A MOVING TALE - Season 1, Episode 104 - Larisa B. Miller
Kevin Sturmer 0:09
Hello, my name is Kevin Sturmer, and welcome to another episode of A Moving Tale sponsored by the Outermost Ring. Before we get to today's outstanding guest, it is an honor to have her on the show, I once again want to answer the question that I get more often than anything else - what is the Outermost Ring? Well, it's the title of a musical I'm writing and I liked the philosophy so much that I made it the core of my company. It refers to the rings of a tree, and as a tree grows and expands, it adds one ring for each year of its life. The Outermost Ring refers to the present, or the current time and I like the idea that we are always learning always growing, and always taking new shape, while never losing sight of where we've been, and what's at our core. My guest today has brought so much value to the world. Her moving tale spans the globe from consulting with the royal family in Abu Dhabi, all the way to having a real impact in African refugee camps. She is one of the world's leading entrepreneurs, an inspiration and champion for women in business, a strong advocate for the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. She's also one of the top 100 people in finance, ranked as one of the top 10 most influential business leaders of 2020, she's on the board of directors for the Global Chamber of Business Leaders, an executive vice president of STP Capital Partners, and the CEO of Phoenix Global. Crack open a bottle of ROI water, because you are about to hear A Moving Tale from my guest, Larisa Miller. Welcome, welcome, welcome. How are you?
Larisa B. Miller 1:47
Thank you, Kevin, for having me. And I can say out of all the introductions that I've heard through the years, that was probably one of the best and my favorites. So thank you. And it's a pleasure to be here with you today.
Kevin Sturmer 1:57
It's so great to have you here. And before we get to global leadership and entrepreneurship and telling stories, let's take our cue from the Sound of Music, because you know me, I'm a theater guy. We'll start at the very beginning. It's a very good place to start. So I want to go back, just after college, you got your start in the Department of Agriculture in Pennsylvania? Now, can you take us from there all the way to working with the royal family and becoming a global business leader? How did that happen?
Larisa B. Miller 2:27
Goodness, I don't know. I can honestly say I've had the most, let's say schizophrenic life, because it's been all over the place. What I've learned very early on is the path you set for yourself early in your life is rarely the path that you stay on through your life. It's only for being open to changing your course and paying attention, being perceptive, aware, and present to the things that are happening around you that you meet the most extraordinary people and find those opportunities that truly allow you to reshape your life, reimagine your way forward, find new talents within yourself and really to be able to make a greater impact because at the end of the day, the impact we leave on the world is essentially the legacy that we leave for our future generations. Like you said, I started in Pennsylvania in the Department of Agriculture. But you know, before that, I grew up on a farm in rural Lebanon County, just outside of Hershey, Pennsylvania, surrounded by the Amish, they would come in to the house to use our phone and things because the Amish don't have phones. And that was just a normal part of my life. But agriculture has been an intrinsic part of my life from the time I was born. My father being a lobbyist in Harrisburg, and he still is today at 90 years old. He's still lobbying for agriculture, environment and transportation in Pennsylvania. You know, he goes back to helping President Eisenhower form the national highway system. So change public policy and our role and how each one of us actually can influence the way the world changes. If we can change a little we can change a lot. And I've never been one to believe that I'm one person so therefore I can't make an impact. I started in the Department of Agriculture. The animal health and diagnostic commission, later worked for the Secretary of Agriculture as his Assistant and then worked for Governor Tom Ridge when he was governor of Pennsylvania and his Office of Public Policy. To this day, he's one of those men that I have great esteem for and look up to and consider one of my role models because he truly saw the importance and the necessity of bipartisan politics and being able to come together to be the solution at the end and and that's really stuck with me. I've seen politics from the inside from a very young age because when I was a 13 1415 year old high school student, I was Give my summers over to volunteering as a page in the House of Representatives in the senate here in Pennsylvania. Often the budget would pass around Fourth of July weekend and it would be at all night session. And, you know, you would hear the debates and see the disagreements and watch the caucuses go out to meet and come back. And at the end, everyone came together and the budget passed and Pennsylvania was better for it. I learned the process of how laws come together, how amendments come together. And it's been influential in being able to really imagine a way forward for business and connect dots that others can't see and fill fractures before people can even see that there's a fracture there. My time in government and politics and for sure, being my father's daughter really helped me to be able to imagine how we can solve problems that are 20 years away from right where we are today.
Kevin Sturmer 5:58
That's so amazing. Okay, so moving on. You wrapped up your time working for Governor Tom Ridge, what's next for you?
Larisa B. Miller 6:06
Well, after that I married a US soldier. He was an Apache helicopter, is an Apache helicopter pilot. We had three kids, we lived in Germany for six years, I put my career on pause to be a stay at home mom and an army wife and volunteer extensively within the the army and the Family Readiness groups, which is the interface between the deployed soldiers and their families and spouses back here in the US. I'm honored to have been able to win several awards for volunteering, and it's a very proud time. Flash forward many years and we found ourselves as a family in Abu Dhabi, where my husband took on his retirement job over there. Not long after we got there, we had some changes in our marital dynamic. It was a time where I've really realized that okay, Larisa, now what? What are you going to do? Because you've got to figure this out. It was a bit of a scary time, but an exciting time too. I had a random conversation with some local women, which led to me getting a call from the palace asking me if I would come for a meeting, which I had no idea what that was going to be about. And it led to an extraordinary relationship with one of the shaykhahs and her family that allowed me to work with her and them on business development, business transformation, and all around sustainable development and women's empowerment within the Emirates, and also to head up their large nonprofit, which worked with women and youth in refugee camps to give them the knowledge, the tools and the experience, to allow them to overcome their circumstances and become entrepreneurs and so forth. That allowed me to have the privilege of traveling to refugee camps in Iraq, and Jordan and Yemen, and into Africa, to work with youth and women. And and I learned so many of the lessons that have shaped me and made me who I am today, from the people in those camps, who live without so much of what we take for granted. And that's really what has defined my leadership perspective that I infuse into all the business that I do to this day.
Kevin Sturmer 8:33
And the experiences you gain from there from all the traveling, you then transitioned into Phoenix global
Larisa B. Miller 8:40
Kevin Sturmer 8:40
Can you talk a little bit about your experience now with your company, and now you are passing it on to the next generation and you are inspiring so many people and doing so many good things in the world?
Larisa B. Miller 8:52
Absolutely. So it's time to come back to the United States. My kids were getting an age where they had to be checking important boxes, to get into US universities and so forth. And it was just time to come back home. So I came back. And I have a wealth of connections and knowledge in global business and business development. And we're at uh, even now after COVID, more so than several years ago when Phoenix Global came to fruition, but I've always been of the mindset that we're global citizens, and that we have to look globally to truly be the next doyens of business that will lead the way into this very disruptive and transformation in many ways, revolutionary new business future. In those veins. I started Phoenix global as a global consulting firm working predominantly with clients overseas because that's where the bulk of my connections and relations were at that time. I really didn't have any idea how and where and who and what my focus would be. I knew what I wanted to do, but then that little voice that, that comes out at 3am, and has a way of trying to talk you out of everything that you were resolute on when you fell asleep. And I was in New York City meeting with a prospective client at the very early stages of Phoenix Global. And my confidence was a bit shaky. And I started to second guess everything that I had planned to do, and the vision that I thought that I could achieve. And I remember walking on Fifth Avenue, actually, near Barnes & Noble. It's that clear in my mind, and I thought, you know, just forget about thinking about this, just go get something to eat. So I thought, I want pizza. And I got halfway to where I knew there was really good pizza, and then said, No, I want a sandwich. And I was just in a foul mood. So everything was contrary in my mind. And I start going to my favorite deli, and I get halfway there. And I thought, No, I'm just going back to the hotel, I want to be left alone, I don't want to talk to anybody. I'm just going to have whatever and go to bed. And I just want the whole world to leave me alone. And I walked into the bar/restaurant. And every table is full, except for two, there's one over in the corner that is entirely by itself, where no one would talk to me see me I can truly be alone. And there's one empty table to the other side, which is right in the middle of a lot of commotion. There's people sitting on all sides of that table, there was a an older man sitting to the table next to it all by himself. I start walking to that table. And in my head. I'm thinking, Larisa, what are you doing? There's an empty table all by yourself over in the corner. And yet my legs had a pathway of their own. And I went to this table and sat down and I plugged in my laptop. And the gentleman that was sitting to the side of me asked if he could borrow my charger cord to charge his phone, because he was late for a meeting, but his phone was dead. And he couldn't call that person to say that he had arrived. I find myself thinking, what are you doing Larisa? I'm pulling out my phone charger cord to give it to this gentleman, and we start to have a conversation and my mind and my mouth take on a life of their own. Long story short, he's one of my dearest friends. He's the president of the Technology Park that we work together on in North Macedonia. And I don't know whether I was manifesting it or whether you know, there was some greater power that took control at that moment. Everything I said I wasn't going to do was exactly what I did do in that moment. And that really was the moment that defined my way forward gave me the confidence to persevere and push on and, you know, led me to where I am today with clients all over the world that we consult in business development, transportation, 2030 strategy, you name it, we we have the top level consultants who can help these these companies achieve and what I especially prioritize is being able to provide a top level consulting experience for the companies that can't necessarily afford to work with the giants, the McKinsey's, and the EY's, and so forth, who all have extraordinary reputations and a strong foothold in that space, but are unattainable perhaps to some of the smaller companies that are just starting to get their footing. And that's really where I love to to spend my priority. You know, I think the future of business belongs to the small business and the entrepreneur and no longer to the multinational. And that's really where I like to put the lion's share of my time is to helping those with great ideas or entrepreneurs who were just starting out to really find their way forward and not only build their space in this domestic marketplace, but to recognize that their business community isn't the proximity around where they live. It's now the entire globe. And they have to be thinking with a global mindset right from the very beginning.
Kevin Sturmer 14:02
Yes, the story is so relatable, especially over this past year, a lot of people are shifting into a different idea of life, and having those conversations of self doubt. And we've talked about this before on the show here where you have these defining moments or defining decisions that you don't know the outcome, but you choose to go in one direction or another. And that is what makes some of the best stories that fill our lives. This one size fits all philosophy of business, global business is no longer acceptable. It has to be tailored to the individual cultures and audiences that exist around the world. And that's sort of what leads me right into where I wanted to go next was talking about the importance of knowing your audience, finding the right parts of the right stories and delivering that to the right audience. Can you talk about how you've adapted your core message, but then recognizing the individual needs of the audiences around the world.
Larisa B. Miller 15:01
Absolutely. You know, the one lesson that is the most important to learn is that who you think your audience is, is not always the audience that you need to be speaking about. And many times the people that are in the audience think that they have nothing to gain from what you're saying, and that you have no connection to one another. So they shouldn't pay attention. And I tell everybody, that's where you lose the most phenomenal opportunities. Because it will be collaboration moving forward amongst unexpected bedfellows, differing industries and sectors and even competitive collaboration within a particular industry or sector that will truly define those who are going to be the next great business leaders of this new business generation. And post COVID this is now a new business era, the clock started over here. And progress is forcing us to move forward, but there are still so many people who are sitting back licking their wounds waiting for normal to come back. And we're never going back to normal because normal was the problem. There are certain attributes of a leader that will make them a standout to people that aren't even in their industry or sector, and allow others to begin rethinking the space they're in and reimagining the relationships that they have and that they can have with those across the board. Either their competitors, or those who are in an entirely different line of business where they never before saw an intersection. And now they're finding really creative ways to be able to enhance and accelerate their own business by forming these meaningful collaborations. To be a leader in this new era of business, it's not for the faint of heart, for sure. And you have to be able to step out of the cattle shoots of fear that you're in over how you improve your business, how you get your footing back in this business world. And then how you bring your business back to where it was before COVID. The Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stones and ended because of progress. And we have to be willing to be able to find unique fractures and connect dots that others can't see within our own businesses, to be able to really carry those businesses forward to solve problems that we didn't have even a year and a half ago. And every single business, I don't care whether you own a hair salon, or a multinational consumer packaged goods company, every single business has a new way forward that can set them apart from their competitors, you just have to pay attention, rethink your model, incorporate your employees into the discussion, allow them to be able to help you hack apart some of these solutions. And that's truly where extraordinary business will be found.
Kevin Sturmer 18:01
Yes, you talked about so much about leadership, inspiring the people around you inspiring clients. That's a transition that a lot of leaders haven't made yet, but are sort of forced to make over this past year as brands wash away as the corporate wall washes away. And you have to show up as a human and lead with relationships and humanity. What are your tips for somebody who's maybe starting out articulating either their personal or their corporate stories? How can someone show up?
Larisa B. Miller 18:31
You know, first of all, we have to make sure that our business dynamic includes the perspective of the youth, those who are stepping into business. So when we have somebody coming out of university or a young person that we hire into our business ecosystem, have meaningful conversations with them, even if you have a set of onboarding questions that you ask or you give them some time to be a part of your company culture, and then invite them in for a conversation. A lot of the solutions that we need, even on a multinational level can be found in the ingenuity and the innovative ideas of the younger people who are stepping in. And it's also very important for an entrepreneur, and again, for a top executive in a fortune 50 company, to remember that we can never get comfortable with success. There's nothing more vulnerable than entrenched success. If you look at the model of Uber and Airbnb, that innovation didn't come from within the industry that came from outside the industry solving problems that the industry didn't even know they had at the moment. So always be looking creatively and solutions and trying to anticipate those needs before they come about. And I think that's really been a problem for businesses is that we get so comfortable where we are. We're confident in the year on year growth that we have, and we think that it will go on forever and then bang, we have some catalysts that throws us into an upheaval. And now we're all saying, "what do we do you know what happened, what blindsided us?" Doesn't matter young or old, if you make everybody part of the discussion, you'll really be able to start seeing even your Canadian or your customers, you bring them into the discussion, you'll be able to start anticipating needs, and seeing elements of improvement well before your competitors. And that's truly where you're going to put yourself on the expressway to success while others are lost in the middle of the pack.
Kevin Sturmer 20:34
And it's so true that adapting and not getting comfortable and understanding where the future is heading and doing things faster to move around sort of the the obstacles that might get in the way of these monolithic companies. I want to move to your work with the UN the Sustainable Development Goals. Can you talk a little bit about what you're doing there, how those have inspired you, and how you look for those qualities in the companies that you want to work with as well?
Larisa B. Miller 21:02
Absolutely. So the UN has given us a very, very powerful framework in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, 17 goals, and 169 targets therein, that really guide us on our journey forward. And every single individual and every single business needs to be aware and cognizant of what these sustainable development goals are and to really make a great push in Priority towards adapting those principles into our business operations. What our hyper connected world has shown us is that consumers are much more aware, they have the opportunity to really be able to shop for businesses with a conscience and those who are making an impact. And they are choosing those businesses exponentially over those who aren't prioritizing any sort of a responsible footprint. Businesses can't impact all 17 goals. If they put a corporate mandate into impacting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, they will fail miserably and their efforts will be token at best. You really have to isolate those one or two goals where you can make the most solid impact, and then integrate that into your business model and make it a core priority in your operations. Whether that's being more aware of your supply chain and making more responsible choices, incorporating family business, family owned business, incorporating women owned businesses into your supply chain choices, making sure that you have a corporate culture of diversity and inclusion, that you're part of the educational process of the youth, we've done a horrible job of preparing the future for our youth. So we have to prepare our youth for the future. And that means that each and every one of us from the corporate giants down to the entrepreneurs have a responsibility of some sort of an education program and mandate within their culture that will allow us to really shape the way the future generations can contribute to this this very disruptive business environment ahead. Governments need to be integrating and paying attention to the Sustainable Development Goals. Nonprofits need to be prioritizing them. One of my most important giveback projects at the moment because I believe that you know, the world is only as as solid and united as the people in it choose to make it and we have to work together to really be the answer to to really be the solution to the problems that we have globally. You know, it can no longer be us against each other. It has to be us together for the solution. One of my partners Garry Gilliam, who's a former NFL player played for the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49'ers, we have put together and then an initiative called the legacy of Legends which will work with universities to bring their university athletes and professional athletes from those schools together to start a legacy of, for instance, for Penn State Legacy of Lions and the the former Penn State players come together with their nonprofits, all of which are tied to the Sustainable Development Goals, to do really cool things around the community holding events that make an impact. And then that allows us to be able to contribute to their nonprofits, and measure the impact that those nonprofits are making so that it's genuine, it's not token the community can see that these athletes are prioritizing an impact and a give back and want to be able to substantiate what that looks like. It's individuals like Gary and other athletes and entertainers. But beyond that, it's community leaders and it's individuals who step up to the plate to find ways to heal the fractures in our communities. And oftentimes it starts with with making sure that we heal those fractures within our our own families to make us a more just and diversified and inclusive world. When it's all of us against one another, we're further degrading the forward momentum of our planet. And if we don't come together socially and environmentally, we will put this planet into hospice within this decade, and it will be unrecoverable, we will just be limping along through the end. And that to me is not the gift and the legacy that we need to be giving our future generations. We owe it to, to our descendants yet to come to really be able to give them a solid planet that they can guide forward into a very strong, productive and united future.
Kevin Sturmer 25:45
That is so inspiring. And in fact, I have to share with you that you have inspired me. Here the Outermost Ring, we are in embracing one Sustainable Development Goal from the un 15 it's Life on Land.
Larisa B. Miller 25:58
Kevin Sturmer 26:00
And we have partnered with trees for the future.
Larisa B. Miller 26:04
Okay, so let me stop you there, Kevin. Because that means you have impacted two goals because now you've touched goal 17, which is collaboration for the goals. So by partnering with and collaborating with you add a second goal to your impact.
Kevin Sturmer 26:18
That's wonderful. And for every episode of this podcast, the Outermost Ring donates 100 trees to be planted by trees for the future in their forests around the world.
Larisa B. Miller 26:29
Kevin Sturmer 26:30
We have come to the close of the show and we are going to play a little game called Full Out Facts. This next section is sponsored by Full Out Creative, a small company with a big heart. They do live streaming producing videography, photography, and so much more. For details go to fulloutcreative.com. But this, Larisa, is a game where I scour the internet to uncover fun and random facts about my guests and find out if they are true. So it's
Larisa B. Miller 26:58
alright, bring it on.
Kevin Sturmer 27:00
It's time to play.
Larisa B. Miller 27:01
Because the internet is so true...
Kevin Sturmer 27:04
Always. If it's on the internet, it has to be true. So Larisa, are you ready to play? And give us okay, the Full Out Facts. Here we go. True or false - you mentioned you grew up in Pennsylvania Amish country - true or false, National Geographic magazine sparked your curiosity for the world.
Larisa B. Miller 27:23
100% true five years old, I would spend my time looking through National Geographic magazines over reading some of the other books that five year olds normally read so 100% true.
Kevin Sturmer 27:35
Wonderful. Okay, true or false, you minored in Hungarian at Rutgers University.
Larisa B. Miller 27:41
True again, I grew up in a Hungarian family. And and that's always been an important part of who I am. And I didn't really have a great command of the language. So I went to records in minor than it.
Kevin Sturmer 27:55
And last one here. True or false? You were in Germany for at least one Oktoberfest celebrating with pretzels and beer.
Larisa B. Miller 28:04
True. And here's an interesting fact about Oktoberfest in Munich, you know, they have a drying out tent, where if you are too intoxicated, and I've never been in there, I'm going to make that perfectly clear. And you pass out they kindly remove you to the drying out tent and they protect all of your valuables out of your pockets in an envelope that's just for you to be returned to you. And you can you can spend some time in the drying out tent. So that's an Oktoberfest fact from Munich, Germany.
Kevin Sturmer 28:35
Well, I love that. Okay. And well, I have to add on a personal question. This isn't really a true or false or something I found on the internet, but I in my my global travel, so I backpacked through Europe in my early 20s and did a lot of stuff. But I had like a hamburger in Hamburg, do you have that kind of a list? Where you want to like take a bath and Bath. You know, have you done those things?
Unknown Speaker 28:54
I do. We've had I've had you know, I've I've come to learn that a lot of that is is really sort of the US created thing. But yes, I've had Belgian waffles in in Belgium. You know, french fries, you know, things like that. I've definitely had to be able to say that I did that. And in as many countries as I could possibly do it in
Kevin Sturmer 29:20
Yeah, that's the way to go. Well, Laura said thank you, again, for continuing to inspire and for giving all of us A Moving Tale.
Larisa B. Miller 29:29
It's my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
Kevin Sturmer 29:32
Where can people find you online? There's PhoenixGlobal.co. Is that the best place to connect with you?
Unknown Speaker 29:38
Yep, that's our website. People can reach me through there. They can reach me on LinkedIn. I'm very happy to have discussions if there's any way I can add value.
Kevin Sturmer 29:47
Wonderful. Well, thank you. And for show notes and links from today's show. Check out AMovingTale.com. And if you enjoyed today's episode, head over to your favorite podcast platform, leave a review, subscribe, download, do all of the good things. And finally, I want to say thank you for everybody listening. Thank you for taking the time to listen today. This has been A Moving Tale, my name's Kevin and you are on the Outermost Ring.