Jeff Miller – Haskell
As Jeff Miller’s children were growing up, he liked to ask them about their career aspirations. Not just “What do you want to be when you grow up?” but “What’s your plan to become what you want to be?” too.
It’s a sage approach to help anyone understand the work and sacrifice they’ll need to reach a goal—but Miller also admits he didn’t decide he wanted to go to law school until the last semester of earning his manufacturing engineering technology bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma State University.
Miller, the vice president and general counsel for Haskell, also says he hadn’t ever planned to work in-house. However, his private practice work in areas including engineering, product liability and construction paved a path that, in retrospect, made his in-house work seem like a logical destination.
That’s because Haskell provides architecture, engineering, construction and consulting services with a specialty in manufacturing that enables Miller to apply his skillsets in law and business.
“Everything I did contributes to my in-house success now,” Miller says. “It all makes sense when I look back at it now.”
From production lines to MRIs
Haskell didn’t just make the cardboard holder for the six-pack you recently bought, or the pouch or jar containing the snacks you’ll enjoy with your drinks. What the Jacksonville, Florida-based company does is build the places where the drinks and snacks are made—including installing the production and packaging lines.
Founded in 1965 by Preston H. Haskell to build a beachfront apartment complex, by 1967, Haskell had begun building industrial projects. Its portfolio includes a 1.1 million-square-foot expansion of Anheuser Busch’s Fairfield, California, brewery, enabling the brewer to make craft beers.
Haskell also retrofitted the MRI suite for the Carolinas Medical Center-North East in Concord, North Carolina, and a parking structure at Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville.
Haskell has locations in 11 U.S cities and offices in China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, Colombia and Mexico. The company has four brands: Benham, Cortez Inc., Dysruptek and Seiberling. Benham offers architecture and design-build services in industries including civil engineering, healthcare and consumer products. Cortez fabricates and installs process piping and production equipment primarily for food and beverage companies. Dystruptek invests in early state technology companies and pilots the technologies on Haskell projects. Sieberling provides engineering and technical consultation services with a specialty in sanitary design engineering in the food and beverage sector.
Whether building a large facility structure or installing production lines, Miller says Haskell handles its projects, knowing time is of the essence as customers look to get their products on store shelves—or to treat patients.
“We’re routinely asked to do things in a shortened time frame because our customers need to get to market on time,” he says.
Learning the terms
While managing day-to-day legal affairs, Miller focuses on risk and safety. He leads a team of six, manages risk through deal and contract negotiations, and improves safety by supporting training. He’s also responsible for managing work with outside counsel and overseeing claims, including against company subcontractors.
The varied and unique nature of Haskell’s work requires specialized training for its legal staff and other company divisions, so Miller and Vice President David Reaves launched a new program earlier this year.
Working at the behest of Chief Operations Officer John-Paul Saenz, Miller and Reaves keyed in on 26 crucial legal terms, such as fair indemnification, proper standards of care, hidden or unforeseen conditions, and limitations of liability used in contracts and wrote a guidebook about how they should be considered and applied by attorneys as well as upper-level project managers.
After gathering input from other company leaders, including four vice presidents, Reaves and Miller created training modules centered on nine of the most important terms. They hit the road to Haskell’s U.S. locations for in-person training in sessions lasting about 2 1/2 hours. The sessions took about 3 1/2 months to complete due to scheduling issues.
Secure and balanced
Miller is also part of Haskell’s cybersecurity enhancement efforts. He works with the IT team as they’ve implemented tools such as dual-layer identification to access the network and a secure virtual private network. The VPN is crucial because employees frequently work remotely or on a job site, Miller says.
With the tools in place, he also helps conduct training, including phishing exercises. Miller says employees are trained to look at emails and avoid downloading malware or viruses.
He wants to help his team and other upper-level project managers and planners understand how to apply crucial legal terms to contracts and operations. Miller also mentors younger attorneys, allowing them to watch trials or arbitration sessions and see how a judge applies the legal terms.
However, Miller also wants to impart the importance of balancing work and life to his team.
“That’s very important to me,” he says. “The in-house environment includes fewer hard deadlines, and it makes sense to go home, spend time with family and friends and come back fresh and ready for work the next day.”
His door is open
Miller, who was born and raised outside Tulsa, Oklahoma, earned his bachelor’s degree in 1990, and then his J.D. from the University of Oklahoma College of Law in 1994. He practiced law in private firms for over seven years before joining Jennings Cook & Teague as a senior associate in August 2001.
In August 2008, Miller came in-house as SAIC’s associate counsel and operations contracts manager. In September 2013, he took on the same role with Leidos and was named vice president and senior counsel in May 2014.
In April 2016, Miller joined Benham as vice president and senior counsel, then became Haskell’s vice president and chief counsel in December 2016. He was named to his current role in April 2019.
Outside work, Miller and his wife, whom he met at Oklahoma State, have raised four children and enjoy rehabilitating older homes. They restored their century-old house, considered nearly ancient in Oklahoma because the state wasn’t settled until the early 20th century.
“My career has been diverse. Going in-house wasn’t a goal but an endgame that occurred. I was in the right place at the right time,” Miller says. “So, I encourage everyone to come in as they need to for advice. I can provide war stories and counsel from my experience in practice, both in and out of the courtroom.”
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