Kevin Mills '92
Kevin Mills '92 tests his business skills in the nonprofit and for-profit worlds
When Kevin S. Mills '92 was a graduate student at the Harvard Business School, his class took up a case study of the discovery of cyanide in bottles of Tylenol. The question for discussion was: "At what point should the company pull Tylenol from the shelves?"
Mills was one of only five students out of ninety who said that all bottles of Tylenol should be pulled immediately regardless of cost. The other eighty-five students opted for a cost-benefit analysis that showed that by doing nothing, only eight people would die, a number of deaths not large enough to justify pulling the product and losing sales.
For Mills, it was a telling moment. "I was shocked," he recalls. "Which life is expendable? Your mother's? Sister's? Just because they were people we didn't know didn't make it right."
Mills is still standing his ground and defending his ideals. "I want to be the voice that brings a different viewpoint to the argument," he says. A Chicago Business Fellow at the University of Chicago during the summer after his junior year at Kenyon in 1991, Mills had qualms about even pursuing a business degree. While he found he could apply much of his liberal-arts background to the subject matter, he was disturbed by other students' descriptions of American corporate life as focused solely on money.
Nevertheless, Mills joined Deloitte and Touche as a business analyst after graduation and quickly progressed to senior consultant and then manager. With his employer's encouragement, he enrolled at Harvard Business and earned his M.B.A. in 1996.
A year after his return to Deloitte, Mills stunned his colleagues by resigning to establish his own organization. Make money now, they advised; follow a dream later. Mills did not heed their advice. "Kenyon taught me to have the courage and will to say, `This needs to be done now,'" says Mills. "I'd been dreaming of founding this organization, and I had to just go out and do it."
Mills created the Sims Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing innovative programs for at-risk children to learn life skills. A soccer and basketball star at Kenyon, Mills's idea was to use team sports as a vehicle to train eight- to eleven-year-old children to act with confidence and to have a positive vision of the future. "So many of these children," says Mills, "honestly don't believe they will live past their twenties, so they engage in behaviors that fulfill that expectation."
Founded in 1997, the Sims Group now has a staff of ten, and it has branched into guiding individuals through self-assessment and career searches. Although Mills is still on the board of directors, he is not presently involved in the daily operations of the company.
"I had thought nonprofit was the way to go," he says. "Then I was offered the opportunity to try some different things in the for-profit environment, and I decided to risk it. A close friend pointed out that there are many different ways to realize my vision, that working within the for-profit frame would not be selling out."
Mills first joined Santa Barbara Technology Group, a venture-capital firm. Within a year, he moved on to Tenet Healthcare, where he is a senior vice president in the corporate strategies and ventures group. Tenet is a $12-billion corporation with 110 hospitals in California, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. "Our group is charged with finding solutions to major problems such as retention of nurses in an environment of nursing shortages. We are also looking at identifying which aspects of alternative medicine can readily be integrated into our mainstream operations," he says.
"I struggle all the time with profit vs. non-profit," he says. "My experience has been that the nonprofit world is not entirely open to new ideas, but I haven't given up trying."
Mills would like to return eventually to the Sims Group as his vehicle for social action. His plan, now in the concept stage, is to create a program to place recent college graduates into internships within community-based organizations to develop a sense of values.
The father of a two-year-old son, Kevin Jr., Mills has found that parenthood brings another dimension to what he is striving for. He finds himself reading such books as Parent as Mystic, Mystic as Parent, by David Spangler--along with Harold and the Purple Crayon.
I've learned that vision and passion come in many forms," says Mills. "And they are needed in all those different ways."
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