBA program and enrolled in the 2015-2016 cohort.
Persevering through challenges
The Executive MBA experience proved to be challenging for Miller as he assumed a new job and settled into a new routine that included studying daily and attending class in-person every other weekend. As one of the younger members of his cohort, he was personally at a time in his life where many of his friends were getting married. Between the many obligations and events he had to attend, coupled with being newly engaged himself, Miller had a full calendar to manage.
“I was lucky to have a boss who understood,” he quipped. “The program was also very accommodating to me if I was unable to make a class. But it was a major time commitment. Fortunately, I had a very supportive fiancé who understood I needed to put in a few hours of studying every night to keep up.”
Miller did not feel, however, that his age put him at a disadvantage in the program. He liked learning alongside people with a lot of professional experience and he gained valuable perspectives from his classmates who collectively came from a diverse set of industries. And, he felt supported throughout the experience by his peers, the program staff, and the faculty alike.
“It was nice knowing if I had a problem, I could pick up the phone and call someone,” he said. “The Executive MBA program gave me a good network of well-learned and well-connected people who I could reach out to when I was faced with something that I was unfamiliar with.”
“Because it’s a small class, they get really close,” said former Professor of Marketing Larry Ring. “I think the people who teach in the Executive MBA program are very loyal to their students and they get closer to them more so than in other programs. Most of us teach more than one course so over the short time they’re in the program we get to know them really well.”
Assuming a leadership role
Since graduating from the Executive MBA program, Miller married his wife, Carrie, and assumed the reigns of the day-to-day operations at Light Tech Inc. He manages a team of technicians and subcontractors who are responsible for executing against a contract with Cox Communications.
“We’re well-poised to grow pretty fast over the next several years through some focused business development efforts,” he said.
Miller says he uses his MBA all of the time, frequently referencing back to information he learned, employing business tools he acquired, and flexing the critical thinking skills he honed to help the organization to succeed.
Ring, who taught both father and son in the Executive MBA program, is a good friend of the Miller family and shared his thoughts.
“I think in the case of Wills, he needed another credential to say I’m not just a legacy working for my dad, I have the education too,” he said.
Looking to the future, Miller is excited about the opportunity to expand the company’s footprint in the region using what the Executive MBA program taught him was his greatest resource – his people.
“Since the success of this company is very technician-driven, I would like to concentrate on developing the skills of my employees through professional certification programs. That is one of my short-term goals,” he said. “Our team will only continue to grow and be successful if we invest in our people.”