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This article by Jamie Sason was prepared for the July 9, 2003 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Junior Achievement’s New Line-Up: Paul Miles
Sometimes a moment in a child’s life — although
fleeting — is so larger than life, so meaningful, that it shapes
not only the very destiny of that child, but his heart, too. In the
late 1960s, when Paul Miles, president of Junior Achievement of New
Jersey, was 10, growing up in East Orange, New Jersey, an extraordinary
thing happened to him. "I was playing outside when I looked down
the street. My tongue was just layin’ on the ground. Then I yelled
at the top of my lungs, `Muhammad Ali!!!!’"
As Miles tells it, Ali had helped one of Miles’s neighbors, whose
car had broken down on the highway and brought her home. "I ran
50 yards, right up to him. In the kind of neighborhood I lived in,
word spread fast. Within five or ten minutes, there were 50 or 100
kids crowded around Ali. He was so cool. He stood there and signed
every single kid’s autograph — and he touched every single kid."
This last detail made a huge impression on Miles, who also remembers
that when the older kids started elbowing their way to the front,
Ali, whom he calls his "ultimate sports idol," stopped them
and said, "No, boys, you step aside and let the little ones in
Miles said to himself at that moment, "If I ever make it, if I
ever become such a famous athlete that people seek my photograph,
anywhere, I would emulate Ali and always say yes." Then he adds
with a lopsided grin, "Unfortunately, nobody wants my autograph."
Miles almost did become a famous athlete, but it seems in his professional
life he was destined to use his experiences on the field in an entirely
different way. After graduating from Princeton High in 1981, he earned
a full scholarship to Nebraska, gaining All Big 8 honors as a running
back for the Cornhuskers, ranked in the top 10 during his career.
As a three-year letter winner, Miles rushed 1,074 yards and scored
nine touchdowns. In 1986, he was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks and,
after one season, was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where injuries
forced his early retirement from professional football. Just as Ali
had championed those little children so many years ago in Miles’s
neighborhood, Miles has crafted a remarkable career driven by his
passion for helping others, children in particular.
Whether you buy into the whole package or not, there
is something inherently fascinating about someone who consistently
finds ways to humanize the corporate experience. Paul Miles is one
of those people. His career so far sounds uncannily like a made-for-TV
movie — only it’s real. Here’s how he took the ball and ran with
it in the corporate arena.
As an international marketing manager at Nike, he spearheaded a program
to distribute sample footwear to disadvantaged and homeless children
throughout the country, often delivering the shoes himself during
his travels. Later, as a district manager for Pepsi, he developed
a similar program for statewide delivery of beverages to homeless
shelters and community centers for low-income families.
In 1996, while a sales rep in cardiovascular and antibiotics for Bristol-Myers
Squibb — and the number three salesperson worldwide, he founded
Miles 2 Go 4 Kids Foundation with his wife, Lisa, in honor of his
mother, who died of lung cancer in 1995 at age 60. It was his mother’s
illness that spurred him to leave Nike in Oregon and return to New
Jersey. Deeply saddened by all the children with cancer she saw while
in the hospital, she left a bequest for the express purpose of helping
children with cancer. Miles 2 Go 4 Kids encompassed several initiatives
including a football camp for kids with cancer, advocacy and support
services for families with sick children, and even paid vacations
for whole families. (In 2000 the foundation was absorbed into Robert
Wood Johnson’s Institute for Children with Cancer.)
Four years ago, a B-MS colleague, Sue Hackman, who at that time sat
on the board of Junior Achievement of NJ (JA-NJ), , recommended Miles
for an executive position. Miles seriously considered the idea, knowing
it would mean the opportunity to play a pivotal role in New Jersey’s
chapter of the world’s largest financial education program. Junior
Achievement brings professionals from the business world into schools
to teach kids about the free enterprise system, business, and economics
— from the basics of personal finance to the road map for starting
a business (see sidebar page 40).
While Miles says that at that time he "didn’t think the timing
was right or appropriate for either party," he and his wife continued
to provide sponsorship and support to JA-NJ. In the fall of 2002,
former president Michael O’Laughlin left JA-NJ, and Miles, who had
by then joined WWF (Worldwide Wrestling Federation) Entertainment,
resigned his position as vice president to step into O’Laughlin’s
shoes. In JA-NJ, Miles has found the perfect vehicle to meld his business
savvy and his commitment to empowering children, while proving once
again that the way the game of football is played is the way companies
achieve their goals and success.
You could say his arrival at JA-NJ, which will move into its new headquarters
at 4365 Route 1 South in August, was foreshadowed in elementary school.
When Miles was a kid, he thought the coolest thing to be was a garbage
man. He even used to get up early and watch for the garbage truck
to come by. When Junior Achievement came to his school, the volunteer
instructor asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. "A
garbage man," he said. The instructor congratulated him, saying
it was wonderful to have an aspiration, but then he said, "Why
don’t you strive to own the company that oversees all the garbage
men? On a cold and rainy day, you can be warm and dry sitting inside,
counting the money, deciding what all those garbage men will be doing,
what routes they’ll be driving." Miles never forgot his words.
"That instructor opened my eyes and gave me a broader scope on
The core values of that JA lesson — which emphasized the importance
of independence, hard work, and education — echoed the same values
Miles learned from his mother. When Miles was five, his father, who
had just moved his family to temporary housing in East Orange to take
a job as the director of parks and recreation for Essex County, had
a heart attack and died on Christmas Day 1969. Miles was five years
old. He recalls that as part of the healing process, his mother gathered
her children about her — Paul, his older brother and sister, and
a younger brother. "She hit us right in the face [with this message]:
`It’s a sad time for all us. Your dad has passed and he’s not coming
back. I want you to understand that Mommy won’t always be here. So
get a good education and be independent.’"
When his father died, Miles says he and his siblings "quickly
learned the difference between wants and needs. We stopped asking
for GI Joes and new sneakers. We’d been so used to `Dad’ll get this,
Dad’ll get that.’ We realized everything was on Mom."
Miles remembers at that time being completely envious of his older
brother, seven years his senior, because he had real Converse and
ProKeds sneakers. Miles asked his mother, "How does he get two
pairs of sneakers?" to which his brother replied, "I got a
part-time job with UPS. I bought my own sneakers."
His mother’s focus on the value of independence and education was
only surpassed by her dedication to helping others. "We lived
in a low-income neighborhood. All the kids came over to our house
and would ask for a snack. My mother knew that that snack may have
been the only meal they had that day."
She was called "Aunt Alice" by the other moms, who would say
to their children, "Go ask your Aunt Alice for a cup of sugar
and tell her we’ll give it back when we can." Miles says that
when it came to doing unto others, Alice’s message was, "When
you have an opportunity to help someone, do it from the heart. Don’t
promote it. You and the powers that be know what you did."
Like many little boys who see professional sports as their ticket
out of a low-income neighborhood, Miles was enthralled with football
from a very young age. His little league teams went undefeated. One
year, his team played in Downing Stadium, where the New York Cosmos
played for a short time. "We used their lockers, had a big banquet
in New York afterward." At the end of the season, he went to a
Pittsburgh-Minnesota game and had his second extraordinary moment
with a famous athlete — meeting "Mean" Joe Greene after
the game. Miles was hooked.
When Miles was about to enter high school, East Orange was, in his
words, "getting pretty bad." His mother sent him to live with
his uncle and grandmother on Herrontown Road in Princeton, where he
attended Princeton High and played on the football team, his first
step on the road to the NFL.
At age 39, Miles’s life has already been punctuated by more big moments
than most of us see in a lifetime, but one of the biggest was draft
day 1986: Miles was chosen 181st overall out of roughly 350 college
players drafted that year culled from a pool of between 12,000 and
13,000 eligible players. So, how does it feel to get that call?
"It was a very proud moment." He says he felt a strong sense
of accomplishment, which "reaffirmed that hard work results in
dreams come true. My philosophy is, if you make a commitment, do it
all the way. That comes from my mom who said, `If you choose to do
something, don’t quit.’"
Miles is quick to illustrate how football and business
are just the same game played on different fields. "I was a running
back. But I need the quarterback to pass me the ball. And I need my
linemen to block the guys trying to kill me. Everybody’s looking to
the same game plan."
At JA-NJ the idea is zero egos. "I promote that we have to think
globally as one, not one as globally. Everything I promote is about
teamwork. That’s all I know. I don’t know how to think about Paul
Miles." He says his job at JA-NJ is "all about the kids. We
have to give them the opportunity." Miles observes kids today
have "more peer pressure and overall challenges than we could’ve
fathomed [growing up]. Schools blown up, Mom and Dad laid off."
The goal of Junior Achievement is to "give them hope for the future"
by meeting and interacting with real people from the business world
who can say, This is my job, this is what I do — I was able to
reach my goal.
Catherine Milone, vice president of JA-NJ, considers Miles "an
extremely optimistic person. He’s one of the most positive people
I’ve ever met. He’s a doer — his attitude is so refreshing. The
way he’s been able to really round everyone up and pull everyone together
as a team is inspiring. Paul sees opportunity in everything."
When Miles returned to the Princeton area after his mother was diagnosed
with cancer, he attended a Princeton High homecoming game. He ran
into the nephews of his high school sweetheart Lisa and inquired after
her. "We went on a date and the rest is history." The two
were married in 1997. A 1985 graduate of Hampton College, Lisa is
now managing partner of the Park Madison Group LLC, a headhunting
firm (see story, page 38). The couple has no children.
Miles’s pro ball "fraternity" continues to benefit him off
the field. Pulling together JA-NJ’s June 9 golf fundraiser, Miles
nabbed former Yankees catcher Yogi Berra as event chair. Other celebrities
teeing off included Irving Fryar (a fellow Nebraska alumnus) from
the Eagles; Scott Brunner, Billy Taylor, Leonard Marshall, Rodney
Hampton, and Mark Ingram from the Giants; Joe Klecko from the Jets;
Drew Pearson from the Dallas Cowboys; and Heisman Trophy winners Billy
Sims (formerly with the Detroit Lions) and Mike Rozier (one of Miles’s
In addition to an already full plate, Miles is working on two books
— one motivational and inspirational and one for athletes on the
important of balancing athletics and academics, although he admits
these projects have taken a back burner for the moment. His mother’s
last words to him were: "You stay focused and let no one discourage
you from going after your goals. Keep helping others, and my baby,
please get some rest." Rest, however, seems elusive to him —
he gets 75 to 100 E-mails a day, often answering them late at night,
and his cell phone rings off the hook when he’s in his car. Asked
how he recharges, he thinks for a moment. "Golf. And I take vacations
with my wife."
At this, he abruptly whips out his Day Finder, snaps open his cell
phone, and dials his travel agent. Covering the receiver, he swallows
a bite of Caesar salad and mouths to his lunch companion at Fresh
in the Forrestal Westin, "Thanks for the reminder." Apparently,
Miles had postponed some tickets to Aruba and this day was the cut-off
for rebooking without a penalty. If you think about it, Aruba’s a
long way from East Orange.
Boulevard, Suite 200. Paul Miles, president. 609-524-4050; fax, 908-789-7623.
Moving in August to 4365 Route 1 South. Home page: newjersey.ja.org
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