“Stimulus support to access capital was not there for small businesses the way it should have been and we are the ones who are hiring…corporate America is killing small business with 120 day long payments…” – Art Miller
MZI Group was named, “America’s Fastest-Growing Construction Company” in 2011 by Inc. 500. Then, ranked at No. 52 with revenue of $8.7 million.
Art Miller, CEO and President of MZI Group, has been an active member of ChicagoMSDC since gaining MBE certification in 2007. In 2011 he served as a co-chair of CBOF 44 with Allstate and Nielsen.
“I never got certified before then. There were so many “front companies” in construction but my client Fifth/Third Bank came to me and wanted to include MZI Group in their diversity spend and that’s how I came to ChicagoMSDC,” Miller says.
Miller was raised by his mother and grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles after his parents divorced. His mother could not speak a word of English when she first came to Chicago from her native Puerto Rico at age 16. After she and Art’s father divorced, she worked two jobs to send him to private school. He grew up seeing his grandfather work three jobs to keep his family financially secure.
“I’ve known Jessie White ( the Illinois Secretary of State) since I was a little kid. My grandfather used to rent space to him in Old Town,” Miller recounts.
So multi-tasking is in his DNA and so are numbers. “Art’s incredible with numbers,” offers Kim Nelson, MZI’s business development manager.
The walls of the boardroom at MZI’s headquarters on Grand Street in Chicago are lined with signed sports memorabilia, almost like walking into a sports museum. Framed jersey’s from Michael Jordan, Derrick Rose and signed boxing gloves and photographs from Muhammad Ali, Roberto Duran to name a few.
Construction was always a passion for Miller. A born athlete, it while serving in the Army, he connected his dots. After the military, he worked for United Parcel Service and was a regional manager with ADP, the payroll company. But like his family role models, he always had a second and third job. In his case, construction and real estate which began as a home-based business in 1999.
MZI Group with corporate headquarters in Chicago and a 50,000 square foot warehouse in the far South Shore has offices in Indiana, Louisiana and Pennsylvania. The client roster includes ComEd, Trump Towers, National Parks Service, Citibank,
“As minority firms, we need to engage other MBE firms. CBOF should be a vehicle to engage minority firms to do business with each other as well as non-minority firms.”
The Kellogg class is from Sunday to Thursday. By all accounts, it is an intensive five days which requires focus and commitment to keep cell calls, texts and emails at bay. The course sparked Miller’s competitive spirit. “Professor Steven Rogers gets it! He just calls you out in class like you’re in 5th grade. He makes you think. ‘do you want to create wealth and jobs or just work for yourself? How many of you are doing business with other MBE? I went and read his book the weekend after completing his class!”
“Professor Rogers reminded us, ‘corporate America is not hiring for at least another five years, but small businesses are,” Miller continued, “federal stimulus money should have also gone to small businesses.”
The disparity between corporate America and small business when it comes to access to capital is staggering. MZI is fortunate to have good banking relationships.
However, many small businesses have experienced economic strangulation by having to wait 120 and sometimes 140 days to get paid on major contracts.
Miller is an adamant advocate of MBE collaboration, now more than ever: “I want to be a prime contractor.”
One gets the sense that Miller has just gotten started.