The Women’s Inclusive Network group (WIN@JM) at Johns Manville regularly publishes stories featuring women across the company. These women have technical responsibility for product lines in each of JM’s three core businesses.
Name: Nicole Miller
Title: Mechanical Product Manager
Business: Insulation Systems
Years at JM: 6
Tell us about your background: I grew up in Aurora, Colorado, not very far from Denver. After I graduated high school, I went to a small private college in Nebraska so that I could focus on my education and being able to play sports in college.
What sports did you play?: I played soccer all four years. It was fun.
How did you end up at JM?: That’s actually kind of a funny story. Right out of college, I got an accounting degree and a public relations degree (so two totally different things), and I was working at a CPA firm in Kansas. I got a call from JM about the cost accountant position out of the McPherson, Kansas, plant, so I went for an interview. I really enjoyed my interviews and liked the people that I met and the culture of JM, so that’s when I decided to make the switch. I wasn’t actively looking for anything, I just thought JM would be a really great fit for my personality and my strengths.
How did you work your way up to Product Manager?: I was the cost accountant at the McPherson plant and had a couple of opportunities in Denver to help and fill in on some maternity leave for the commercial finance group. I expressed my interest in wanting to explore other avenues within finance, so I was going back and forth between Kansas and Denver for about six months. When that time was coming to a close, the timing worked out perfectly and there was an opportunity for the financial analyst position in the commercial finance group in Insulation Systems. Since I am a Denver native, I thought that would be an awesome experience to move back and do something new with JM. I then moved into a Building Insulation finance supervisor role and then there were some things that worked out where the mechanical product manager position opened up. The timing worked out perfectly once again and I wanted to do something new and broaden my JM horizons.
What accomplishment in your professional life are you most proud of?: It’s hard to land on one thing or one specific event but being nominated for this interview is up there. I was really excited. Outside of that, one of the things I am the proudest of is being seen as a technical leader and being knowledgeable in what I am talking about and working on. One of the best pieces of career advice I ever got was “If you can’t teach something thoroughly to someone else, you don’t know it well enough.” I always try to be well-versed in what I am talking about in each role that I take on, but I never really saw myself as a technical person. I’m really proud of developing the confidence to be able to have that knowledge and technical skill.
Tell us about any turning points in your career: My experience had always been finance-focused, so my turning point was going from finance to product management because it was such a scary leap at the time. Even as scary of a leap as it was, there were and are, great opportunities at JM. You have to be willing to put yourself out there and explore them.
What kinds of challenges have you faced and how have you worked through them?: One of the things that hit me pretty hard was ageism in our industry. Our industry is very established; people have been in this industry for a very long time. When I first started in this role, customers would think “What is this incredibly young female doing in front of me, trying to explain this insulation to me that I have done for a really long time?” I worked through that by changing my perception in customer events and talking to customers, making sure I have a strong technical presence and am confident in the things that I am talking about and presenting. Another way I got past that was not being afraid to seek help from people at JM. Everybody at JM always has each other’s backs. I know there are a lot of women at JM who have been that position and worked through that before. Reaching out and getting help from those strong women helped me work through that insecurity.
Do you have any guidelines, principles, values or specific life lessons that you have leaned on during your career?: Always do what you say you’re going to do. Even something as small as returning a phone call or email can change how people perceive you. The other thing is when it comes to bad news, communicate it early.
What advice would you give to your younger self or the next generation of women?: Take that leap of faith in yourself. Before taking the leap into product management, I was so worried that I wasn’t qualified or good enough. I see a lot of women holding back on taking that leap of faith. In holding back, it becomes easy to become stuck in the status quo of life and dreaming of something bigger, better, or different.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself: The bus driver in South Park, Mrs. Crabtree, is based on my aunt. In the South Park area, all the kids lived 20 miles from school so she would drive all the kids, work her full-time job, and then bring them all home.