Anything is Possible
(Adpated from the College of Business 2006 Winter Newsletter http://business.illinois.edu/publications/ANN/ANN-2006-Winter.pdf)
How many negative thoughts and self-doubts
can fit on the head of a pin? Because that’s about
how much room there is in Jocelyn Carter-Miller’s
head for that kind of thinking. In the course of her career, Carter-Miller, ’79 accountancy, has
saved Barbie, helped establish Motorola in Latin
America, and is now helping disadvantaged
students excel in school and envision a better
future for themselves.
“Anything is possible if you follow your dreams,”
Even as a young woman, Carter-Miller, a National
Merit Scholar, dreamed of making the world a
better place. A biology honors major when she first
came to the University of Illinois, her original plan
was to fix the world through science and genetics.
But in 1972, when the government declared a
moratorium on genetic research funding, she
re-considered her options. Her biology adviser
imagined that funding sources would shift from
the government to business. And, he noted, if
businesses were doing more funding, it would
behoove Carter-Miller to learn a bit about the
“If you want to do this, you have to be able to
speak that language as well,” he said.
So Carter-Miller stumbled into accounting,
primarily because it fit her schedule best. However,
having taken a few business classes, Carter-Miller concluded that perhaps business would,
ultimately, be a better tool for changing the world
than biology. So, as a junior, she adjusted her life
plan and switched to a business major.
“By the time I was 30, I planned to be married,
produce three children and have an amazing career,” she remembers. “As a CPA, I intended
to join an accounting firm and rise to the level
of manager within five years. I would then quit
and have children while getting an MBA. Later, I
would become a senior executive in a Fortune 500
company that not only made wonderful products
and was a leader in its field, but also cared about
its customers, employees, and community.”
There was only one glitch in this plan. Carter-Miller had expected it to keep her busy for the
next 40 years, at which point she’d retire. The
glitch? It only took about 20 years. Her record of
success and achievement is due in part to Carter-Miller’s enormous energy, and in part to her ability
to quickly assess a situation and come up with
solutions that are at once brilliant and simple.
Take her Barbie campaign. After earning her MBA
at the University of Chicago in 1981, Carter-Miller joined the consulting firm, Booz Allen Hamilton
in New York, where she stayed two years. She
then took a position at Mattel, Inc., as a manager
of strategic business planning and later as product
manager. She was assigned, among other things,
the Barbie line, which has been the largest brand
in the toy industry since 1959 when it was
introduced. However, the year before Carter-Miller arrived on the scene, Cabbage Patch Dolls
were introduced and Barbie’s sales dropped for the
first time ever.
For her part, Carter-Miller was thrilled to work on
the Barbie brand.
“I loved Barbie; I grew up with her,” says Carter-Miller. “To work on Barbie was creative and
fun, and from the business aspect it was a great
Carter-Miller came at the problem both analytically and with guns
blazing. A single solution or approach was simply not enough for her.
“I was an MBA, I had been a scientist, and a consultant,” she says. “So
we did a lot of research and developed a strategy. I had a great young
team working with me.”
The “Barbie Dream Team” that Carter-Miller led studied the changing
demographics and psychographics of young girls and their mothers.
This caused them to create several multicultural Barbies—including a
line of black and Hispanic dolls—and career dolls. They also realized that
for women who grew up with Barbie, there was a market in collector
Barbies and designer Barbies; the first designer Barbie wore clothes
created by Bob Mackie. They even took Barbie’s evening gowns and
made them cocktail dresses to reflect changing fashions and younger
consumers. Recognizing also that the largest margin was in clothes, the
team rethought Barbie’s fashion line. To encourage fashion sales, they
sold Barbie with no clothes (well, underwear, and a protective screen
so no one could see her undies) at the original 1959 introduction price. Profit margins for Barbie increased 51 percent. The team also introduced
entertainment with Barbie, including a Paula Abdul video.
“Now everyone has a television series or a record or a video, but at that
time it was unheard of,” says Carter-Miller.
This brand strategy helped earn Carter-Miller and her team the AMA
“Effie” award for the “I’m into Barbie” advertising campaign. She did
equally astounding work with male action figures.
But prior to these accolades there came some serious nail biting. Two
weeks before the new Barbie line was going to be unveiled for the major
toy stores, from Target to FAO Schwarz to Toys R Us, Carter-Miller’s
team showed the line to their senior sales staff.
“They looked at the line and said, ‘This is the worst line we’ve ever seen.
We cannot sell this, they must be crazy,’” remembers Carter-Miller.
The president of Mattel called her in to his office and demanded that
she rethink the entire line. But, after talking with her team they decided
not to change anything.
“We had researched it, we had put our heart and souls into it, and we
didn’t have large mortgages or kids in college. We were not going to
change anything,” says Carter-Miller.
When Toys R Us buyers came two weeks later, Carter-Miller and her
team presented the line. At first there was silence, then the CEO stood
up and said that this was the best line he’d ever seen and they were
going to double their orders. She and her whole team were heroes. She
soon became vice president of marketing and product development.
“I learned then that taking chances, taking risks, is worth it in the end
even when you don’t win them all,” she says.
Carter-Miller, who grew up on Chicago’s South Side, credits both her
family and her community for her positive attitude and can-do mindset.
Carter-Miller’s mother, Berneice Carter, took her and her sister, Kimberly, to the theater and museums and surrounded them with books. Her
father Joshua Carter, who had a college degree, worked as an executive
in the government, one of the few places educated blacks could find
meaningful work at that time. He often spoke of his work experiences
at the dinner table.
“I grew up hearing that anything is possible and you can achieve your
dreams,” says Carter-Miller.
Her South Side community nurtured this belief. Muhammed Ali was
part of her neighborhood, as was Mahalia Jackson, America’s greatest
gospel singer. The first black graduate of the University of Chicago
MBA program lived a few doors down from Carter-Miller. He worked
as a postman.
“In the segregated environment we lived in you could have everyone
from the lowest rung of the economic ladder to the top because everyone
lived in the same community,” says Carter-Miller. “Some people lived in nicer homes, but we had an opportunity to have role models around that
were doing everything. I think that played into this idea that anything
Although involved in civil rights, her parents were careful not to
complain in front of their daughter about the limitations placed on
them by segregation.
By 1999, Carter-Miller was corporate vice president and chief marketing
officer for Motorola, Inc. She had achieved everything she set out to do.
Along the way, she had gotten married to Edward Miller, whom she
met in high school, and they had two daughters, Alexis (now 21) and
Kimberly (now 15).
Following her career at Motorola, Inc., Carter-Miller became the
executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Office Depot.
But, in 2002 Carter-Miller left Office Depot and joined TechEdVentures,
a company her husband established in 1998. Carter-Miller describes this
as the toughest job she’s ever had. She loves it.
TechEdventures has created charter schools and community-based
programs in a disadvantaged community in Broward County, Florida. And, although her title is president, Carter-Miller’s job is to help young
students and educators internalize the message that, “anything is
possible if you follow your dream.”
Of course, it is only possible to follow a dream if you have one. That is
what TechEdventures has done; through various programs it has given
young students the stuff that dreams are made of.
The charter school program, which began with Smart School Charter
Middle School and grew to include a second middle school, a career
academy high school and several community programs, strongly
focuses on computers and technology. Its ultimate goal is to prepare
each student academically and financially to go to college or to work in
a meaningful job with a living wage. TechEdventures prepares students
in all kinds of ways, from in-class lessons to after-school activities and
field trips. Each year, for example, students go on a college tour. Last year they went to schools in Florida and Georgia. Students met
several college presidents and stayed in the dorms. Many of these
kids have never left their neighborhood, much less visited a college
campus, notes Carter-Miller.
TechEdventures programs, which are first come, first served, reach
well over 1,000 students and have been a success by any measure.
The first middle school, for example, is one of only two “A” rated
schools in the community. The other is a magnet school to which
students must apply.
“No one, not even their families, could ever believe these kids could
achieve this,” says Carter-Miller. “But Edward and I, along with our
talented educators, knew they could. TechEdventures has changed
the consciousness of the community.”
By 2002 Carter-Miller saw that TechEdventures could use the kind
of business expertise she had.
“I decided I could keep doing corporate work or I could do something
really meaningful and impact lives,” says Carter-Miller.
“In a corporation, you’re trying to hit sales and profit targets,”
she says. “When you hit them, everything’s great; stock goes up,
everyone gets bonuses, stock holders are happy. If you miss, oh
well, you try again next quarter.
“In this environment, on the other hand, you may be the only
chance a kid has. Their parents may be incarcerated, they may be
living with their grandparents, and you may be the only hope this
child has to step from where he is to something wonderful. When
you miss, you impact somebody’s life.”
Carter-Miller infuses students with her “anything is possible”
attitude every chance she gets. She tells of a student who had
excellent standardized test scores, but had never seen himself as
college material. Carter-Miller sat him down, told him about the
advantages of a college degree and painted a picture for him of a
different kind of life. It was the first time anyone had ever done
that for him.
So these days, although the vehicle is different from what she once
imagined, Carter-Miller is, indeed, making the world a better place,
one child at a time.
“Anything is possible if you follow your dreams,” she reminds them.