Visionary leaders are driven and inspired by what a company can become. They are not bogged down with technical details, but they are big-picture people who intend to usher in new eras of innovation and development. Steven L. Blue, President & CEO of Miller Ingenuity, is one such leader. Steve looks 5-10 years into the future to figure out what will happen in his industry and the company. “A perfect example is healthcare expenses. Several years ago, it occurred to me that if we continued on our trajectory of always simply accepting healthcare premium cost increases, that benefit would become unsustainable. I restructured the healthcare program to contain cost and provide more comprehensive coverage to our employees,” explains Steve. “Another example is our entry into the life safety space with our flagship safety product, ZoneGuard. Looking to the future, I realized relying on our legacy products alone would not sustain the company long term, using our legacy product profits to develop the life safety product.”
Steve is the author of five highly acclaimed books that target executives, leaders, entrepreneurs, and anyone seeking to learn the secrets of success in the corporate world.His latest book, Metamorphosis: From Rust-Belt to High-Tech in a 21st Century World, analyzes the difficulties in moving from rust-belt to high technology and lays out the blueprint for CEOs and senior leaders to transform their business through company culture and innovation.
His philosophy states that communication is the key to enhancing organizations toward success. Leaving employees in the dark only creates the worst suspicions in their minds about what is happening in the company; if the leader does not tell their people, they will make something up. “I tell CEOs to practice the 3 Cs of crucial communications-be Clear, be Compelling, and be Convincing.”
Having grown up in a blue-collar family, Steven’s parents couldn’t afford to send him to college, so he did it on his own—the hard way—at night school. “I kept at it until I finally earned my bachelor’s degree at age 40. It took me until I was 52 to get my MBA. And this is the same lesson I pass to everyone, if you want to achieve great heights, you need to work for it,” adds Steve.
Steve’s conviction in giving back to the community is evident from his active role in supporting non-profits, healthcare, education, and other causes. In December 2014, Steve began serving on Winona State University’s College of Business Dean’s Community Leadership Advisory Board (C-LAB), providing advice, guidance, and active support to the Dean and faculty of the College in achieving its mission and vision.
Steve serves as the first CEO in Residence for Winona State University’s College of Business. In this role, the pioneering leader offers mentorship for WSU’s future business all-stars and provides them with resources and tools to “Create Your More” through workshops, and regular meetings with students and faculty members.
“I once started a business in Mexico. It was a pretty big bet and something I had never done before. I put everything on the line, including significant personal financial guarantees (money I didn’t have, by the way). I thought I had done everything right when at the last minute disaster struck,” describes Steve, discussing some of the most significant leadership lessons he has learned. “The disaster was out of my control and impossible to predict or plan for. I was scared to death. Lesson number one: If your dream or idea for a business doesn’t scare you half to death, it is not worth doing. When you are scared, it takes on personal meaning and puts you on high alert to give it your best effort. How did this business turn out? It was a stunning success.” After that success, Steve believed he could do no wrong, so he started another business in Cuba. “Same thing as Mexico. Everything on the line. And it turned out to be an absolutely dismal and expensive failure. Lessons learned numbers two and three: Just because you had one success doesn’t mean everything you do will be successful. And you can’t hit a home run if you are afraid to swing at the ball. So, swing at the ball.”
According to Steve, success is a journey, not a destination. The journey continues for a lifetime. “I have had bricks thrown through my window by people who didn’t appreciate what I was trying to do. I have had death threats and extortion attempts by people who objected to changes I was making,” he elucidates. “I once had my job eliminated and got laid off when my children were only 4 and 6. I moved my family 7 times in pursuit of better jobs. I have lost out on promotions I was convinced were rightfully mine. At least half of my ideas and product launches were total failures. But the other half were spectacular successes. The point is you push on. You push through the pain, the naysayers, and you do what you believe in your heart is right.”
Inventing Unique Solutions
The railroad industry used to leak oil by the millions of gallons a year onto the roadbed between the tracks. Miller Ingenuity invented a solution that reduced millions of gallons a year to what can be measured with a teaspoon.
Armed with a robust and unique mindset, Steve continues to take Miller Ingenuity toward great heights. The company offers ZoneGuard, an electronic roadway worker system designed to provide an extra layer of protection to roadway workers, whether they are lone workers or part of a crew. The system was engineered after “dozens of discussions with customers, many of whom have already implemented legacy solutions and are demanding better performance,” the company says.
ZoneGuard’s flexibility has been tested in unique operating and challenging scenarios, including through long curves, high-noise urban environments, under high power lines, across multiple tracks and long protection zones, the company adds. Other rail safety products the company offers include ReLok, a vibration-proof and reusable fastener system for which Miller Ingenuity is the exclusive distributor, and EveRRay, an LED crossing signal light with a 10-year warranty.
“Our ZoneGuard product saves countless lives in the industry, and we will continue to improve our ZoneGuard life safety product to make it more effective and affordable,” says Steve.