Motivated by Change
Arthur Mills IV, BBA ’96, MBA ’04, has enjoyed a career that’s taken him from financial services, to consumer packaged goods, to his current role as director of project management and strategic initiatives at Fulton County Schools in Atlanta. He also interviews prospective McCombs students and frequently speaks on panels at Explore McCombs events.
Mills discusses what it takes to transition from the private to public sector and how his business background prepared him for a career in education reform.
What were some of the highlights of your undergraduate years at McCombs?
The contextual lessons I learned from Steven Tomlinson, Jim Nolen, Sara White and Herb Miller, to name a few, have endured throughout my career. I also enjoyed working in the Dean of Students Office mentoring other students in the program. I’m especially proud to have been another friendly resource for guidance and support for other African American business students.
What did you do after graduation?
I was fortunate to have interned with GE Capital, so I spent the first years after college working in finance and risk management. I also worked for BNSF and later, Dell, building my experience in new industries and in varying corporate cultures. Those first few years created the foundation for my career and were highly valuable.
What did it feel like to come back as a graduate student?
The campus had changed a great deal between my undergraduate and graduate years on campus. Yet, I felt like I was home, in a place where I could succeed, make amazing connections, and prepare for whatever the future had in store for my career.
What did you do after graduating with your MBA?
I did my MBA internship in a strategy and finance role with General Mills, in Minneapolis. Emblematic of my career, a move to consumer-packaged goods (CPG) was another new industry for me. I continued with General Mills after graduation, moving to the Midwest to work with some outstanding colleagues to turn around one of General Mills’ biggest brands.
I was fortunate to move to Miami with the company to drive business strategy in rapidly growing Latin American and South African markets. Traveling internationally was an incredible opportunity to learn more about other cultures, and how to manage in very different environments. My McCombs experiences prepared me well for what was an awesome professional and personal experience.
Can you talk about your more recent experiences?
I just completed my two-year residency with the Broad Foundation [which seeks to advance entrepreneurship for the public good]. I have begun a new role with Fulton County Schools in Atlanta as director of project management and strategic initiatives. I will be responsible for leading the execution of Fulton’s new 5-year strategic plan and facilitating the transition of the district into a charter system, a new innovative governance model where our entire district--similar to a local charter school--has been granted additional flexibility from many Georgia Department of Education regulations in exchange for greater accountability for improvements in student achievement. It is a very exciting time for me, both professionally and personally.
What has been the constant in your career path?
Challenge, change, growth and impact. My experiences at UT and McCombs were a key factor in building on my confidence and ability to take risks and look for places to make a difference.
During business school, my Texas Plus projects and two-year experience in Eugene Sepulveda’s Community Development Practicum working with the Chestnut Neighborhood crystallized my passions for public work and the belief I could really use my skills to make a difference for others.
As I progressed and my career continued, my volunteer and policy interests were a constant in my non-work experiences. Moving into public education reform was a result of this very natural and exciting progression.
What do you love most about your job? What’s the most challenging aspect?
I love knowing through my work that I am making a difference in the lives of thousands of children in our community, and more broadly, in our state and nation.
The most challenging aspect of my job at times is harnessing the positive energies of all our stakeholders in a productive, constructive manner. Parents are understandably and rightfully very passionate about their children’s education. Balancing the often more individualized interests of families with the realities of broader, community-wide concerns is a very delicate act.
What surprised you most about your move from the private to the public sector?
The issues that affect organizations in the private sector are very similar to those in the public sector. Finding, developing, retaining, and challenging great people is key to success in both arenas. Prioritizing your objectives is critical to achieving the goals of the organization regardless of sector.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar career move?
You have to be passionate about the issue or organization you join in order to bring your entire self to the new endeavor without regrets because the work—especially education reform—is demanding.
What’s the toughest business lesson you’ve had to learn along the way?
I’ve learned that the difficult conversations and tough decisions that come from time to time can be very useful learning opportunities for me as well as the team I am leading or working with. I’ve learned to be comfortable in making mistakes. It is how you recover and grow that makes the difference. It is in those times that leaders truly lead.
Who’s your role model?
My grandfather, Arthur L. Mills II, achieved great things during a time when opportunities were often limited for him. Education was a key factor in his professional and personal successes, helping him to be confident in his capabilities and disciplined to work hard in the face of struggle and challenge. I’ve taken those principles with me throughout my career as I try to make the most of every opportunity I’m blessed with.
What advice do you have for current students?
Be willing to trust yourself, believe in your preparation, have faith and dream big. UT and McCombs did that for me.