Careers: Interviews
An interview with Dr. William F. Miller, a World Premier Authority and Visionary on Business Strategy, Innovation, Technology, and International Thought Leadership

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P., DF/NPA, MVP, CNP has an exclusive interview with Dr. William F. Miller.

Dr. William F. MillerDr. William F. Miller has spent about half of his professional life in business and about half in academia. Dr. Miller came to Silicon Valley from a position as Director of the Applied Mathematics Division at the Argonne National Laboratory where he worked after receiving his PhD in Physics from Purdue University in 1956. At the Argonne National Laboratory, Dr. Miller conducted research in basic atomic physics and in computer science. He and his colleagues began early work in what is now called computational science.

Dr. Miller was the last faculty member recruited to Stanford University by the legendary Frederick Terman who was then Vice President and Provost of Stanford. He was recruited to help form the Computer Science Department at Stanford and to direct the Computation Group at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). He led the computerization of SLAC and later as Associate Provost for Computing he led the computerization of the Stanford Campus. He carried out research in computer science and computer systems and directed the research of many graduate students.

As Vice President for Research and later as Vice President and Provost, Miller championed the establishment of the Office of Technology Licensing which has become the model for such activities at other universities here and abroad. He actively facilitated the establishment of a number of interdisciplinary programs such as the Human Biology Program, the International Security and Arms Control Program, and the Values Technology and Society Program and he helped establish the Neurosciences Department. In 1978 he negotiated and brought to Stanford the first scholars from the Peoples Republic of China. In 1979 he was named the Herbert Hoover Professor of Public and Private Management.

In 1968 Dr. Miller also played a role in the founding of the first Mayfield Fund (venture capital) as a special limited partner and advisor to the general partners.

As President and CEO of SRI International Miller opened SRI to the Pacific Region, he established the spin-out and commercialization program at SRI and established the David Sarnoff Research Center (now the Sarnoff Corporation) as a for-profit subsidiary of SRI. He became the Chairman and CEO of the David Sarnoff Research Center.

In 1997 at the 10th anniversary of the founding of the David Sarnoff Research Center, Dr. Miller along with Jack Welsh, Myron DuBain, and James Tietjen received the Sarnoff Founders Medal.

In 1982 Miller was appointed to the National Science Board; additionally he served on the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Research Council. He has served on the board of directors of several major companies such as Signetics, Firemans Fund America, First Interstate Bank and later the Wells Fargo Bank, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and Varian Associates.

In 1990 Dr. Miller retired from SRI International and returned to Stanford half time where he taught technology related courses, carried out research on the IT industry and on the characteristics of entrepreneurial regions. He also spent about half of his time working with start-ups and non-profits in Silicon Valley. He helped organize Joint Venture Silicon Valley Network and served on the board of directors for three years. He co-founded and served as Vice Chairman of SmartValley, Inc. Additionally he aided the formation of CommerceNet and served on the board of directors. Dr. Miller was a founding director and served as Vice Chairman of the Center for Excellence in Non-profits. He currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Sentius Corp. He is Chairman Emeritus of Borland Software Corp. He is a Founder and Chairman of Nanostellar, Inc., a new start-up in nanomaterials.

Dr. Miller co-directs an international research project called the Stanford Project on Regions on Innovation and Entrepreneurship and he co-directs an Executive Education program on Strategic Uses of Information Technology.

Additionally, Dr. Miller worked with foreign countries helping them establish their technology policies and practices, notably Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, and Korea. He served on the International Panel of the Singapore Science and Technology Board, and currently serves on the International Advisory Panel for the Multimedia Super Corridor in Malaysia. He has advised the Korean government on the Software Industry.

Dr Miller has received a number of awards and honors:

  • Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science, 1980
  • Frederic B. Whitman Award, United Way of the Bay Area, 1982
  • Technology 100 (International Technology Leaders), Technology Magazine, 1981
  • Life Member of the National Academy of Engineering, 1987
  • Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1987
  • Stanford Computing Pioneer by the AFIPS History of Computing Committee, 1987
  • Tau Beta Pi Eminent Engineer, 1989
  • Sarnoff Founders Medal, 1997
  • David Packard Civic Entrepreneur Award (Smart Valley Team), 1998
  • Robert K. Jaedicke Silver Apple Award (Stanford Business School Alumni), 1998
  • Life Fellow IEEE, 1999
  • The Order of Civil Merit (Dongbaeg Medal) by the Republic of Korea, 2000
  • The Okawa Prize 2000, The Okawa Foundation , Tokyo, Japan
  • The Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame, 2001
  • Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame, 2002
  • Commendation for Service, Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) 2002
  • Most Mentoring Angel" Award, International Angel Investors, 2002
  • Honorary Professor, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou China, 2004
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, Borland Software Corp, 2005
  • Trustee/ Charter member Asian American Multitechnology Association, 2007

Dr. Miller and his wife Pat work with the Cheetah Conservation Fund Namibia which is dedicated to preserving cheetahs in the wild in Namibia.

To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link

The latest blog on the interview can be found in the IT Managers Connection (IMC) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.


Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic

Opening comment: Bill, you bring a lifetime of proven top-ranking international thought leadership, global technology/business-strategy experience, and innovation. This is combined with substantial contributions to the worldwide technology ecosystem through your sustained history of considerable successes. With your impossible schedule, we thank you for doing this interview with us.

00:55:: Can you describe your work in Asia and then your strong connection to China?
"My wife and I have been going to China for more than 30 years. We first arrived in Beijing in October 1976 during the change of powers - a month after the death of Mao....I've continued these activities both when I was at Stanford and then when I was with SRI International..... I've continued a variety of interactions and currently I'm an Honorary Professor, Zhejiang University and also honorary president at Zhejiang University Innovation Institute International...."

02:40: You worked with foreign countries, particularly in Asia, and you've been helping them establish their technology policies and practices within Asia.
"...I've worked not just in China but also in Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan...and I did a little work in Indonesia...I've worked with the governments to help them develop their technology policies....I've worked with entrepreneurs, (helped create executive education programs for young entrepreneurs in Korea and I've held a number of workshops in Taiwan and China for entrepreneurs on how to set up companies etc.)...."

03:50: What best practices and recommendations can you share from your years working at the highest levels in Asia?
"...Education (particularly people who are trained to do research) are very important for high tech development.....For that (high tech development) you need favorable government policies on taxation, intellectual property, governance issues......One thing for high tech which is especially important is to develop outstanding universities.....I think that it is important to have an outstanding research university as part of any important high tech cluster...."

05:00: South Korea graduates 60,000 engineers a year, the same as the US though Korea is 1/6 the size. China graduates 700,000 a year. The forecast for 2010 is that 90% of the world's scientists and engineers will be in Asia. What are your thoughts on this?
"...Certainly these numbers are important - the numbers of engineers, scientist engineers are very important and will have a very big impact on how science and how technology, in particular, will develop. It is important, however, to sort out the meaning of these numbers and understand what is counted and what is not....."

06:58: You have demonstrated world leadership in research, innovation, entrepreneurship, Venture funding, non-profits, and business. With such a diverse background in so many disciplines, what do you forecast as the leading market, technology, and business opportunities in Asia and also specifically in China?
"...One of the things which is very interesting is how China adopts the mobile phone much more rapidly than, for example, the United States. That drives a lot of things in China. The mobile phone in its various kinds of forms is the most ubiquitous IT device in the world....more needs to be done to make the mobile phone the primary IT device and that's beginning to happen in China....Other opportunities will be in various environmental areas..... "

08:26: Can you talk about current projects that would be of interest to our China audience? What are the implications to China from this work?
"...We are studying.....How high tech clusters form and what sustains them......What are the most important issues faced (by entrepreneurs)...."

09:46: Bill, you co-direct an international research project called the Stanford Project on Regions on Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Executive Education program on Strategic Uses of Information Technology. Please share some insights from this work?
"...You have to have the right resources......It is equally important that those resources are used well....."

12:31: From your deep insights as Herbert Hoover Professor of Public and Private Management Emeritus, please share some with us?
"....Learn how to get things done without much authority.....When you are talking to people, listen to the music behind the words....."

15:00: Can you share with us more about your work as Chairman of the Board of Sentius Corp., and as Founder and Chairman of Nanostellar, Inc. and other ventures?
"...Sentius is an IP licensing company so that is one that does not require a lot of my time...Nanostellar is materials company that makes the catalytic materials for mission control (catalytic converters for diesel engines), that takes a great deal more of my time...But I've also started another company - more recently, I started a lighting company....."

17:26: How do you go about getting funding for your ideas?
"...First you have to have a very good business plan and there are a lot of questions you need to be able to answer (to potential investors).....Does this work (workable technology)?......Is there a market for it?...How much money will it take and over what period of time?...How long will it take you to break even?/What kind of profitability can you expect?/What kind of return can investors expect?....Do you have a good management team?......."

20:40: Please share a story from your experiences as Chairman Emeritus of Borland Software Corp.
"...An important thing to understand is that the timing to market is not just having the best.... you want the best you can get as early as you can get it...."

21:40: Can you share one lesson from each of your prior positions, for example, President and CEO of SRI International; Chairman and CEO of the David Sarnoff Research Center; Board of directors of several major companies, groups, associations; Joint Venture Silicon Valley Network; Vice Chairman of SmartValley; Vice Chairman of the Center for Excellence in Non-profits; Vice President for Research, Vice President and Provost championing the establishment of the Office of Technology Licensing; Director at Argonne National Laboratory; Founding partner of the first Mayfield Fund (Venture Capital); Professor of Computer Science Emeritus, Stanford University?
"....One of the lessons I learned overall from all of them is that you often don't do what you thought you were going to do when you started......"

29:11: Your work at Stanford is legendary. Can you provide details of some of the most lessons or some stories you can share from your time at Stanford?
"...It was a very exciting time because it was the beginning of computing....There were six of us who were founding members of the computer science department...It was a time when computers were just taking hold in universities and in research centers around the world. I was able to help computerize the Stanford campus...."

31:25: You have a most distinguished history of considerable global contribution, impact, purpose, and significance over several decades. Which 3 awards or recognitions resonate most powerfully with you and why?

34:13: What key lessons can you provide taken from your global research?
"...You have to have the right conditions (habitat).......The importance of education....Talent (workforce)..."

35:17: Please share something surprising, unexpected, amazing, or humorous from your work, travels, or the people you have met?
"The thing that I have been most impressed by is how rapidly things can actually change...."

36:29: In your view, what are the most serious roadblocks for businesses and what are their solutions?
"The hardest thing for businesses is how to manage change....How to find innovation...."

37:40: What are the top technology issues presently facing business and how do you propose they can be solved?
"...the energy issue...."

39:11: Provide your predictions of future IT/Business trends and their implications/opportunities?
"...the mobile phone is the most ubiquitous IT device in the world and I believe that it will become the primary IT device over time...."

41:07: Can your profile your work with the Cheetah Conservation Fund?
"...There are really four parts to the program ... Scientific...Relocation...Education....Raising guard dogs (bonded to livestock)...."

43:32: Your background is so diverse do you have any comments on a topic of your choosing?
"...One of the things I've learned over time is that it pays to be optimistic.....realistic but optimistic...."

Closing comment: Bill, we will continue to follow your significant contributions to the world. We thank you for sharing your time, wisdom, and accumulated deep insights with us.


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