It might be said that creatives and business people exist at two different ends of a spectrum, but in fact, creativity is well suited to the technology business. Being able to imagine a future that is not immediately apparent, seeing past the hurdles of the present, and identifying areas for potential growth requires a kind of artistry.
Inspiring case in point: Chris Miller, executive director of the collaborative integrator network PSNI. As an integration business builder and ongoing AV community leader, having served as president for both InfoComm and ICIF (the association’s educational foundation), Miller operates creatively, seeing the big picture when encountering industry challenges and opportunities.
Even though he has observed that there is no single career path in the field of AV integration, early on, Miller set a course that many others would also follow in the establishment of the AV business as we know it today. Running his home state of Oklahoma’s largest production and post-production studio in 1980, but realizing that creativity required a lot of capital in that era of $100,000 two-inch tape machines and $80,000 cameras, Miller instead became a provider of those tools for other creatives.
“It never crossed my mind that I would ever cross over and work on the sales side,” Miller recalled. “Creative people never envision themselves doing that kind of work. But if you kind of have a free spirit, and you believe that the absence of alternatives clears the mind of making decisions, and you go where the path takes you, this is an industry that has so many diverse ways in which you can go.”
The tumultuous nature of the AV business back then was exciting, and even if Miller didn’t have his MBA, he was lucky to have landed in an industry where many were willing to mentor him as he built a business. That, too, turned out to be a principal factor in how Miller would carry out his contribution to the AV world.
While Miller and his business partner, Tom Roberts, were building the merged broadcast and audiovisual company Fairview-AFX in 1986, they joined the newly established PSNI. The continued mentorship and growth that came through collaborating with other PSNI members taught Miller more about leadership and giving back: “Leadership isn’t about keeping it to yourself, but sharing with others; and the more you share with others, the more you benefit, too.”
Around that time, Miller was tapped to lead InfoComm (then known as ICIA), serving as president when the association had its first international show and was on the cusp of establishing the numerous educational and certification training offerings it provides today. “Those were groundbreaking times for us. When I look at InfoComm today, I’m just so proud and impressed. It has become so much more than what we envisioned it could be, and we had a vision that it could be big.”
Miller and Roberts sold Fairview-AFX to MCSi in that ill-fated roll-up of 1999, but there was more creative leadership ahead. Once done with their contract in 2003, Miller and Roberts were presented with the opportunity to lead PSNI as executive director and co-director, respectively. The initial agreement was for one year, which has turned into 13 years and counting.
With an initial goal to expand service and support to national clients by seeking out the best integrators in the business, PSNI continues to expand its offerings with programs to benefit its affiliates and the industry as a whole.
In another InfoComm first, Miller was presented with InfoComm’s inaugural Volunteer of the Year Award in 2004. He continues to contribute to a number of association causes, particularly in the development of the InfoComm AV Executive Conference (AVEC).
Reimagining the AV business as he goes along, Miller has a lot in common with those who join the industry today. Excited by ever-evolving technology, he knows the core element of creativity is what remains the same. To be a success then as now, “You still have to have good content, good visualization, and great ideas.”