In this episode of Be EPIC, Matt is joined by Reginald Miller, the Vice President, Global Chief Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Officer at McDonald’s and two-time University of Arkansas graduate. During their conversation, they discuss how being authentic in your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts can increase trust between leadership and employees. Reginald gives advice on how to find companies that align with your values and help you succeed.
0:00:08.3 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to Be EPIC, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality, and what those values mean in business, education and your life today.
0:00:28.5 Matt Waller: I have with me today Reginald Miller, who is the Vice President, Global Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at McDonald's. Reggie is an alum, two-time alum of the University of Arkansas with an undergraduate and Master's degree. And he has a tremendous experience. He served in the US Army Reserve for eight years. And he worked for Walmart for many years, he's had a wide variety of experiences at Walmart. He spent time in store operations, he spent time at the home office and logistics and replenishment. And he also has experience at Tyson Foods in HR. But many years of experience at Walmart, Sam's Club. And he also was Vice President of Global Inclusion and Diversity at VF Corporation prior to joining McDonald's as Global Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer. Reginald, we're really proud of what you've accomplished, and thank you so much for taking time to visit with me today.
0:01:42.1 Reginald Miller: Thank you so much, Dean. Glad to be here.
0:01:44.3 Matt Waller: Reggie, you've worked with some pretty well-known brands in a wide variety of experiences. Very few people I talked to have experience in operations, logistics, replenishment, HR, etcetera, etcetera at really enormous companies. And so I would imagine that really informs your leadership style and how you operate as a manager as well. When you left University of Arkansas and joined Walmart, you were in operations, to begin with, which is tough work. And then you went to the home office and replenishment. How was that transition from university to the work world?
0:02:33.9 Reginald Miller: For me, it was a little different 'cause I'm a bit of a non-traditional student. I actually went back later and finished both my Bachelor's, and actually, both of my Master's degrees; one of those, obviously, being from the University of Arkansas. And so I did it while working. I was already in the workforce, went back to start getting my, finishing my Bachelor's degree in 2006 while I was still at Tyson Foods, and just kind of run the gamut after that.
0:03:05.1 Reginald Miller: And so it was interesting, one thing that you may not know is that originally, with the school, in a dual-degree program, the way it was pulled together is that I would do three years at Morehouse College in Atlanta, get a degree in Chemistry. So how about fast-tracking that? [chuckle] And then two more years at Georgia Tech and get a Chemical Engineering degree. That was sort of my original path. And then life happens, but I will tell you, because my wife is an alum of the college as well, my engagement with the University of Arkansas really goes back to the early '90s at a program that the university used to run where diverse students could come up for a day, spend time at the university, get to know it. It was during the time where Corliss Williamson and Scotty Thurman were roaming the campus.
0:03:55.8 Matt Waller: Oh, yeah.
0:03:56.5 Reginald Miller: So it was really exciting. And so my love for the university goes back my entire life, especially being a native of Arkansas. But what I will tell you is having been involved with college relations, and I ran Walmart's internship program, an MBA program at one time, it's a huge jump going from whether you're an undergraduate or a graduate student going into your first corporate job and corporate environment. And the advice that I always give students is really focusing on not only how do you sort of find your way and find out what you're good at within their respective organization, but to surround yourself with people who are gonna make you better. I did a, once again, maybe a little bit non-traditional. So I'm a graduate of Osceola High School, and I graduated on a Friday night, got up the next morning with my parents, drove to Atlanta and on Monday, started summer school. So the summer before my official freshman year, I was already taking college courses on campus.
0:05:03.3 Reginald Miller: The men that I met that summer are still friends of mine to this day. One is the Head of Medicine at Penn, one is a tech CEO, another one is a doctor, another one is an engineer at GM. All well-accomplished, all doing well, all great family men, God-fearing, and it really cemented to me that once again, you wanna surround yourself with people who are not just gonna be yes men to whatever you're thinking or women, but they can push you and inspire you, truthfully, to do better. 'Cause not everybody's journey happened at the same pace or the same time. But to be in a place now, no more than 25 plus years later where we've all been able to accomplish some success, especially all with African-American men is something really to be stated.
0:05:57.0 Matt Waller: Wow, what great advice for our students. It's interesting that the effect we have on one another and you know, the other thing I think about with that is surrounding ourself with great people is tremendous. But then if we are intentional about trying to be encouraging and uplifting and strengthening to them, it becomes a virtuous cycle.
0:06:22.7 Reginald Miller: Absolutely, you're all pushing each other to get better. When I think about the great sports teams, be it the number of great teams that we've had on the Razorbacks from track, to football, to basketball, to all the other sports as well. When I think about many other great sports teams that we think about, the Magic Johnson, Lakers, or the Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls, that same element that I'm talking about is embedded within those things. Michael Jordan got better because of Scottie Pippen; Scottie Pippen got better because of Michael Jordan. And I know maybe some people don't wanna hear that, but it's the truth. And that ability, and I found, even throughout my corporate career, to be around people who will challenge you, it's invaluable, truthfully. And if you're not used to being challenged, then maybe you should really look at the people that are around.
0:07:11.8 Matt Waller: Well, Reggie, when I look at your career, and you spent most of your time with Walmart. But now, you're moving to Chicago, you're with McDonald's, which is a remarkable company. I mean Walmart and McDonald's are very different companies in some ways, but they're both remarkable companies. I know a lot more about Walmart than I do about McDonald's because of where I am, but I've read a lot about McDonald's over the years, and I've been super impressed. I read a book a few years ago called The E Myth. And the name of the book isn't very descriptive of what the book is about, but basically, the book is about if you're a small business owner or an entrepreneur, you really need to be thinking about putting in good processes for everything.
0:08:06.0 Reginald Miller: Absolutely.
0:08:06.8 Matt Waller: Documenting everything, making it be repeatable, making it be so that if new people come in, they can jump in easily. And I know having been at Walmart, you must really understand that kind of idea. But the example they use in the book is McDonald's. I think McDonald's has mastered that beyond any company. Are you seeing that as well?
0:08:31.0 Reginald Miller: Absolutely. And my history with McDonald's, once again, goes all the way back to high school, it was my first job and before I went to college, and even to some degree, during college. I would still work there during summer breaks and holiday breaks. But in returning, essentially, to McDonald's last November, and having an opportunity to work in some restaurants in my brief time here, what most impressed me is not just the sustainability of the process, but also, that there's a quality measure that goes along with it as well. So that if you're getting an order of fries in Fayetteville or getting an order of fries in Hong Kong, that has the same quality level throughout the entire process. And it's interesting when you kind of put the companies side by side, Walmart and McDonald's, you have two companies that employ, combined, over four million people around the world.
0:09:27.6 Matt Waller: Wow!
0:09:28.2 Reginald Miller: And so that kind of scale, that kind of leverage that you could do with companies that size, it's pretty remarkable. And then of course, with turnover, it's not like four million is stagnant. And so a number of people walk through our doors, and you have to be able to build a company where both leadership is taught, and that people's lives are made better through working for you, even if it was for a brief period of time in a restaurant or a store, or a more sustainable in a more corporate functioning role, the idea should be the same.
0:10:04.0 Matt Waller: A lot of students don't want to work in fast food or general merchandise or grocery or warehousing, etcetera, etcetera, but I believe, especially in high school, you know, I worked at a Dairy Queen when I was really young, and that fast pace where you're on your feet, you gotta move, you gotta think, you gotta deal with customers, I think it's invaluable for the rest of your life.
0:10:31.7 Reginald Miller: Absolutely. I feel like I learned my first leadership skills working in that McDonald's. It was where I learned lessons about inclusion. I had people who worked with me and for me who were decades older than me. I had friends across the spectrum from LGBTQ to Middle Eastern to everything. I learned a lot in those early days working at a McDonald's, and I wouldn't take that away for anything.
0:11:00.6 Matt Waller: So that's a good segue to your current responsibility in leadership. One of the most important... Of course, empirical studies have shown one of the most important variables in leadership is trust. There's gotta be trust there, right?
0:11:12.9 Reginald Miller: Yes.
0:11:13.0 Matt Waller: And trust is built upon... There's a lot of different studies have been done, but three things, in particular. One is competence, you gotta be competent. Two, you've got to have integrity, people need to believe that you'll do what you say. And then the third is they have to believe you have their best interests in mind.
0:11:33.9 Reginald Miller: Yes.
0:11:35.2 Matt Waller: And so I've thought before, diversity and inclusion efforts can build trust if it's real. It builds that trust. "Yes, I am included and a part of this organization." But if it's not real, it can actually erode trust. So it's a two-edged sword. It's kinda like if a company's gonna do it, they better mean it or it's gonna backfire on them. Have you seen that?
0:12:01.1 Reginald Miller: To your point about the role of an organization, be it University of Arkansas, McDonald's, wherever, there has to be some authenticity to it as well, right? So to your point, whether it's real or not. If it doesn't come across as authentic, people will sniff that out very quickly. And so I think for each organization, they have to choose where do they sit on this journey around diversity, equity, inclusion. Specifically, for each of us as leaders, how do you make a connection with routine? And then connection involves empathy, it involves listening, it involves a number of different traits. Are you accessible? Can I come to you? And once again, that's another sort of outlier from trust. But that ability to feel like a student feel like they can come to your office and talk to you, or whether it's someone on my team or some, any employee within a company, that's important as well.
0:12:56.6 Reginald Miller: And then that trust factor, I completely agree with you. It's central to it all. And I think as we go into 2021, and as we think about what I really believe is gonna be a war on talent this year as the economy continues to go back, and globally, the economy continues to wrap up as we hopefully wind down from COVID, to some degree, the great employers, the great organizations will be the ones who invested in building an authentic trusting environment for their employees, students, or otherwise because they're gonna have options.
0:13:34.0 Matt Waller: You know, I read a book this summer called Untapped Talent by Dani Monroe. And when the George Floyd killing occurred, we had, at the University of Arkansas, we had a hashtag that kind of went viral, #BlackAtUARK. And it was basically faculty, staff, students, and alumni sharing experiences that they'd had from a racial perspective. And I read it and I thought, "I need to dig into this." Of course, I've read a number of books on it now, but this was one of the first ones. And to your point about the talent battle that's going on, you know, I realized, "Wow! One way the Walton College could really help here is through DEI," with respect to our faculty, staff and students. I thought, "Wow, there's a lot of people out there that we're not reaching properly." So the way you described that, timed DEI to the talent battle that's gonna be going on, what's your view of that?
0:14:45.5 Reginald Miller: Well, the interesting piece that I'm seeing, in general, is we're sort of at this inflection point, I believe. And many people will say, "Well, you're talking about racial inequality and then other things." And actually, in this particular situation, I'm not. What I'm really talking about is we're at an inflection point in regards to how the changing demographics of both the country and the world are really starting to have an impact. So we're at the point right now, 2020, 2021, 2022, where we're gonna see a real impact of the needs of this younger generation that's more diverse younger generation and what their expectations are within the workforce of companies, on social issues as well, really beginning to cement itself.
0:15:40.3 Reginald Miller: My personal opinion is, is that is sort of counterbalanced between somewhat of the old guard trying to hold on to old ways. And I think a lot of the battles that you're seeing, socioeconomic, sociopolitical, is that sort of tugging at the old ways and is pushed towards this new agenda for this current generation. The challenge, obviously, that we have is organizations between, once again, for-profit universities or whatnot, is to find that right rhythm and support the needs of what will be truthfully the ruling class, if you will, of this next generation going forward, to a point in the next 15, 20 years where groups that we call minorities today will be in the majority in this country.
0:16:27.0 Reginald Miller: How each of our respective organizations react to that is an important one. We're all trying to figure it out at the same time, there's no sort of magic bullet to what that looks like. And then later, on top of it, the racial inequality and global pandemic that we're facing as headwinds as well. And so it's a really, really, really interesting time. I think people will go back and look over this period in our country, in our world's history as an interesting one as we really try and begin to make a transition from Baby Boomers and Generation X to this new generation and what their wants and needs are out of society.
0:17:05.0 Matt Waller: I see why McDonald's hired you into this position. You have a very strategic, broad, global perspective on this.
0:17:14.6 Reginald Miller: Well, thank you, I appreciate that.
0:17:17.0 Matt Waller: So Reggie, the vision of the Walton College states, through our teaching, research and service, to be thought leaders and catalysts for transforming lives. So there's two pillars of our vision: Thought leadership and being a catalyst for transforming lives. And we came up with a tagline for the college that ties our vision to our values, which we didn't do this on purpose, it just worked out. So the values of the Walton College, which we defined in the '90s: Excellence, Professionalism, Innovation and Collegiality. The acronym spells EPIC. So we thought, "Well, that's neat." When we came up with it, though, the only meaning of EPIC, really, was a long, heroic story or poem. And we thought that's really neat as we go on this journey for fulfilling our values, it'll be an EPIC journey. But later, EPIC started to mean great and we thought, "That's just a neat combination." And so our external relations team came up with this idea for a tagline for the college that was "Be EPIC". But I'm curious, as students are graduating, Reggie, they're gonna be looking at lots of organizations, and many of them are gonna wanna be working for companies that value DEI. What advice do you have for them in figuring that out?
0:18:48.1 Reginald Miller: One, I love "Be EPIC". I think those are words to live by, truthfully. And I've rounded out this saying just this year that you should never let anyone stop you from being the best version of yourself, that's the phrase. And I think it aligns a lot with "Be EPIC", to be quite honest. For students who are graduating, I actually think they have a lot of research to do. They have to look at companies with an idea of, "Can I be successful there?" Does their values, like you mentioned, align with things that are important to them? Are they involved in causes that they also align with? And even when they talk to managers at their company, through interview process at career fairs, virtually, whatever the case may be, do those leaders embody the values that they're looking for as well? And it's not a perfect science, and hey, we've all probably made mistakes in that process. But I think there's a lot of work to do to really figure out the simple phrase of, "Can I be successful?" Or maybe even, "Can I Be EPIC at that organization?" And know that maybe there are some roles within that company or even, or roles at specific companies that might be stepping stones to the next one.
0:20:06.0 Reginald Miller: But the reason why I've been using that phrase is because even if that role wasn't right for you, even if that company wasn't the right one for you, what you wanna do is leave a legacy of being great in that role or at that company. And leave sustainable processes in place in the role that you... It doesn't matter if you're an accountant, working in HR, working in marketing, working at supply chain or operations. You would have wanted to leave your mark in the role even if the company or role isn't necessarily right for you. And so that would be the advice I would give to the students is one, make sure that for every choice of role or company, that you look for places where you could be successful. But then two, leave a legacy, Be EPIC in that role during the time that you're in it.
0:21:01.0 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of the Be EPIC podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching beepicpodcast, one word, that's B-E-E-P-I-C podcast. And now, Be EPIC!