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How to Succeed


Eugene Miller didn't give the 1962 commencement talk, but he did walk the walk.

Not long after working as a speechwriter for President Dwight D. Eisenhower, but years before becoming head of communications and investor services for the New York Stock Exchange, Eugene Miller returned to his alma mater as Georgia Tech's youngest commencement speaker.


"It was a disaster," Miller recalled. "You could not believe what happened." Miller, who graduated from Tech with a bachelor's in science in 1945, was then director of public affairs and communications for McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. In 1962, after accepting an invitation from Tech President Ed Harrison to give the June graduation address, Miller, then age 36, threw his energy into the task.

"I had given a lot of talks in my job, and I rehearsed this fairly well," Miller said. "I had it down pat. My wife was there and all these dignitaries and the graduates. I was going to make the big impression."


Miller launched into his talk "How to Succeed in Business by Really Trying" — a title skewed from the Broadway hit "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." Just as he was telling the audience the type of person who succeeds in the business world, the sound system went silent.


"I turned to Dr. Harrison and said, 'What should I do?' He said, 'We're an engineering school, we have a portable extra one.' They brought it out and it didn't work. I said, 'What should I do?' He said, 'See if you can shout.'


"I started shouting, which is not a very good way to deliver a speech, and the people in the back were starting to raise their hands that they couldn't hear. I said, 'What should I do?' Dr. Harrison said, 'We're cutting the commencement short.'


"That was my big moment — which was not quite as big as I had hoped," Miller laughed.


It was not all for naught. The July 1962 issue of the Georgia Tech Alumnus magazine featured Miller on its cover as "The man who never got to finish his speech." Inside was the speech.


Miller knew quite a bit about how to succeed. During a career that spans more than 50 years, he has been a newspaper reporter, associate managing editor for BusinessWeek, syndicated business columnist, speechwriter for Eisenhower, consultant to Secretary of Commerce Luther Hodges, author, vice president of McGraw-Hill Publishing, senior vice president of the New York Stock Exchange, senior vice president for CAN Financial Corp., chairman of the business and management department of Northeastern Illinois University, vice chairman and chief financial officer of USG Corp., and chairman and CEO of Ideon Group. He is now a professor and executive-in-residence at the College of Business at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla., where he lives. A Navy veteran, he is a retired commander of the Naval Reserve.


Miller's family includes his wife, Thelma, three grown children and two stepchildren.


A native of Chicago, Miller grew up in New York. In 1942, he entered Bethany College in Bethany, W. Va., at age 16 on a full scholarship. After two semesters, he joined the Navy on a program that encouraged him to attend either medical school or engineering school.


"I liked engineering, so they transferred me to Georgia Tech," Miller said. "I was only there four semesters. They told me I was the only one to come from a liberal arts college with four semesters and graduate from Tech in four more semesters."


Miller has six degrees and diplomas. In addition to his Tech degree, he holds a bachelor's and honorary doctorate from Bethany College, a master's in journalism from Columbia University, a master's of business administration from New York University, and a diploma from Oxford University in England.


He has been a director of more than a dozen corporations and is currently a director of six.


In addition to being chair of the business department at Northeastern Illinois, Miller has taught at the University of Houston, graduate schools of business at New York University and Fordham University, and was executive-in-residence at five universities.


A gifted speaker, Miller draws from his extensive experience to lecture on business and economic topics throughout the world. His far-ranging travels have taken him around the globe, including 30 trips to Europe and on more than 50 cruises.


In the commencement address he never got to make, Miller had these words of advice: "If you would embark on a goal that will give you perspective both in breadth and depth, not only will you be a scarce item, but the world will eventually beat a path to your door. And you will never need concern yourself about finding an interesting life."


It's the speech he didn't get to give, but it's the life he got to lead.



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