“Diversity increases innovation” With Jeff Miller & Fotis Georgiadis

Diversity increases innovation. In our own company, I’ve seen how our team saw the COVID-19 crisis, identified the gaps in health data, and developed a product to address those gaps for employers — all in about six weeks. As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had […]

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Diversity increases innovation. In our own company, I’ve seen how our team saw the COVID-19 crisis, identified the gaps in health data, and developed a product to address those gaps for employers — all in about six weeks.

As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Potentia Workforce Founder and CEO Jeff Miller.

Jeff has spent more than two decades helping businesses across the globe to optimize their workforces. Jeff began his career in business development in Boston and then Silicon Valley for a high-growth tech services company before joining the leadership team of an international IT solutions firm and taking it through a successful sale. He then spent four years running internal recruiting for Fortune 500, before reaching a long-standing goal and being named President of a global human capital organization with more than 2,000 consultants working around the world. Jeff saw first-hand how good talent management can shape the culture and bottom-line results for any company. But when he reached a crossroads and wanted to take his skills in a direction where he could serve more directly, he found inspiration within his own family — and the idea for Potentia was born.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

It’s my great pleasure. My career backstory really begins with a personal event. When our son Charlie was in first grade, he was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. It was one of those days you never forget as a parent and, while my wife Samantha and I were aware that our son had some learning differences, the diagnosis really rocked us at first. While the label gave Charlie access to some helpful resources, he was also consistently underestimated. I remember one teacher who said that Charlie might, one day, learn to fold his own laundry — meanwhile he was reading short stories at home. It didn’t align. We bounced between various public and private schools over the next several years until we established the structure and team that worked best for Charlie. We were fortunate that my wife Samantha could essentially make running that team and keeping Charlie on track a fulltime job. We know that not everyone can do that. Today, Charlie is today on track to graduate and learning to drive — he’s also a happy and very caring young man.

A little over two years ago we were at my mother’s funeral — she had suffered a long bout with Parkinson’s — and I was watching my then 16-year-old comfort my father after the service. It really hit me at that moment that I had a very capable young man on my hands, and that I needed to raise my game as a father, to get out of the year-to-year mode I had been in, and start thinking more seriously about what Charlie was likely to face as an adult. I came home and immediately started deep research project on adult autism. One of the things I learned, among many others, is that college grads on the autism spectrum are unemployed at 80%. This made no sense to me as a businessperson and was simply unacceptable as a Dad. At that point, I vowed to do something about it and the spark for Potentia was lit.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

I remember once, back in the Silicon Valley ’90s, we had a two-man team working on a proposal we had no business winning. We worked on it all night and realized, as the sun came up, that we had never gone home and did not have time to. We were still wearing our suits from the day before, so we just switched ties, went in and pitched, and won the account. Then we each went home and collapsed.

I think I learned that there is no substitute for hard work, that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, and to always keep a “freshen up” bag at the office.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Potentia helps businesses to succeed in multiple ways — through our STARS program — where we teach employers like Chevron and Baker Hughes how to recruit and manage neurodiverse workers effectively, and through Potentia Projects — where our clients outsource IT and analytics work to us using our own spectrum talent. In either scenario, the emphasis is on a business’s bottom-line outcomes and how they deliver a competitive advantage. Our people are neurodiverse individuals who have often been overlooked, but they are simply better at certain roles. That is what makes Potentia sustainable. We’re businesspeople who are also passionate about our community, so while the mission to provide opportunities for that community to shine, it also always ties back to ROI for the client.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

We have some really talented problem solvers on our team. They have been working on technology to help businesses return their people to worksites safely since COVID-19 broke out. It’s called Potentia Health Registry and it has some really innovative features to lower risk. There is a lot of uncertainty among both employers and their work forces around this issue. We are putting our expertise with healthcare analytics to work to be part of solving that challenge.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Spend time thinking about why you do what you do and be able to articulate it. This will allow you to attract like-minded people who can bring their own unique talents to implement that vision. Then listen to them as, if you’re like me, they are probably smarter than you are about the various ways to achieve that vision.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders about how to manage a large team?

Create a culture that truly values differences and emphasizes strengths. Then remain open to where those insights might take you — including advice form those outside your organization. We’ve learned a great deal through conversations with great companies like SAP, EY, and Chase, that have invested in neurodiversity. We’ve then gone out and hired some really smart people and we’ve listened to them. They’ve helped us to shape our own vision of how we can serve and it has taken us to some unexpected places. But to us, that’s what being innovative is about.

Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Absolutely. Our focus is neurodiversity, including autism, OCD, ADHD, dyslexia and other differences, and the impacts can be huge.

Diversity increases innovation. In our own company, I’ve seen how our team saw the COVID-19 crisis, identified the gaps in health data, and developed a product to address those gaps for employers — all in about six weeks.

Diversity programs make for better managers. We’ve heard multiple times how the training we provide to meet neurodiverse workers where they are has helped managers to play to the strengths of all of their employees.

Diversity lowers turnover. Neurodiverse workers have exceptionally low churn rates — typically under 5% per year when in the right roles. Before joining Potentia, our CIO ran a company where he didn’t lose a key employee for over 10 years. Who wouldn’t want that track record?

The public sector likes diversity. Government contracts are often awarded to businesses that can tangibly show their diversity. We talked with one company recently who estimated they lost over $35M in government contracts because their workforce was statistically too homogeneous. That got their attention.

When you put these factors together, and then add the fact that diversity hiring often earns tax breaks, you can see where the effect on the bottom line can be very significant.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I believe it is our responsibility first and foremost to walk the walk. So, while we advocate for neurodiversity, we also have neurodiverse individuals at all levels of our organization — from executive and board roles to front line positions. We think that is essential.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

Well, it’s not very original, but Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” quote has always resonated with me. “It is not the critic who counts…” I love that one.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

I’m grateful to Shawn Fry, our CIO, for paying me the highest compliment of partnering with me on this journey. I am also fortunate to be able to call him my friend.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂

I think it would have to be Temple Grandin. I have read a good deal of her writing and seen the movie of her life and find her completely inspiring. I have supreme admiration for people who choose a path of purpose — especially when the path is not always clear. No doubt I would learn a lot at that meal!

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