Monday, March 21, 2022

Whether working in politics, pharmaceutical biotech, or manufacturing, Patricia Miller’s positive influence has led to progressive change.

A 2004 graduate of the University of Iowa, Miller is owner and CEO of M4, a plastics manufacturing company in Woodstock, Illinois, that has been in the family for more than four decades. Prior to the move to M4, Miller strategically put herself in industries that employed traditional and conservative thinking. Her hallmark is a curiosity to question what is possible and how the norm could be improved.

“I have always entered it with the lens of wanting to make positive impact and significant change,” said Miller, who will keynote the Innovation and Inspiration Speaker Series hosted by the University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (Iowa JPEC) at 5 p.m., Thursday, April 7 at MERGE, 136 S. Dubuque St. in Iowa City. (RSVP to attend.)

In the fall, Miller received Iowa JPEC’s Alumni Entrepreneurial Leadership Award (read more HERE). 

She graduated with a BBA in marketing, a BA in journalism and mass communications, a minor in Spanish and a certificate in entrepreneurship. 

In the first 10 years since graduating from the University of Iowa, Miller’s career path went from New York to California, England to China with nine stops total. She brushed shoulders with United States senators and a British Prime Minister. Miller added to her flashy resume at Eli Lilly, a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company.

Her return to the Chicagoland area to run M4 wasn’t without risk. But Miller weighed the options and decided, “if not now, when?” Combined with the fact the business had nearly hit rock bottom, she knew there was only one direction to go. 

“Can I turn it around and make it successful?” Miller wondered.

She relied on the mantra of making a positive impact leading to significant change.

“Because I had been moving upstream into the lifecycle from Eli Lilly to a biotech — which was much more entrepreneurial — M4 felt like the next natural progression of going even further upstream,” Miller said. 

Moving back to Crystal Lake, Illinois, also meant a stable address and less travel. That became more valuable in September when she married. (Miller’s husband is an industrial product designer and they have been collaborating since). 

“I put together my life interest and my business interest and pushed to be a circular economy factory in sustainability,” Miller said. “To be able to design and work with him allows us to be experimental in materials, biodegradable plastic, and design products.”

After joining the family business, Miller had to initiate hard conversations and challenging interactions. But she knew the players so to speak, and as owner, she was allowed to pivot the business as much as needed. In the bigger picture, Miller noticed that women were grossly underrepresented in leadership positions in manufacturing or STEM organizations.

“It is critical to see someone that reflects an aspect of yourself or you could visualize yourself in,” Miller said. “That has been important for me; I am proud there is representation of females at every level of my business and I know there is a portion that is attached to me being a female owner.”

Miller yearns for the day when industries or jobs are not defined by male or female-dominated, but just people-dominated. Her advice is to keep going and hold tightly to the vision and not the circumstance. 

“If we want to create the future that we all seek, then we have to make the changes today,” Miller said. “I would suggest to any female that is looking to drive change to be passionate about their career, whether it is intrapreneurial or entrepreneurial, and go for it. You don’t have to be an owner to drive change within a business.”