As air quality control system project manager for many complex projects, Tom Miller's personal qualities and lessons learned on the job make him standout as a thought leader in the air quality space.
Tom Miller likes to stay busy.
After a workday that starts at 6 a.m. and ends after 6 p.m., Miller heads home and immediately tears into do-it-yourself improvement projects. His latest: restoring a 1924-vintage Prairie-style home, top to bottom.
By day, Miller manages complex air quality control system (AQCS) projects, such as the recent engineer-procure-construct (EPC) job that reduced sulfur dioxide, particulate and mercury emissions for units 3 and 4 at Arizona Public Service’s Cholla Power Plant. The four-year project, which involved converting an existing dry stack to a wet-stack operation during a tight, six-week outage, won an American Council of Engineering Companies Grand Award in the Arizona state competition.
“Tom did a good job. He was always on the go,” says Cholla Plant Manager Conrad Spencer. “He wasn’t one to stand and let grass grow under his feet. He was always energetic and followed up.”
“Tom is extremely energetic and enthusiastic,” says Ray Kowalik, Burns & McDonnell Energy Group president. “It’s obvious why he’s really good at getting work done. He’s intense, hard-working, thorough, direct and honest — and he’s a good communicator.”
Miller’s energy comes naturally — from grade school on, he’s loved playing drums, loved the way it keeps his whole body in motion and the release from other concerns — but acquiring the communication skills that help make him a successful project manager took work.
Nature Plus Nurture
After receiving a degree from Manchester College, a liberal arts school in Indiana, Miller went on to Purdue University for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in structural engineering. He joined Burns & McDonnell in 1991 and spent more than four years in the field as a site structural engineer on AQCS projects. Eventually, he served as construction manager on an EPC project. The field experience gave him a strong base of technical knowledge. And it helped him develop an even more valuable skill — the ability to listen.
“In the field, you’re not just an engineer, you’re a communicator,” Miller says. “You have to be the point of contact between the engineers, the contractors and the client. Learning to understand someone else’s point of view is critical. You need to learn to listen, and make their perspective part of the project.”
Miller also credits time spent working in the Burns & McDonnell energy-project development group for sharpening his project management skills.
“I’m certain my experience in that group made me a better project manager,” he says. “Developing a conceptual design to achieve the needed financials was a whole new way to look at a project. Because of that I have a better understanding of the financial aspects.”
“He’s a very good project manager,” says Brent Gifford, manager of major environmental projects at Arizona Public Service. “I appreciate his thoroughness and his capacity to grasp and balance both the commercial side and the technical side.”
Taking the Lead
Perhaps the ultimate compliment to Miller came from Zachry, the nation’s largest open-shop contractor. Zachry was a joint-venture partner with Burns & McDonnell on the Cholla project.
“I’d been asking Zachry to alternate being the lead with us on our joint-venture projects,” Kowalik says. “Tom Miller was the first project manager they trusted enough to do that. During the Cholla project, he went from being Burns & McDonnell lead to being the project executive and the joint venture lead.
Miller says he was always interested in becoming a project manager — it seemed a way to bring all the skills he’d learned together. He embraces the responsibilities that come with directing full EPC projects.
“As project manager, you’re the end game,” he says. “You take responsibility for outcomes. If someone makes a mistake, you think about how you could have communicated better to avoid that mistake.”
Today, Miller is managing an ACQS project in Delaware on an aggressive schedule, with a tight deadline. And he’s starting work on another house.
Contact Tom Miller at 816-822-3903.