February 14, 2024

Episode #122: Tom Miller -TPMA

Tom Miller is the President and CEO of TPMA, a full-service consulting firm that empowers organizations and communities through strategic partnerships and informed solutions to create positive, sustainable change.

After spending over 30 years in strategic consulting on a multitude of economic and workforce development initiatives all over the US, Tom knows what truly produces results – solid leadership. Under his executive leadership, TPMA has grown to serve an impressive, international client base with a matching roster of innovative and impactful strategic projects. In 2017, TPMA was ranked #6 on the Indianapolis Business Journal’s FAST 25 ranking of fastest growing private companies in Indianapolis.

Tom is a master of connecting expertise with opportunities which has enabled TPMA to draw on best practices and proven methods from across disciplines and industries in developing communal solutions. As the first president of the Indiana Technology Partnership (now called TechPoint), he successfully led the organization to raise more than $2 million in operating capital; increase collaboration among technology-based Hoosier companies and entrepreneurship culture; and create metrics for measuring tech competitiveness with other states.

Prior to founding TPMA in 1989, Tom served as Executive Director of the Indiana Department of Employment and Training Services (now Indiana Department of Workforce Development) under Governor Robert Orr. At the time, Tom was at the forefront of incorporating workforce development as a key component of the state’s economic development strategy. His innovative approach was noted by the U.S. Department of Labor, who became the first client of TPMA.

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you’re listening to the self-made is a myth make a difference together show with your host coach Tim campsa where we talk with successful business owners to hear the stories of their Journeys in building their successful businesses and more importantly we recognize the folks who help them Excel because we know that achieving business success is not something we can do on our own hello everyone this is coach Tim campel and I’m excited to have a fellow business owner from Indiana with us today my guest is one of the most introverted people for being in the role that that he is in that requires him to be an extrovert so we’ll learn a little bit more about that here in a in a minute in his downtime he enjoy staying active with things like hiking and and walking and jogging and is a uh vegetable garden conosur so I have a vegetable garden too so I want to learn about that Tom um and his in his uh he is most proud of sorry of his team and the things that him his team and and the business have been able to accomplish in terms of projects that have created sustainable impacts Across the Nation it’s my pleasure to welcome Tom to the show today hello Tom hey Tim nice to be here look forward to the discussion well hey let’s start with having you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit of your personal story like where you were born and live and about your family well uh uh born and bred here in Indiana lifelong uh hooer as they call it and uh uh been very blessed uh to uh have a uh a blended family three children of my own um and uh my uh my wife Martian has uh three of her own and we now have uh I think 13 grandchildren between the whole group so it’s quite an extended family and uh but uh it’s uh most of them are not too far away so we’re able to keep in touch now that’s fantastic congratulations on all the grandbabies that’s cool so hey tell me a little bit more about vegetable garden I have a vegetable garden too so I love chatting with people who have one what what uh what got you into that well as you know we have a lot of flat ground here in Indiana so uh uh I uh long ago uh used to I learned gardening from my father and um I’ve kind of kept at it I’ve had to cut back here and there a little bit through the years but uh uh I guess I consider myself U you know I plant all kinds of things broccoli tomatoes green beans and all that but U heirloom tomatoes might be my uh my my specialy so to speak fantastic and how long have you been doing that oh gosh I don’t know 20 20 some odd years I’ve lost track as I said I’ve back I’m now in uh uh beds and so I’ve reduced uh and that’s caused me to be a little more efficient and productive let’s say indeed isn’t it interesting with uh vegetable garden that we can seemingly do the exact same thing every year but something at least I found something always goes wrong something always just doesn’t seem to do as well as it did the year before I know just when you think you have it perfected then uh you get a bad broccoli crop same thing so weather obviously impacts it and I suppose fertilizer and bugs and all kinds of things so Tom is there a funny story that your family likes to tell about you that you’d be willing to share with us today well uh golly there’s a there’s a lot um I uh uh the uh I guess one story that just pops to M my first wife that had my three children unfortunately passed away number quite a number of years ago uh from uh uh breast cancer and uh my kids uh not sure I’m proud of this comment but they like to tell stories of being stranded at uh various practices or school events that they were attending and those were pre pre uh smartphone days when you couldn’t just pick up your smartphone so uh it all sounds funny now but uh uh you know I I’m I’m not exactly proud that I was late to pick them up at various points in time and that type of Al so it was just late it wasn’t that Dad forgot yeah I didn’t forget completely but I was building my B I was building my business and I was always you know just 101 15 minutes late a meeting got started late a meeting ended went too long you know how it is in indeed well thank you for sharing hey Tom tell us about how the business came to be and at what point did you have the confidence that you could run your own business well I in the 80s I worked for a great governor in Indiana and was a had had uh spent a number of years in state government and I ran what was called Department of Workforce Development which was an attempt by the governor at the time to to integrate and coordinate education Workforce activities with economic development things like elections come along and uh the uh you know my side lost and I found out that people don’t return phone calls when you’re on the losing side of election but I loved what I did working in Economic Development Workforce so I just thought well I’ll do some Consulting for a while and then I’ll find a real job and uh I I am just so your listeners know I’m still looking for that real job 35 years later but uh uh it’s I’ve been really fortunate blessed to be able to uh work in an area um uh education Workforce and economic development uh and actually make arguably make a living out of it fantastic well tell us a little bit more about the company what’s the name and what do you guys do how do you help folks well it used to be Thomas P Miller Associates very poor name but all I had at the time when I went out on my own was my name and and it was just me back in 1989 and um so it’s uh we rebranded recently and it’s tpma and uh which actually was an easy Rebrand because everybody had long since forgotten my name and called it you know tpma so that was easy to get through and um uh we’ve been we’ve grown beyond our roots in Indiana thankfully and do work all over the country uh uh for States and communities in education Workforce and economic development fantastic so for folks who may not know what that means get just give us a little bit more flavor like what what what does the business do how do you help folks well um so States and communities and counties and cities and all kinds of people are constantly trying to figure out what are the new skills and educational credentials needed in the in the uh ever evolving economy so we work uh both sides of the street so to speak we worked with education providers community colleges schools and Community Development Economic Development groups to try to match uh skills and and credentials with the need needs of of the work with needs that employers have yeah fantastic awesome Tom share a story where someone pushed you or inspired you that you could do it even though maybe you didn’t think that you could in the impact that that person had well I I suppose I have to um go back to the governor Bob or um who unfortunately passed away a number of years ago and his Lieutenant Governor John mutz who is still living and here in Indianapolis and they were both great great mentors and uh uh gave me a lot of tips from their own private sector businesses that they were involved in prior to becoming elected officials and so there I you know gained a lot of confidence uh I tried to listen a lot uh to them while I was working for them and uh uh and I attributed a lot of my uh you know being able to stay in this field for so long to things I learned from them fantastic what’s been your uh biggest learning as a business owner um that’s a great question I guess maybe to boil it down to a to a simple answer um I learned to listen a lot uh people that join the firm and people much younger than I am you know talk about well how do you sell and what do you sell and you know how should I sell and I I you know I usually just respond by saying listen don’t sell anything listen to what people’s needs are problems they’re having opportunities that they see so I I think listening was something I learned um early on that’s great feedback uh one of the things that we teach in our sales training is is exactly that it you know ask good questions and then listen you know shut up and listen what what the prospect is saying and and really understand right and asks probing questions and deeper questions and really getting because you know to your point right it’s not about selling it’s about you know figuring out if there’s a match between what we have to offer and and what the person needs and and you only discover that by asking lots of questions and and really understanding I love that thank you for sharing no that’s I think Tim what What attracted me when you reached out and wanted to have a discussion as I had I actually did a little bit of homework and did review some of the basic tenants that you tried to provide your um your clientele and I think you’re spoton with that that approach well thank you hey um we know that business success doesn’t happen in isolation so tell us what’s um one of your biggest challenges that you’ve had over the years and maybe a fellow business owner or colleague that you know came alongside you and helped you through that um so we’re a Consulting business and if if you’re in a Consulting business the the model the textbook would tell you that you need to come up with a template and sell a same template to 500 different people or 5,000 different people or whatever that didn’t sound very appealing to me so so uh I I really want to have a lot of variety in my career and be able to work on variety of different things kind of intellectual stimulation if you will so I really tried to I tried to listen to the model but I didn’t want to be a slave to the model so I’ve we’ve constantly been a firm that’s had a lot of curiosity and we get into things like one of the hot things we’re into right now is child care child care and um uh and you could you and your viewers why would you get into child I thought you were in Economic Development education Workforce you you cannot work in education Workforce these days unless you are providing and have options on how people are going to get child care and yeah oh by the way it’s not when they say Child Care there’s a Code hidden code and what they also mean is early learning it’s not it’s not just like in my era um I’m going to tell all my age here you know drop your kid off and hope they had a few three or four balls that they could kick around right it’s uh you know it’s really more about yes people want good care but they also want their child to be learning and you know whether it’s uh well a variety of skills you know playing in teams working all that kind of stuff so um we’ve always been a firm that’s intellectually curious and get into a lot of things that aren’t readily apparent on the surface yeah it’s interesting uh you you said you know most people wouldn’t think about it but it is a a huge bottleneck if you know folks if not being able to find Child Care is preventing somebody from entering the workforce and uh and holding back the economy because there’s not enough people that are willing or able to to come to work well you’re exactly right and and you know um it’s always been a a need as many of your listeners and you yourself know Tim um Co accelerated and exaggerated a lot of things in society one of which is child care I mean people couldn’t go to work three or four years ago we were all doing zoom and teams calls and everything else but the kids were here too doing Zoom calls and team calls with educ schools and and everybody was saving a lot of money you know and so okay fast forward here we are today um we’re you know mostly Beyond um the immediate impacts of covid but we’re still seeing lingering impacts that they’re still playing out yeah and you mentioned you know everybody’s saving a lot of money it’s hard to go back right and you and have to take on those new those old costs again yes you’re exactly right I mean and people are like well gosh I performed up my workplace pretty well I kept the kids we didn’t have to pay you know I think I like this world yeah right indeed hey Tom if I I’m going to put you on the spot here if I was to ask you to pick three people in your business owner Journey that you’re most grateful for them being there to help with your growth who are those three people and how they help you um well I’ll go in um uh reverse order uh one person that I’ve met several years ago um and actually uh just you know this been widely publicized but helped uncover some beelman at my firm about five years ago was a guy that has become my successor um and his name is Mark graml spocker uh successful businessman in his own right he eventually got into some U work in Indiana around entrepreneurism and um uh so anyway he’s been uh helpful and very instrumental late in my business about how you optimize a business and sell a business maybe and all that type of thing um early on um uh that’s so I’m thinking I gotta go peel back the the memory files here and go back um there was a gentleman at U good Goodwill Industries in Indi Indiana um that I actually still do a Bible study with his name is Byron Jensen and he’s been uh uh he’s retired now and and so forth but he was very instrumental um in a lot of ways and helping me understand the needs of nonprofit organizations um he was a vice president there and the CEO Jim mcclelen at the time both were were helpful to me just understand more deeply needs of nonprofit how they can grow because the one in Indiana was a particularly successful U actually worldwide model as so those are two uh indiv idual that pop to mind immediately yeah fantastic um as you I’m going to shift yours a little bit and think uh into the future so as you think about the next you know one to three years Tom what’s the the number one point of growth or development or challenge that you see uh in in terms of achieving your goals well um I’m I’m going through an interesting transition that I never really probably as well for as I could have I’m I’m 72 so I’m at a point where I’m I’m trying to uh uh develop a successor uh name a successor uh leave the firm in good hands and all that we we are just finishing our best year ever well congratulations thank you in 2023 um and it’s it’s you know not of my making it’s the team we built and um and and a lot of different things that’s not to say we didn’t make mistakes last year and other years but sure um but I find myself at an interesting point that I really U I don’t know that anybody knows how to prepare for and that is how do you transition a firm and and and myself you know so that’s a that’s a a daily learning experience for me now and I would urge younger younger uh viewers to uh uh not not kick that K down the road and just uh you know put in place a good success cessor strategy yeah the great advice a lot of folks um aren’t really thinking that far ahead right it’s more about you know how do I how do I keep building the business and make it successful and right and and Tackle you know the next year or two but it’s critical as you just mentioned to to begin with the end in mind right of yeah let’s let clearly identify when what’s my goal of what year is the business done and what does the business look you know what am I am I planning to sell it am I planning to pass it down to the Next Generation because if we don’t have that Clarity then right it like you just mentioned it you we get closer to that date it’s like oh I need to start thinking about this yeah hey Tim I know you’re supposed to be asking all the questions I got to mention this you asked me about who impacted my life and mentors and I started with the most recent and obviously I was struggling a little bit to go back 35 years ago there was a uh elderly Bank bank president who when I was thinking about starting my own business counseled me and here’s the sentence that he used he said if you’re thinking about starting your own business don’t buy a job create a business yes and it’s stuck with me for many years because it’s easy when you go into business to try to you you want to create wealth and earnings and things which obviously we all need on a month-to-month basis but uh they’ll try to do it all yourself try to you know TR try to build a business not just keep yourself busy for 10 hours day yeah what what great advice the um the buying a job idea right usually everybody who initially you know goes from an employee to a business owner buys themselves a job but the problem with that and you just alluded to it is hey if if something God forbid if something happens to us and we’re the only reason our business works and we have to be in the hospital for three months our livelihood is ruined yeah the other thing of buying a job is if we have to show up every day so right we’re just trading our time for money and and we’re stuck right we can’t take vacations we can’t you know you mentioned earlier right this the challenges of you know having to pick up the kids and right and having a meeting that goes late so yeah if we just have a job we’re always on so I love that advice what what an amazing uh piece of wisdom so early on as you were uh you know launching into your business career hey last question Tom Jim ran an amazing H business Guru one of the things he said was we become the average of the five people we spend the most time with so as you think about that quote what advice would you have for business owners who are trying to do it on their own that’s a great I had never heard that question thank you for sharing that Tim that’s that’s very very insightful um um it it brings to mind a couple different things that that I try to do one one I guess is as a rule I don’t know that I’m A good rule follower in life at all much less business life but um one thing I have tried to keep in my mind is higher above myself hire hire people that are smarter than me no more than me you know can analyze things better whatever just don’t be afraid to hire above yourself don’t hire down so I think that’s part of what the gentleman you mentioned was trying to get to um and one other thing that I I guess some observation that I stumbled into somehow about 15 years ago when I am meeting with a prospect or somebody that might be interested in our services and so forth as the owner of the firm you know and we used to have five people then we had 15 people and now you know we got 55 or whatever the number is today um I didn’t want stuck I may have hit it off with the prospect but I didn’t want to get stuck doing the work yeah you know because maybe I wasn’t even the right person I wasn’t good enough analyst or whatever so I got into a a mode where as I was listening to people describe their problem or opportunity I would suggest ways we might be able to help them but I would also suggest people in The Firm that would be very helpful to them to solve the problem or identify the opportunity whatever it was so it was not only listening to what they their needs were but it was also beginning to build a relationship between me and Joe or Sue whoever in The Firm could actually help them what a great way to make that transition from you’re not buying me right you’re buying my company and I have an expert that within the firm who’s going to be able to take care of you right right gets you out of the the pigeon hole of an expectation that they’re they’re going to be working with you yeah yeah it’s a delicate balance and I don’t know that you know I was was perfect every time and how I hand it um the other thing that you you mentioned is you know hire higher people who are who are better than you um I that’s an amazing um attitude uh because a lot of business owners right have a little bit of a you know an ego that’s what’s allowed them to to step out and and you know and become a business owner so I just I’d love to hear just a little bit more about you know how how did you get to that that humble place of knowing that right it it made sense to to hire smarter people in different areas of the business well that’s a good question I guess one one reason I got to that point and this goes back to when I was working for the governor that already mentioned and I at a very young age I was asked to lead this large bureaucratic government bureaucracy you know 2,000 people and I very much in those days in the 80s quality circles employe you know those types of initiatives were were hot topics how do you engage and Empower employees and all that kind of stuff and so I I was a big believer I drank the Kool-Aid and um so I I felt like well if I’m gonna be able to pull this off I’ve got to have exceptionally bright and engaged and smart people or this is just going to be a classic bureaucracy so I we you know so I think I’ve always been a big believer about Employee Engagement employee empowerment that kind of stuff and um um so that’s how I got to the hiring smarter than me kind of thing and because I’m not a smart person is that creates a wide pool oh that’s awesome um another thing that I hear uh from folks when I you know when we talk about that quote of you know the we become the average of the five people we spend the most time with is folks tend to be you know timid or afraid of of reaching out to to other business owners to you know to have a coffee meeting with them because they’re afraid that the person’s going to be too busy or they’re going to say know um what’s been your experience with that or what what advice would you have for folks who you know are afraid of of you know being told no and and not not reach out to other business owners well uh that’s an interesting question I mean I think you you you know I’m not the mo the most um I appear to be extroverted but I’m you know and it was part of the question you asked me to get kind of prep me for this meeting I appear to be very extroverted but I’m really not I mean i’ you know really probably prefer to be out there working in my garden beds you know but anyway on on a serious thing I think you you have to push yourself myself I’ve had to push myself a little bit and get myself into a little bit of a discomfort Zone and and you know trust my instincts but also push myself a little bit and um and I’ve had reached out to other business owners for coffee or a beer or whatever um and gotten advice and compare notes so you know uh don’t be afraid to reach out laterally and you know and see what’s working for somebody else and uh and uh uh I mean one of the um things one of my uh things that I tell people when I’m interviewing I I don’t interview everybody anymore and and um every now and then I get involved in an interview is um at tpma you have a chance to create your own career pathway you don’t have to wait for the person to that you report to to leave or die or whatever right uh you can you know you can become a a leader in your own right by figuring out new things that we could be doing that relate to our core education Workforce Economic Development what what are the branches off of that that are really important yeah fantastic it sounds like Tom that you’ve been blessed with some incredible people in your business owner Journey that have helped you along the way if they were all here on the show today what would you want to say to them uh well first I would say thank you so much for all you did to help during your time at tpma uh and I would as J genuine and sincere ways I would i’ just deliver that simple message uh I would also and they would not be surprised they would chuckle would probably probe see if they want to come back and uh you know see if they had some more gas in the tank so to speak to you know go this and actually you know we we chuckle at that I’ve actually had several in the last year that have done that oh that’s fantastic so I I I know turnover you know the textbooks say turnover is horrible um you know you got to prevent it at all costs and all that well it turnover is like cholesterol there’s good cholesterol and bad cholesterol right yes and and I’ve actually encourage and I tell people when I’m recruit them I say look you’re gonna be we’re a small firm but you’re gonna be have a chance to work with Governors and Mayors and leaders you know of various kind and the risk I’m running is that I want to deliver exceptionally high quality products of services to them but they may hire you away from me but but that’s okay I mean I you know I I want your time here to be extremely valuable and you and I’ve actually had lost people the you know housing director of Indiana and all these people used to work for me they actually become some of our best clients right yes yes well I love that it that’s a a for sure an abundance mentality right of we’re going to we’re going to invest in you and grow you and and you might leave because you’re awesome um versus the the the scarcity mentality would be right we’ we’ve got to protect and and somehow keep everybody that we hire with us so I I love that you’re that philosophy of yeah we’re we’re we’re investing in you to help you have a better future future and if that means leaving that’s okay yep yep Tom it’s been a pleasure speaking with you today thanks so much for being on the show well um it’s been a great Tim thank you for inviting me and um uh was great to interact with you thanks for listening to the self-made is a myth show please help spread this Movement by liking and subscribing to our show and following us on Facebook and Linkedin to join our movement go to bead together e.com okay folks that’s a wrap please pay it forward and be sure to tune in next time to the selfmade is a myth podcast