Whenever there has been a need, Jen Miller has stepped up to meet it.
When she was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin, the field hockey team she had been recruited for was dropped by the school. So she switched sports, filling a void at goalie on the women’s soccer team.
She had wanted to be the next Jim McKay of sports broadcasting, but while getting her masters in Journalism at Northwestern, she saw opportunities on the business side of magazine publishing and merged her passion for sports with her head for business.
Throughout her career, she leapt into roles in sports promotion, business development, marketing and organizational leadership, working for such high profile companies as the FIFA World Cup, the Women’s Sports Foundation and Nike.
But in 2011, in her early ’40s as a busy career woman and mother of two daughters, she neglected the need to take care of herself.
The signs came suddenly – left arm and chest pain, sweats, dizziness.
Classic symptoms of a heart attack that she dismissed as stress.
“I blew it off,” Jen recalls. “I took an antacid. I thought that’s what it was.”
The following morning, still feeling unwell, she went to an urgent care center. That’s where she found out she had suffered and survived a heart attack.
But her ordeal wasn’t over. Following a procedure to insert a stent, she suffered a pulmonary embolism and other complications, spending the next 9 months in and out of the hospital and out of work.
Still, she focused on need. Her family’s.
“My salary is very important. I had a child that was entering college in a year or two. I was actively looking for a job while I’m dealing with medical issues,” Jen recalls her confidence she’d recover and her worry at that time about replacing her income.
She was missing both work and coaching youth soccer and wanted to get back to her life.
“I didn’t want to be defined by the heart attack or be limited by it.”
With the owner of Maplecrest Ford Lincoln, she created her current role as Head of Brand Transformation and Consumer Experience, the only person in the country hired specifically to address Lincoln’s national initiative to change the consumer experience at the customer level. Once settled in the new and very male-dominated industry, Jen identified another need. She wanted to create a better car-buying experience for an untapped customer base — women.
In 2015, with the backing of the dealership, she launched Mustang Sally’s Now: Driving Women’s Leadership, a community resource offering workshops both car-related (How to Change a Tire, Road Emergencies and Safety) and business-focused (How to Negotiate with Confidence, Women’s Leadership).
“If you can negotiate for a car, you can negotiate for anything,” she says. “We used the car industry as a metaphor for overcoming challenges.”
Though the initiative concluded in 2016, it brought in a new segment of customers and gave her great buy-in from her employer. So when a local non-profit asked for a donation of a moving van, Jen devised and got support for an alternate solution.
“The organization didn’t have any way to pick up and make the deliveries. But they didn’t need the van all the time and might find the cost of gas and maintenance prohibitive,” she explains. “So we said we would provide a van and driver when needed and that would save them from having to pay for the insurance and upkeep of the vehicle.”
She spearheaded the launch of Maplecrest Moves Charities in August of 2016 to assist area non-profits with transportation and logistics.
She now works with 35 organizations serving multiple areas of New Jersey. Many need help transporting items to food banks and soup kitchens or furniture to assist the homeless in their transition to permanent housing.
The charity allows non-profits to help each other by communicating which has items to give and which might need those items. Now companies phone her to ask what they can do with excess goods, everything from diapers to mattresses.
In this way, Jen serves to connect the dots.
“We’re the link to get the items where they need to be,” she explains. “(The non-profits) can do more to impact their clients because of what we’re doing.”
The charitable arm has allowed Jen to expand into an operations role and oversee the corporate social responsibility arm of her company.
“It changes the way the business interacts with the community. In the past, companies would just write a check or plan a golf outing to raise money. This is something very hands on that is very needed.”
It’s also helped her create the motto that she wants to apply to the rest of her career: Innovation, Transformation, Impact. How can companies create innovative programs to transform entire communities, making a positive and lasting impact?
Or, as she sees it… filling a need.
“We’re changing people’s lives,” she says. “Having that kind of impact is incredibly rewarding.”
Profile: Jen Miller, Head of Brand Transformation and Consumer Experience, Maplecrest Ford Lincoln
Valerie Gordon is a former television producer and the founder of The Storytelling Strategist, offering career and communication strategies to high-achieving women. If you know of an inspiring woman to profile for “Next Chapter,” please email firstname.lastname@example.org.