From Bison to CEO

The success story of NDSU Alum John Miller

The Bison have produced many successful alumni since their establishment in 1890. Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, NFL Quarterback Carson Wentz, and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum to name a few. To add to this list, Turtle Mountain Corporation founder and CEO John Miller. TMC works to develop computer components and other software and is based out of the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Northern North Dakota. This year, Miller published a memoir titled BootStrap Entrepreneur detailing the events in his life, and his experience with founding a company. Miller was interviewed by the spectrum for this article and gives some insight about his memoir. 

Miller was born in Underwood North Dakota, a rural town an hour north of Bismarck with less than 1,000 citizens. The small town environment explains the manner in which he worked and led at Turtle Mountain Corporation; instilling values of hard work, community, and faith.

“Working for others and evaluating different leaderships helped a lot.” stated Miller when recollecting his upbringing.

BootStrap Entrepreneur can be found for purchase on Amazon.
Photo Courtesy | Ruth Justin

Miller had a variety of part time jobs in addition to being an Eagle Scout in his youth. Seeing the leadership demonstrated and learning from those jobs and activities shaped him into being a successful student, citizen, and CEO. He adds that his family had seen some hard times, including WW1 and the bombing of Pearl Harbor and took that as an opportunity to learn and grow.

“I took the benefit of some of the greatest people from the greatest generations,” Miller said.

In his book he notes that his initial vision was not 100% clear and his road to success was haphazard. NDSU was not his college of choice, nor did he originally plan on going into Mechanical Engineering, but nevertheless he made the most of his time here and found success. 

“Our training at NDSU was key, plus our personal attributes.” Miller recollected.  “They recognized us and encouraged us to continue our activities.”

Miller was involved in the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and served as Student Body President, among other things. He shared advice for students who may be in similar situations.

“It’s important that you persevere, you’re gonna run into tough times now and then and you have to evaluate your situation. There’s a very fine line between perseverance and stupidity. Sometimes you’re pursuing something that’s an unattainable goal, but then you evaluate and restart,” said Miller. “Generally, stick with it, don’t give up, get it done.”

Despite hardships and uncertainty, John never lost sight of his success in Turtle Mountain Corporation. 

“I knew we were gonna succeed, but I was surprised how it grew. Neither one of us gave up, it just had to happen,” Miller said.

With decades of experience in business and entrepreneurship coupled with a lifetime of memories, there are many lessons learned and stories lived that can be relayed to others in a similar position.

Family has always been a core value of Miller’s, so he took their advice into consideration more than anyone else’s, and eventually gave into their suggestion.

“My friends and family observed what I was doing, and they encouraged me to write something,” Miller said.

He had help from a ghost writer from L.A. named Christina who he found through Google and the two collaborated on the story, including a trip to North Dakota. He noted Christina ended up being a great choice for his memoir.

“We don’t agree politically but we had some very interesting conversations on a number of topics, and she did a tremendous job,” Miller said.

Miller insists BootStrap Entrepreneur will be the last book he’ll ever write.

“This is my first and last, when you’re 87-years-old what else do you have to write about?” Miller said.

Integrity, perseverance, and grit are core themes in the work, as it navigates the struggles and triumphs of starting a company, according to Miller. In addition, his early treatment of the Native American community is told as he collaborated with them and provided jobs at the company. His entire life is chronicled with historic tidbits woven throughout. His memoir is full of advice for students and aspiring entrepreneurs alike.

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