Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / Profile / Robert Miller:
The Rochester Group isn’t singing the blues

Robert Miller:
The Rochester Group isn’t singing the blues

Not every company executive uses a band of musicians as a business model.
That is fine with Robert Miller. He wants the Rochester Group Inc. to stand out.
“I think my model for a good work environment (is) the way things are in a good band,” he says. “Everybody is making a contribution. Everybody enjoys working together. You have to get a lot done, but it’s cooperative.”
Miller, 42, became president of the Rochester Group, a business process consultant and software developer, in 1993. Since then the firm has grown from eight employees and $750,000 in annual revenues to 48 employees and revenues of $4.3 million in 1998.
And the growth continues. The company has added 12 employees this year, and Miller projects reaching some 85 employees by year’s end–a 77 percent increase.
The Rochester Group plans to expand into a second office down the street from its Park Avenue headquarters. The main office is in Lindsay Manor, a stucco home built in 1921 for Alexander Lindsay, a founder of the Sibley, Lindsay & Curr Department Store.
The new office is designed to be the first of what Miller envisions as a network of offices to open nationwide over the next eight years.
As a teenager, Miller expected to play guitar for a living. He grew up in Connecticut, but his family moved to England when he was 14. After graduating from the American Community School in London, he attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston from 1976 to 1978.
He then transferred to Pennsylvania State University to study economics. He earned his spending money doing computer work for college professors.
“My first career choice was music. My second choice was computers,” Miller says. “My goal really was to be a session musician in L.A. This was in the mid-’70s when all those people were replaced by computers. Computers did me out of my first career choice, so here I am.”
After graduating from Penn State, he came to Rochester in 1980 to work for I.P. Sharp & Associates as a business applications consultant, product development designer and programmer. That company applied a hiring philosophy that Miller adopted for the Rochester Group.
“They actually didn’t like to hire computer science majors,” he says. “They worked with businesspeople. They thought–and I think they were right–that the hard part was understanding what the customer needed, not so much understanding the computer end. We tend to hire the same way.”
The Rochester Group staff is filled with diverse backgrounds: chemists, musicians, MBAs and “a few hard-core technologist types,” Miller says.
After some three years at I.P. Sharp, Miller moved to Computer Consoles Inc., where he worked as a software engineer. His projects included developing system software for a CCI minicomputer and a data-base system for an MCI WorldCom Inc. switching system. He also worked briefly at LPA Software Inc.
In 1987, Miller began work as a contractor with the Rochester Group. The position attracted him because it give him the flexibility needed to pursue a music career.
“I was playing at the time in two bands,” he recalls. “It was a way to make a reasonable amount of money and only have to work 30 hours a week. I didn’t really start out with an entrepreneurial vision.”
Miller vacillated for years between music and computers as a career path until deciding the Rochester Group was the right spot for him.
“I did not like working in corporate America. This really was a great environment even then,” he says. “What really got me fired up about this place was the thought that you really could make money in this business doing a good job, being honest and working well together.”
While working as a contractor at the Rochester Group, he met fellow contractors Peter Tieslink and Claude Marini. They persuaded founder Robert Pullman to bring them on board as full partners in 1991.
Two years later, the trio bought the company from Pullman. They recently added the firm’s first additional employee-owner.
“It is our first step toward more employee ownership,” Miller says. “We want to stay privately held because I think the real value of this place, to our employees and our clients, is the culture.”
Until late 1997, Miller still worked extensively on projects, despite his title of president. He put in 60 to 70 billable hours a week. Now, almost none of his time is billable.
The change occurred when he and his wife, Janet, adopted a daughter. Miller chose to cut back his hours.
“I’m probably more effective for the company now than I was in 1997,” he observes.
Miller focuses his efforts on strategic issues such as forming partnerships, charting growth opportunities and creating a new marketing plan.
Last year, he led a push to introduce more formal processes into the company’s operations. The effort was aimed at ensuring the quality of its work.
“If you think about a band, you certainly have people who are all making their own contribution,” he explains. “They are all very creative, talented people. But they all agree on what song they will play, and that actually imposes a lot of structure on what they do.”
Miller is crafting a new marketing approach for the Rochester Group and building partnering relationships with other companies. The firm recently hired a director of marketing and sales, Paula Chapman, to bolster its efforts in that area.
The Millers live in the city with their 21-month-old daughter, Oksana, who was born in Russia. The couple spent more than a year and filled out reams of paperwork to complete the adoption.
At home, Miller handles the culinary chores. He has a reputation among friends as an excellent cook, but Miller is more modest.
“I am an enthusiastic cook,” he says. “I do just about all the cooking at home. I don’t get any complaints.”
Despite his onetime aspiration for a career in music, Miller now plays the guitar only occasionally.
“(Playing guitar) was always something I wanted to do seriously. It was not a hobby,” he says. “Either I was going to do this (as a career) or not. If you are going to do it well, you have to do it a lot.”
Miller remains an avid listener, however.
“I love to listen to music. I listen to it a lot,” he says. “I love the blues the most, B.B. King. (Little Feat leader) Lowell George was always a hero.”
But he may return to playing. Some of the musicians at the Rochester Group, including Miller, are considering forming a company blues band.
Miller’s office is decorated with posters that reflect his musical interests and his newest hobby: Formula 2000 race-car driving. He has completing training in Canada and is scheduled to drive in his first race June 19.
“I have always wanted to drive race cars,” he says.
His previous experience was racing go-karts. This represents a big step up. The Formula 2000 cars race at speeds up to 125 mph.
“They corner at 2 Gs–you are pressed against the side at twice your weight. You take a beating,” he says. “I love it. It is a lot of fun.”
Miller similarly enjoys the rapid pace the Rochester Group is moving at, but acknowledges that growth requires changes.
The Rochester Group ranked 60th in the 1998 Rochester Top 100 list of the area’s fastest-growing private companies. The firm targets 30 percent annual growth and aims to reach 1,500 employees and $150 million in revenues within eight years.
“That would be a pretty good size privately held consulting agency,” Miller says. The plan includes opening 30 to 50 offices around the country.
“We are just starting to look at other places to open offices,” he adds. “We will probably go where our clients take us. We are already working with people in other cities.”
He envisions a maximum of 55 employees per office.
“One of the things I vowed back when I was working in a cube was that I would never make anybody who worked for me sit in a cube, particularly without a window,” he explains.
Miller has violated his cube principle, but employees have windows. One reason for the second office is Miller’s belief that the current facility is too big.
“Anything above (55 employees) becomes impersonal,” he says. “Even moving just down the street will make that a little better. I really want people to go to work someplace where they know everybody.”
Xerox Corp. ranks as the Rochester Group’s largest client. The firm also does work for Eastman Kodak Co. and an array of smaller companies. Its chief competitors are Questra Corp. and Electronic Data Systems Corp.
“We really take on a whole project, do it here and deliver it,” Miller says. “There really aren’t that many companies (that do it). A lot of companies are trying to be in that business. It’s like playing guitar. If you are going to do it, you really have to do it.”
The Rochester Group’s core specialties fall into two areas: decision-support systems, also known as data mining, which includes understanding what is behind data and analyzing data bases; and sales-cycle systems and support.
“We are in the business of understanding business, understanding the technology and understanding the translation (between the two),” he says.
For example, one customer hired the Rochester Group to look at its system for handling ordering and shipping information. Somehow, the software was generating negative lead times–products were shipped before orders came in. The Rochester Group discovered the sales reps were finagling within the system to ensure they reached their quotas.
“It wasn’t a bug in the program,” Miller says. “People were playing games with the system. It was a people problem. I think that is more our focus.”
Henry Gottfried, vice president of the Greater Rochester Metro Chamber of Commerce Inc., has known Miller for roughly eight years. Miller serves on the Chamber board, and the Rochester Group is a Chamber partner.
“They combine business expertise with computer savvy. They hire MBAs who learn how to be programmers,” Gottfried says.
“They speak English,” he adds. “They are easier to deal with. It’s tough to deal with computer geeks.”
In addition, the Rochester Group completes complex projects on time, Gottfried says. Miller has impressed him with his ability to deliver and his professionalism.
“And he’s a fantastic cook,” Gottfried adds.
Marini, one of Miller’s partners at the Rochester Group, says the three principals divide executive duties at the firm. Marini handles administrative work and internal operations, and Tieslink directs financial analysis and infrastructure. Both also work on programming projects.
“The main thing Bob provides is the technical expertise and leadership,” Marini says. “He provides the vision.”
Non-programming responsibilities are taking up more time for all three principals, Marini says.
Of all the challenges facing the Rochester Group, Miller says, the biggest one is building awareness that all staffers are part of the firm’s marketing effort.
“We really started out as a company composed entirely of doers. Everybody was billing most of their time on project work. That’s an important part,” he says. “But everybody here needs to turn around and see themselves in a marketing sense.”
One thing Miller does not want to change is the Rochester Group’s culture. He describes it as family-like, fun and caring, balancing long hours and hard work.
“I love this place. I love the people in it,” he says. “And I think they know that. It’s my tendency to put a lot of faith and trust in people and be pretty hands-off. Over the last year or two, I have tried to learn when to interfere.”
To ensure that new employees fit the firm’s culture, each potential new hire is interviewed by two teams consisting of two employees apiece. If those teams and the management do not agree, the candidate is not hired.
“Unless there is consensus among all the people that they would be a good fit, we don’t hire them. The kind of people who want to work here don’t want to work anywhere else,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.”
Most software companies look for employees with years of experience in a single area, Miller says. The Rochester Group prefers individuals with a range of experiences.
“We like to see people who have bounced around a lot technologically,” he says. “You know then that they can do the learning. The main reason business application development fails is a failure to understand the requirements.”
Prospective employees also must show a willingness to dig into a problem to find the answer–not just an interest in writing computer code.
“Clients typically will come to us if there is not enough time, not enough money or somebody else says it couldn’t be done,” Miller says. “What we have really gotten pretty good at is solving hard problems.
“Ultimately, if I can get the idea across, I would like to see us be a hard-problem think tank.”

5/28/99

x

Check Also

Xerox CEO dies unexpectedly at 59  (access required)

John Visentin, Xerox Holdings Corp.’s vice chairman and CEO, unexpectedly passed away Wednesday due to complications from an ongoing illness. He ...

A Rochester-Buffalo connection can strengthen both communities (access required)

The greater Rochester/Finger Lakes region is currently on a hot streak for outstanding projects, development, and investment. And yet another ...

Organizational innovation:  Agile leadership needed as we embrace the ‘new workplace’ (access required)

After two years of social distancing and remote work, employers are learning some very significant things about the “new workplace.” ...

UR’s Jane Possee has seen first-hand Title IX’s impact on women’s sports

Jane Possee vividly remembers that evening in December 1975 when her University of Rochester women’s basketball home game against Oswego ...

Remote work: are we missing valuable social interaction? (access required)

William H. Whyte was arguably our keenest observer of corporate America. He was a staff writer for Fortune magazine and ...

Before raising prices, consider these strategies for combatting inflation (access required)

Soaring gas prices. Higher cost of goods. Rising rates for services. Inflation has an impact on every business across every ...

The Bonadio Group (access required)

The Bonadio Group announces the addition of Christopher Wagner as assistant accountant to their staff, as well as the promotions ...

Preventing employee burnout and supporting mental health in the workplace (access required)

Among the mental health concerns that were exacerbated by COVID-19, one that impacts employers of all types and sizes shows ...

Flexibility in the workplace isn’t a free-for-all (access required)

Over the past few years, we’ve all expanded our policies and evolved our cultures to accommodate flexible work arrangements. That’s ...

Mindless scrolling through social media can wear on mental health (access required)

Kathryn DeVinney reaches for her phone to check the weather before going outside.“Five minutes later, I haven’t checked the weather, ...

Converting Proactive Thought to Proactive Action (access required)

Writing this column is surprisingly similar to posting on social media, which is not something I anticipated when I started ...

Don’t forget the golden rule in times like these (access required)

Well, it’s official – we’re now in a bear market!  Stocks, as measured by the S&P 500 Index (a proxy ...

State, city of Rochester strive for social and economic equity in cannabis industry (access required)

When state lawmakers approved the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) in March 2021, one of the key provisions in ...

N.Y. initiatives provide momentum for adult-use cannabusiness to move forward (access required)

From propagating plants to educating about equity opportunities, this summer will be anything but a time for rest for those ...

Thoughts about the recent market turmoil (access required)

Investors are currently experiencing one of the worst stock markets in years and one of the worst bond markets in ...

Cannabis ventures face getting enough startup money so entrepreneurs can reap benefits (access required)

Talk about the potential value of the legal cannabis market in New York and you’re talking big money — very ...

Seen 6/3/2022 (access required)

Seen Embrace Your Sisters  May 1, 2022 - Embrace Your Sisters raised $50,000 at their 15th annual Tea at Two ...

Bountiful careers are like well-tended gardens: we reap what we sow (access required)

I was working in a vegetable garden last week and got to thinking about how growing vegetables is akin to ...

Treat your employees more like your valued customers (access required)

"My boss goes to great lengths to recognize our longtime customers even to the point of sending gifts for special ...

Best hedge against inflation is keeping emotions at bay, trusting your plan (access required)

You have to go back to the mid-1970s to early 1980s to find inflation rates near where they have been ...

Former pro baseball player is still in a league of her own

These days, Maybelle Blair clocks her pitches in years rather than miles per hour. So, when the former All-American Girls ...

Tips for planning a business succession  (access required)

Planning for retirement and creating a contingency plan in the event of an unexpected exit from the workforce are critical ...

Succession plans critical for survival of family-owned businesses (access required)

While family-owned businesses are commonplace in the United States, those that are multigenerational remain rare gems. According to Cornell University’s ...

Is your strategic plan both strategic and a plan? (access required)

There is a lot of discussion about strategic planning in not-for-profit circles lately. Evidently, moving through a global pandemic and ...

What’s so great about the 2022 Great Places to Work? (access required)

It’s my favorite time of year: Great Place to Work just announced the 25th Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work ...

Loyalty programs – what you should know about compliance with the CPPA (access required)

From the straightforward “buy 9 smoothies, get 1 free,” to sophisticated frequent flyer programs, loyalty programs are a staple in ...

Are cover letters really necessary? Hiring professionals have differing opinions (access required)

“I’m a hiring manager at a local company looking to fill several positions. I’ve noticed that about two-thirds of our ...

Investment acumen or inside information? (access required)

If you had known, in early 2020, that you might be working from home during a multi-year, global pandemic, would ...

Opining on Dick Vitale’s courage, more Bills nicknames, stadium names

By the time he finished delivering a motivational speech that would have made Knute Rockne proud, Dick Vitale looked like ...

The importance of female mentorship, leadership, and innovation in banking (access required)

In my 10 years at Tompkins and 35 cumulative years in the banking field, I’ve witnessed the industry undergo several ...

Highland Hospital Gala (access required)

This year’s casino-themed Highland Hospital Gala raised its second highest amount ever, with more than $650,000 gross net income thanks ...

Inflation: How did we get here and what can be done about it? (access required)

If you’re in your 50s - o.k. early 50s - you probably remember a time when a gallon of gas ...

Reflections on pediatrics, the pandemic, and the Golden Circle (access required)

Imagine this: Your business has been open for only five months and is doing really well. Revenue is higher than ...

Will 2022 be the year of the vacation home? (access required)

With some COVID-19 restrictions relaxing and others already lifted, the smell of tourism is in the air. Demand for leisure ...

Transition services valuable for aging population (access required)

What do you need to stay safe in your family home, even if your home is getting to be too ...

Elder transition planning: Family mediation for older adults & their loved ones (access required)

The journey of aging is rarely a smooth one. As older adults and their families face emotional, financial and health ...

Senior living communities consider how to be more diverse, inclusive, accessible (access required)

The nation’s senior population is the largest and most diverse in history, according to the most recent census data from ...

Why is inflation so scary for my retirement plan? (access required)

Over the past decade, investors experienced a best-case scenario of relatively low inflation and strong investment returns from both stocks ...

A thoroughbred racehorse whose impact was not lost on us

It seemed like a good deal at the time – a rattletrap Ford van with more than 100,000 miles on ...

Ensuring your financial plan can withstand negative conditions  (access required)

Financial plans differ based on individuals’ incomes, future goals, age and tolerance for risk, but often unconsidered in those plans ...

Boomerang employees: tips on how to welcome team members home (access required)

Every manager at every level has experienced it — that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach when one ...

Spring cleaning: Considering program sustainability (access required)

There has never been a better time to consider the sustainability of your program activities and take action to address ...

Financial advisors can guide through tough times (access required)

With the country facing rising inflation and interest rates, as well as the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and the war in ...

Are you discriminating against employees with caregiving responsibilities? (access required)

As the world enters year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has issued a warning ...

Rochester accelerates its pace to become top tech hub in America (access required)

Rochester is on its way to becoming a national hub for technology innovation. Experts predict that it has the highest ...

A simple game for investors: How would you play? (access required)

Some years ago, financial author and advisor, Bill Schultheis, devised a simple game to illustrate the difficulty faced by investors ...

You need to improve your technology, but where do you start? (access required)

Technology is advancing at warp speed and certainly some innovations could benefit you and your company, but it’s easy to ...

Innovation advancements on display as Rochester continues to grow its technology ecosystem (access required)

From LIDROTEC, a company with patent-pending wafer dicing laser machines for the semiconductor industry to Stratio, which provides artificial intelligence ...

Milo the Dog has had a golden impact on Red Wings baseball, community

They had trained together five days a week for nearly six months in the backyard solitude of Josh Snyder’s rural ...

M&A middle-market activity: What businesses need to know (access required)

 Understanding the ins and outs, trends and activities going on in M&A markets can help businesses make informed decisions including ...

5 things to consider before deciding to work for yourself (access required)

When people ask me what I do, now that I’m out of television, I simply say, “I have my own ...

M&A lawyers keep busy despite pandemic barriers (access required)

2021 was a record-breaking year globally and nationally for mergers (combining two separate businesses into one new legal entity) and ...

Ending violent crime requires building trust between police, community (access required)

Rochester has recently been the recipient of many state, federal and private investments that create a true path for transformational ...

Former UR assistant Jay Wright continues working his hoops magic

Mike Neer likes to joke that he doesn’t get enough credit for helping Jay Wright become the best-dressed coach in ...

Four ways to prepare your business for the future of digital payments (access required)

Digital transformation continues to sweep the country — especially as more companies and their customers embrace digital payment technologies.Here are ...

Managing Our Manufacturing Plants in 2022 (access required)

There have been dramatic shifts in both the needs and the realities of manufacturing the United States over the past ...

“Rounding Errors” Can Add Up Quickly (access required)

It’s time to talk about time. For many employees, their lunch break is a time when they can step away ...

Just In Time production method becoming obsolete with supply chain issues (access required)

Just In Time (JIT) is a production method pioneered in the 1930s by Toyota Motor Corporation as a means to ...

Rochester firms embrace 3D printing for multiple purposes (access required)

Firms are using 3D printing to create unique tools, parts and other objects right here in Rochester, allowing for new ...

From mentee to mentor: the benefits mentorship provides for women in business (access required)

March marks Women’s History Month. It is a time to honor the strong, brave women who have broken down barriers, ...

Working across the ages: multigenerational teams offer multiple benefits (access required)

Quick: How long is the average career? If you guessed 40 years, you would’ve been right a few years ago. ...

Energy, dedication drive entrepreneurs at any age (access required)

Younger women who grew up with technology and worked in the gig economy may be more comfortable with the pace ...

Opining on Brandon Beane, SU hoops, a poor investment, baseball’s return

If you pressed me to rank the most indispensable Buffalo Bills of this glorious era, I’d go with quarterback Josh ...

Topics that don’t focus on COVID-19 for nonprofit leaders (access required)

For obvious reasons, COVID-19-19 and the many elements of disruption it has caused continue to dominate conversation at organizations of ...

March worldwide water, climate events are close to home (access required)

March marks two worldwide awareness events for the environment: World Water Day and Earth Hour. In Rochester, New York, these ...

Revisiting Art Schlichter’s sad tale of gambling addiction

Monday’s seismic news that Atlanta Falcons star receiver Calvin Ridley had been suspended for the 2022 season for betting on ...

Mentoring is an art passed from one generation to the next (access required)

Ahhh, what to say about the important art of mentoring? It is certainly an art and, in preparation for this ...

Protect intellectual property from the start (access required)

When it comes to intellectual property (IP), the old English idiom “penny wise and pound foolish” never goes out of ...

A loving team helped Chris Lillis ascend to Winter Olympic gold

Bernie Lillis points with pride to a framed photograph on the mantelpiece above the fireplace of his Fairport home. There ...

Three takeaways from Super Bowl ads to apply to marketing (access required)

Super Bowl ads deliver on a few recurring themes every year, and this year was no different. Whether it’s nostalgia ...

I Bonds: A rare bright spot for the income investor (access required)

Investors have a natural affinity for income-producing investments. A steady stream of investment income is comforting even if it is ...

What AG report on ‘credential stuffing’ hacks mean for your business (access required)

In January, New York Attorney General Letitia James released a report summarizing the findings of a broad investigation into so-called ...

Data privacy and security concerns with rise of online betting, gaming (access required)

As of January 8, 2022, New York State joined the ranks of more than a dozen states that have legalized ...

Potential headwinds are coming — what this means for your business (access required)

An abundance of liquidity and market exuberance in the world’s recovery from COVID-19 have made this a promising time for ...

Rochester’s Roland Williams hoping his Rams do it again

Eric Weddle is one of those feel-good stories that Rochester tight-end-turned-broadcaster Roland Williams has followed closely in recent weeks. Late ...

DiPasquale Construction poised to become major player (access required)

DiPasquale Construction may be the fairly new kid on the local commercial contractors’ block, but the firm is already eyeing ...