Former Thomson CEO Andy Mills on How Not to Get Ahead

One of the most provocatively titled lectures of the year, “HBS: The Path To an Unproductive Life?” drew about three-dozen students Tuesday afternoon to hear Andy Mills, former CEO of Thomson Financial, provide the awaited answer. Mills drew upon his personal experience and said, “Pursuing money, power, and influence as ends unto themselves is the true way to an unproductive and unfulfilled life.” In story after story, Mills illustrated that the only way to find true satisfaction was to determine what is at your spiritual core and to make choices that reflect that identity.

As a former CEO, Mills shared his previously misaligned interpretation of what he believed to be “success,” a preoccupation with self at the expense of others and an emphasis on ambition and constant striving for personal achievement and gain. Today, Mills spends much of his time mentoring businessmen who have fallen into what he believes to be a “deceitful pursuit” and find themselves completely “empty and meaningless.” These men and women, he said, including HBS grads, want to escape the culture of “drivenness” and its lifestyle that leaves them unfulfilled, but find themselves questioning how to move forward.
In fact, Mills’ own experience, it would seem, is testimony that pursuing success for the sake of personal achievement cannot provide ultimate satisfaction. After business school, Mills found great success running Business Research Corporation, a company that started First Call and Investext. He later became the CEO of Thomson Financial, where he was running a $2.5 billion business. By traditional measurements, Andy had
achieved success.

However, in 1995 he found himself with a troubled marriage and strained family relationships. Mills admitted that he was depressed, in poor health, and was questioning where his efforts had taken him. Realizing that it was his own pride driving his life, one day Mills prayed, “God, I give you everything, including my business.” Soon after, he found himself declining the CEO position for the entire corporation, and four years later was without a job.

Five years later, Mills has seen the culture that he spent 20 years to build at Thomson Financial dissolve. For him, it was a reminder that achieving great things in this life is fleeting and therefore cannot be the source of ultimate satisfaction.

While Mills encouraged the students to not focus on this life exclusively, he didn’t suggest that we all have to lose our jobs or businesses to be fully accepted by God. He suggested that we work hard, but not lose sight of our core motives and values // Students inquired about the balance between pursuing ambitions to make a difference and not becoming prideful. Mills did not respond by offering strategies for addressing the “drivenness” inherent to business culture, but instead he called individual businesswomen and men to constantly look inward, evaluating motives.

One problem with Mills’ title is that the meaning of “unproductive” is vague and actually meaningless unless properly measured. But in fact, that was exactly the purpose of Mills’ talk replica watches. For Mills, even achieving the CEO level was still unproductive in his eyes, as he was failing in crucial parts of his life. It would seem that as Mills became rooted again in God, his life became more fruitful in the ways he values most-his family, God, and self-understanding of what drives his daily choices.
The HBS Christian Fellowship sponsored Andy Mills’ talk as part of a series on Faith in the Workplace. Mills’ message is available on the HBS Video Showcase.