For most people, events seem to happen in threes. For Dave Miller, things came in twos.
After his graduation from the University of Pittsburgh, he spent two years selling pipes and fittings for Capital Manufacturing in Columbus, Ohio. He then got married and returned to his hometown of Wheeling, W.V., where he took a production control job with Wheeling Corrugating, a division of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel. After another two years, he returned to sales and to Capital Manufacturing, but two years later, Wheeling Corrugating lured him back with an outside sales job. He then spent two years working in the HVAC division, eventually becoming the division’s manager.
However, his two-year stints came to an end in 2003 when Wheeling Corrugating promoted him to General Manager of Building Products, and Miller became the youngest general manager in the corporation’s history. He oversees the metal roofing, siding, and paint divisions.
“When I took over Building Products,” Miller says, “nearly everyone who reported to me was about a decade older. And I had no roofing experience.”
What he brought to the position, however, was his good business sense. “I came in with a fresh approach,” he says. “And it seems to be working. We’ve grown dramatically in the past three years.”
Miller, 35, is one of the many talented, hard-working young members of the rural building community. In conjunction with Rural Builder’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2006, the magazine is featuring industry members who are younger than 40 years old, identifying the leaders of tomorrow who are already pulling their weight today.
With a bachelor’s degree in economics and business from Pittsburgh and an MBA from Wheeling Jesuit University, as well as his extensive experience in sales, Miller says the biggest asset he brings to his job is his understanding of the management and leadership of people. His job regularly puts him in contact with a diverse group of people. “Some days I’m meeting with contractors. Some days I’m meeting with homeowners. Some days I’m meeting with the CEO,” he explains. He believes his experiences have given him the skills necessary to adapt to the wide variety of people he works with on any given day.
Adapting also means going into a situation with an open mind and a willingness to learn. Miller spent the first months in his role as GM asking his employees why things were done the way they were.
“Wheeling Corrugating has been around since 1890,” says Miller. “The company is steeped in tradition. I don’t want us to lose sight of those traditions, but I don’t want to mistake traditions for a rut.”
Recognizing that he was the new guy, Miller decided the best approach was to avoid telling his employees how things were going to change. Instead, he decentralized the decision-making process. He wanted to use the expertise of his staff, give them more accountability for the decisions, and to create a solid team environment.
Also, as such a young GM, Miller needed to earn the trust of his employees. “I didn’t dwell on it,” he says. “I didn’t focus on age or seniority. Instead, I looked for a high level of energy and willingness for collaborative work.”
Miller took the approach that you “don’t break what’s already fixed,” but recognized that there is always room for improvement. As often happens in companies with long-time employees, work tasks are done in certain ways because that’s the way they were always done. It doesn’t mean that is the wrong way, or even the less efficient way of doing things, but that repetition can impede new or more efficient methods.
To involve his employees in finding ways to improve production, Miller mentally challenges them. “I’ll say ‘If I gave you a blank piece of paper, how would you do the job?’” Miller doesn’t want a description of how the job is currently done, but how the employee thinks the job should be done.
This approach, as well as his own business experiences — “I know what it takes to paint; I know what needs to be done to move and sell steel,” he says — plays an important role in the continuing growth of the division and company.
Miller doesn’t think he’s been in the job long enough to make an impact on the industry, especially not in a company more than 100 years old and with a customer base three and four generations deep. He is, however, on the marketing team for the American Iron and Steel Institute’s Hurricane Katrina initiative and has been involved with talking to people in hurricane areas about the benefits of metal roofing.
Although he gets frustrated with what can be a fragmented industry, Miller loves his job.
“I love coming to work,” he says. “It is different every day, with different applications.” He likens his job to learning how to play chess: It is not difficult to learn, but you have to work at it every day to get good at it. “There are constantly new challenges,” he adds.
One of the challenges he faces is preparing for an always-changing future. Right now, he says, he sees new demands within the residential building industry. “That segment is growing every day,” he says, “as homeowners see the many benefits of metal roofing over asphalt shingles.” He wants to continue promoting the awareness of those benefits.
He believes the company is primed to expand, as well. “I see cooperative efforts among dealers, manufacturers, and builders,” Miller says. Wheeling Corrugating is uniquely positioned for the future because, unlike other companies, the entire process — from making the steel to the finished project — is done within Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel and its divisions. “There is no middle man,” Miller adds.
As for his own future, he has finally stopped doing things in twos and is looking at a long-term career with Wheeling Corrugating.
“Of course I see myself and the company operating differently 15 years from now,” he says. “Things operate differently now than they did 15 years ago. It evolves every day.”