A business memoir: Author of new book recounts his entrepreneurial journey to success in North Dakota
His new book is titled "Bootstrap Entrepreneur: How Grit, Faith, and Help from a Chippewa Tribe Built a Technology Company"
GRAND FORKS — There are many things to describe John Miller: co-founder of an electronics manufacturing company, former reserve officer of the U.S. Army, and now book author.
The company he helped found is Turtle Mountain Corp. – and his new book, titled Bootstrap Entrepreneur: How Grit, Faith, and Help from a Chippewa Tribe Built a Technology Company – discusses how his innovative ideas came to life and, ultimately, helped him to become a successful businessman.
And a successful retiree: In 2000, he sold his business for more than $18 million.
Miller set about writing his book with the help of a ghost writer last year. It was published this past September in hardback, and he’s been promoting it at speaking events including at his alma mater, North Dakota State University. It highlights his journey to entrepreneurship and success, sharing anecdotes and experiences from his life and business ventures.
Early in the book, he writes: “Starting a business is always risky, and back in the early 1970s, the short- and long-term survival chances of new enterprises were the same as now. About four in five new businesses make it through their first year, one in two lasts at least five, and only one in five reaches the 20-year mark.
“I may not have been aware of these numbers when I joined Atron. But as a husband and father of three children, I knew I wanted us to be successful.”
But first things first: Education.
Miller, born and raised in Underwood, North Dakota, studied mechanical engineering at NDSU. After graduation, the years beckoned — and so did self-made opportunities. Ten years into his career at UNIVAC in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he worked on shipboard and airborne computers for the Navy, a group of colleagues asked him to join their startup, Atron Corp.
“The invitation surprised me,” he writes, “but I had respect for the electrical engineers behind the new venture.”
One thing led to another, and eventually Miller headed up an Atron location on North Dakota’s Chippewa Reservation, which in turn led to his founding of Turtle Mountain Corp., manufacturing computer components.
All was not bliss, of course, as it rarely is when starting a business. But weathering a recession, inflation, and upheavals in the tech industry, his company earned the trust of major customers such as IBM, Honeywell and 3M, and created hundreds of jobs for a generation of families on and around the Turtle Mountain Reservation.
There’s more, of course, but one happy ending is when he sold his business for more than $18 million at the turn of the new century.
Miller’s book — anecdotal, informative, inspiring, and heartfelt – is about that journey.
When he was invited in September by Alan Kallmeyer, chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department and Interim Dean of the College of Business at NDSU,to share stories from his business journey with the students, he jumped at the chance.
Miller, an unassuming man, said he wasn’t sure if he bored the students or interested them. “I don’t know if they came to see me or the free lunch,” he said in good humor, but adding he enjoyed the experience and looks forward to meeting other people on his new journey as a book author.
“There's quite a bit of interest in it,” he said, but since the book is new he is still waiting to find whether it is “an investment or an expense.”