An Interview of Mentor Dennis McMillian by Protégé Nick Morrill
CEO and President
Where are you from and how did you decide to pursue a career in Alaska?
I'm originally from Alabama. I ended up in AK by taking increasingly higher positions in the United Way. However, there were a number of "serendipitous" forces that pointed toward Anchorage. My wife and I always wanted to live in a city but be close to the wilderness. Anchorage was even a city that my wife and I agreed on when we did our premarital counseling!
What did you study in college and was it an easy choice?
I studied psychology and social work. I always knew that I wanted to work with children with emotional issues, and so I knew that I wanted to go on that route.
What is your current position? How would you describe your path to your current position? Did you have anyone you relied on for mentorship/solid career advice?
I am the CEO and President of the Foraker Group. I always had a strong footing in mental health and learning about people and how to help them. That is what led me to the United Way, which is where I learned about nonprofit operation. After I left the United Way, I took my knowledge to help build the Foraker Group. My list of mentors that helped me along the way is too long! There were tons of people that helped me along the way. I found people, I read people's work, and more to learn about people and organizations.
When did you know you would be a leader?
It wasn't until my time here in Alaska that I knew I would be a leader. I didn't really realize it until the Alaska Business Monthly named me one of the top 25 most influential Alaskans. I saw that then said, "Well, I guess I'm a leader!"
Was/Is there ever a time when you felt/feel discouraged by obstacles? How did you/do you address that?
I constantly face obstacles. They come in the form of toxic people, bureaucracy, and institutions that are more interested in covering themselves than doing what they were founded for. My own head can be a big obstacle! To deal with them, I typically need to get some distance. Sometimes, I need to have a fine "whine!" But I talk to friends and doing physical activity. I've gotten good at getting "centered."
Is there a particular person who inspires you?
There are so many people that come to mind that it's hard to pick just one. The most inspirational people to me are those that truly know who they are. People that are giving, but not "martyrs" for their cause - selfless, but not totally self-sacrificing. And those that are not control freaks, even if they have a lot of control.
It is important and beneficial for CBPP and Anchorage’s business community to collaborate and invest in the next generation of leaders. What do you think should be conveyed to our next generation of leaders?
The #1 skill our future leaders will need is cultural competence. Our world and our communities are incredibly diverse, and it is very important to realize that your view of the world is not the same as another's view of the world. Leaders of tomorrow must be far more collaborative because the issues they face are becoming increasingly complex. No one person should view themselves as "the leader." In order to face these complex challenges, leaders will be working together in organizations that are increasingly decentralized, with people working to get everyone "rowing the boat the same way." And lastly, great leaders are also great followers.