AKRON—Ed Miller vividly remembers what he told his wife back in early 2001 after his first meeting with the full board of the ACS Rubber Division, three months after taking on the job of being the association's first executive director.
"After that meeting, I called Diane, my wife, and said, 'Don't sell the house,' " he recalls. "She was still in Kentucky. I said, 'I'm coming home.' I was ready to leave."
But after some coaxing from a few of the board members, Miller decided not to leave. Now nearly 19 years later he's preparing for his final International Elastomer Conference, before retiring Jan. 15 and handing over the executive director reins to Lakisha Miller-Barclay, currently the division's director of finance and administration.
Miller said his near hasty retreat from the position so early in his tenure was prompted by a few surprises when he reported for work in January 2001. He said the association's Executive Committee didn't really have a clue about what the role of an executive director should be.
"They knew what they wanted, but they didn't know what they hired," he said.
That wasn't what Miller had expected, following a career in the Air Force with a second career as president and CEO of the Asphalt Institute. The asphalt group, though, had been run by an professional director before Miller's arrival.
For the Rubber Division it was the first time they'd had an executive director and then a professional, private staff. For the first 90 years of its existence, the Rubber Division had been run by its industry volunteers, with the aid of secretaries who actually were employees of the University of Akron, which also housed the association's headquarters until mid-2018.
"I knew the division was having problems financially and knew about some of their programs, because I did a lot research and talked to a lot of people. So that was fine," Miller said. "What I didn't know was that they did not put anything in place. They didn't have a staff when I came in. They didn't have the documents that are required to go with a private non-profit staff."
Such things as employee handbooks, a 401(k) plan, various insurances and other necessary documents were non-existent.
"There was an awful lot that they probably did not need in their first 90 years, but it had to change," Miller said.
And Rudy School, division chairman at the time Miller was hired, dropped a couple major tasks on him before the new executive could even get settled in.
On the first day of work, Miller said School handed him a hard copy email and told him he had two weeks to write the annual report for the previous year and submit it to the American Chemical Society, the division's parent organization.
So Miller handled that in the proper timeframe, only to be given an even more daunting task. School said he wanted the new director to analyze every aspect of Rubber Division, from top to bottom. School's marching orders to Miller were: "I want you to tell us what's wrong and how to fix it."
And, by the way, he was told he had to present it to the Board of Directors, who Miller had never met, at the association's spring meeting in three months.
Miller said ideas for such transformation from a new executive director normally wouldn't be tackled until after a year on the job. But he completed the assignment, and back then the Rubber Division had a large board, with double the number of rubber groups it has now, along with more officers and councilors.
And Miller said his nine-page report, summarized in a presentation, hit everything: Finance; budgeting processes; discussion about expos; talked about the division distancing itself from the ACS and why it needed to forge closer ties; what staffing needs were; and why the group was hurt by not having a real strategic plan.
"I presented it and they were very quiet," Miller said. "They didn't say a word. Then I asked for questions and it got dead silent. After the silence, finally one of the older councilors yelled out, 'What the heck does this guy want us to do?' And it got silent again. And then all hell broke loose. And I just listened."
It was after this meeting that he made the call to his wife to not put the house on the market.
But something else happened after the meeting. School and a couple other board members approached him and said: "Ed, you knocked our socks off. Give us a chance. We're an older group. We've got to think about all this, and we'll do the right things."
School also had been understanding with Miller's home situation, allowing him to travel between Akron and Kentucky for the first five months on the job. Besides having two young children at home, the family's house had caught fire three weeks before Miller reported for work.
So he had to see to getting the house rebuilt, which meant working Monday through Thursday in Akron, making the 320-mile drive to Lexington late Thursday night. After getting things handled in Kentucky on Friday and Saturday, he turned around on Sunday afternoon and drove back.
"(School) understood and he let me do it, which was good," Miller said. "Otherwise, I couldn't have done this job."
In the end, everything worked out well. Miller stayed with the Akron-based association and within two years he said everything he outlined in his report to the board was implemented.