Guy Millner has contributed much to our city as a successful businessperson, politician, and philanthropist. However, his influence is mostly below the surface — not readily obvious to the general observer — and this is because his well-established and loud voice for action hides his true servant leadership approach. So much of his work that has resulted in lasting change or growth in community and organizations here in Georgia is hidden, though well documented and known to a select few. Yet there is one aspect of Guy’s leadership that is clear to everyone — that is his passion for creating corporate cultures that are long-lived!
Recently, when Ralph Williams, a former Norrell Executive, asked Guy if he would like to attend their humble 60-year Norrell Anniversary celebration of the company Guy founded in Atlanta in 1961, Guy said “Yes!” and then proceeded to change the venue.
He said that he and his wife would like to host it at their home in Buckhead and went on to provide for a dynamic party under a tent in his backyard where 200 former Norrell Associates gathered to reminisce and celebrate.
What makes this recent event so worth noting is something we can all learn from as the company no longer exists, and yet they are still getting together after six decades! Guy sold Norrell in 1999, so why are they still getting together? Simple answer — because of Guy Millner’s uncanny ability to make a long-lasting impact on people that inspires community.
Guy has succeeded in many things, but what he smiles most broadly about is this type of outpouring of authentic care and support of people for each other, just like what was built into the fabric of the culture established at Norrell Services Corporation.
“When we focus on building a culture that is long-lasting, we then provide our communities with companies that continue to thrive and, in turn, give back to people and the communities where they operate,” Guy shares. Norrell Corporation lives on as a part of Randstad, who acquired it from Spherion in 2000.
The culture he has created now in two companies is based on the same principles: to focus on results and a commitment to seeing others develop and succeed. Guy is quick to defend that in doing this, “you will lose good people, but you can be proud that they contributed to your company’s growth and left better than when they arrived, now able to pursue their dreams.”
Guy will tell you it was his team of over 8000 “Associates” who are the real heroes who grew Norrell Corp. from a $175 million company into a $1.8 billion company in a 10-year period before he sold the company to Interim Services Inc. in 1999. Millner is a two-time U.S. Senate candidate who is also co-founder of the Atlanta-based insurance company AssuranceAmerica. There, the 270+ “Associates” are benefitting from the same corporate culture Guy influenced at Norrell with a corporate identity. There also grounded in being “direct, results-driven and dedicated to the success of the company and each other.”
A recent article titled “What a Guy!” published on the GSU website shares more worth knowing — and as this excerpt reveals about Guy Millner’s successful path:
“A Google search for “Guy Millner” produces page after page of results about his six-decade career, participation in gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races during the ’90s, philanthropic activity, and status as a multi-millionaire entrepreneur. Millner is the current resident of the mansion once inhabited by Robert Woodruff, the namesake of Atlanta landmarks, including the Woodruff Arts Center, Woodruff Park, and the Robert W. Woodruff Library.
One might think Millner was born into a family of means. But those assumptions would be wrong. His father dropped out of school in eighth grade and owned a small service station outside Daytona Beach, Fla. Millner’s parents could not afford to send him to college. In fact, he dreamed the wealthy neighborhood dentist would give him a scholarship, but that never happened.
“It didn’t work out that way. It worked out far better,” Millner said. “My folks encouraged me to save money and pursue an education. By 1954, I had set aside what would be the equivalent of $10,000 today, and that allowed me to enroll at Florida State University.”
While at Florida State, Millner also sold cookware door-to-door, so he understands the struggle of the working student. That’s the first thing that bonds him to Georgia State University, known for its population of determined students who often pave — and pay — their own way. What else attracts him to the downtown Atlanta business school? Georgia State’s placement office was a major source of talent for his first company — staffing agency Norrell Services, founded when Millner moved to Atlanta in 1961.
When asked what he’s accomplished, Guy will respond, “I developed a temporary staffing firm in the southeast and grew Norrell from a small one office to an international, publicly traded $1.4 billion dollar organization.” When asked what he’s pursuing, he’ll say, “Today, my focus is on building AssuranceAmerica as a leader in the non-standard auto insurance sector and a company that will live on for generations to come.”
Guy believes in setting a tone for the long term — and this Spring Norrell Anniversary event was sure evidence of that working if he has a hand in it. “Culture is something that takes hold when people feel valued and have ownership in what they are doing,” Guy says, and it seems obvious from the success of both companies that there is something resonating here that is real — and something for us to all to reflect on as we build businesses that not only last but through giving of their profits, have a lasting impact on the lives of those around us.
I have learned this lesson and many others from Guy and can tell you this is not a fabrication of style; this is the real authentic culture building by a real champion of culture. I know because he is — well — my dad.