Q & A with Superior Consulting Services (SCS) Founder, John Miller
May 11, 2022
Superior Consulting Services (SCS) celebrates 25 years of technology consulting in 2022. What began as a two-person show focused on using technology to solve business problems, is now a thriving consulting firm with 20+ associates. Now 534 clients later, that commitment to creating technology solutions to move clients to their business goals remains the same. We recently sat down with SCS Founder John Miller for a Q&A session. He reflects on the early days, his inspiration, and what made SCS what it is today.
Q: What was your motivation for starting SCS?
A: I had the opportunity to leave teaching high school biology and the education world after 15 years to work in the IBM used computer marketplace. I worked for a gentleman named Ron Haberkorn and helped him develop his company, NOREX (North American Computer Exchange). I was his first employee and learned much about sales, good customer service, and managing people. In my final three years, I served as President of NOREX, making executive decisions. Ron told me from day one that he was not looking for a partner or partners. He said marriage was a tough enough partnership, and he didn’t want a business partner. That was fine in the early years, but in due time it was not as fun as it was in the beginning because I was not building anything for myself or for my family. I saw what Ron had accomplished and thought I can do that. When I was at NOREX they focused on the computer hardware business, remarketing, and as time went by the industry was changing. So, I decided to leave NOREX and learn more about the software business side of technology. I joined Shared Resource Management (SRM) as a sales consultant and worked there for 6.5 years before starting Superior Consulting Services.
Q: What were your goals? Both short term and long term?
A: My first goal was to hire qualified staff that were trustworthy, friendly, and had a good work ethic. Without good staff you cannot have good loyal clients – and that was my second goal. My long-term goal was to be profitable or increase net income. We had to be profitable to stay in business. Profit is a good word! I figured with good staff and loyal clients, we should be profitable, and we were.
Q: How did you decide on Superior Consulting Services for a business name? (and how much had to do with Lake Superior?)
A: Although I have a great love for Lake Superior, it was not the reason I named my company Superior Consulting Services. Best Consulting would have been a good name, but I knew of other “good” consulting companies in the Twin Cities, and I did not want to be arrogant. I chose Superior because I wanted to be a superior consulting company, not necessarily saying we were the best, but one of the superior companies.
Q: Who was your favorite client, and why?
A: That is the toughest question I could be asked. I had so many favorite clients: Ryan Companies, Great Clips, Teledyne, American Linen, to name a few. If you were an SCS client, paid your bills, and were nice to our consultants, you were one of my favorite clients!
Q: What did you find most fulfilling in running SCS for 17 years?
A: Employees! We were good at what we did because we had employees who took the needs of our clients to heart! SCS was here to solve client needs. Our staff treated our clients as a number one priority, which they are. If you have the right staff treating clients well, everything turns out alright.
Q: What is your favorite memory of your time running SCS?
A: I hired many good people who tended to stick around. They took good care of our clients and our clients took good care of us. My first hire was Brian Larson (current Chief Creative Officer & Partner), the best hire I ever made. I hired Paul Purington (current Chief Executive Office & Partner) who took his time to join us. He needed to finish up an assignment at another consulting company to ensure its success. He stayed with that project until the fullness of time prevailed. Over the years, I had the opportunity to work with my wife, Marilyn, from day one and then my daughter, Lisa (current Chief Operations Officer & Partner), and my son, Bradley. I could not have been more blessed than having these working relationships!
Q: What was your biggest challenge getting started?
A: I did not have the financial resources (or so I thought) to get the business started on my own. I asked my good friend Bob Barsness (then President and owner of Prior Lake State Bank) if he would like to partner with me on starting Superior Consulting Services. He said yes but thought we should get another investor involved. That led to bringing on Michael Holmgren, Dennis Zahrbock, and John Wangsness. So, with four investors and me, we started SCS in March of 1997. As time went on and after a tough year in 2003, I bought out the partnerships of Holmgren and Zahrbock. Both good people with business expertise. I continued to use Holmgren as our accountant and Zahrbock as our financial consultant. To this day, I owe much of our success to other’s belief that we could be a superior consulting company. Investors, employees, and clients!
Q: What was your biggest challenge as time went on?
A: We did have a difficult time in 2003. At the turn of the century many businesses were tired of paying consultants to see that they made it thru Y2K. In addition, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the United States killed innocent citizens and hurt business flow. Back then, many investors were spending money on something called “.com” without doing due diligence as to what it actually was. Many .com companies became “.gone.” They failed. People blamed technology and not the bad investment they had made. Lastly, there was a downturn in economy. All of the above made 2003 a rough time for technology consulting companies, including Superior Consulting Services. We had to let two people go and reduced everyone’s salary by 10 percent, which led to some very valued employees leaving. We were into our line of credit to the tune of over $100,000. It was the toughest time for me and for Superior Consulting Services. By 2004, however, we returned the 10 percent to our employees and gave raises. We became profitable again and never had a non-profitable year after that!
Q: Any additional thoughts or stories you’d like to share?
A: I am a storyteller (raconteur), but I enjoy verbally telling stories. To get it all down on paper would be painstaking. I have so many good things to say that came with developing this company. I will leave it by saying that you cannot have a consulting company until you have a consultant. Brian Larson was that consultant, and a better choice could not have made. Brian has been with SCS for 25 years and counting, has written a number of bestselling books on Microsoft’s SQL Server database, and is one of America’s best (in my opinion) Microsoft consultants!