In this episode of HR on the Mat, Courtney and Peggy chat with Mark Miller, CEO of Biosynthetic Technologies. They discuss letting go of what doesn’t serve you, the importance of breathing, active listening, and more.
This transcript was created using an automated transcription service and may contain errors.
Hi, and welcome back to HR on the Mat, where we talk about the parallels between your work life and your yoga mat. I’m Courtney Scott with Balance and Harmony Yoga, and joining me, as always, is Peggy Hogan with Purple Ink. And today we’ve got guest speaker Mark Miller, who’s the CEO of Biosynthetic Technologies. Welcome, Mark. We’re happy to have you.
Oh, it’s so good to be here. Thank you very much.
Yeah, so Mark, why don’t you start out and just tell us a little bit about yourself.
Sure. So I’m, as Courtney said, I’m the CEO of Biosynthetic Technologies. It’s a really cool company. What we do is we convert vegetable oils into petroleum replacements, so we’re trying to create a more sustainable and safer world. I’m also an adjunct professor of Business at the Ramapo College of New Jersey. I want to give a little back. I’ve had a great experience and a great run, and I want to give back to the to the new students and the upcoming business people in the community.
Well, thanks for that. And BT, just for our viewers, is based here in Indianapolis, correct, Mark?
It is. It’s based in Indianapolis. We’re a global company. We’re manufacturing all over the world in sustainable ways. When we look at sustainability, we look at creating jobs, not competing with food, having renewable products, having the stuff biodegrade if it gets into the water, and being safe for the planet, so we’re really focused on that, and I’m so excited to be…to be doing BT.
That’s awesome. Well, and our listeners don’t know this, but Mark and I have a history. So we met actually…
A professional history.
A professional history at BT, and so I’ve had an opportunity have this amazing little bit of insight into BT and what Mark and his team does. Mark, you and I had this conversation offline about kind of your journey into yoga and how you saw the parallels in…in terms of how you practice what you practice on the mat and your leadership, and building that culture and that kind of innovative model within BT. Do you mind sharing or recapping that conversation you and I had an opportunity to have offline for our listeners?
Yeah, not a…not a bit. It’s been…it’s been a funny journey. Never in the world in the world did I think I would ever say, “God, I love doing yoga.” I mean, I was kind of…hate to say it, sort of the he-man macho type who smirked at at the yoga folks, and particularly the male yogis. Just such a crazy concept to me. At The Heritage Group, they were actually offering free classes in yoga, and I thought it was time for me to take on an internal challenge, to put myself in a very, very uncomfortable position, both mentally and physically. So I…I waited for a couple of weeks and finally got the gumption and said, “I’ve got to jump off the diving board into the deep end,” and I took my first yoga class, and I came away sort of shaking my head and saying, “Huh, that’s kind of cool. It’s like…it’s like…it’s like working out, but it doesn’t hurt.” So that was…that was a novel experience to me…for me. So I went back and did it again, and it was still cool. And again, it was like, you know, things are starting to feel a little better, and it’s not hurting, but it’s kind of a workout. And I went back and I kept doing it. And then unfortunately, the…the pandemic hit. And I said, “Well, I’m not stopping.” Right? I’m seeing…I’m seeing progress here. I’m seeing my body open up. I’m seeing my spirit open up. I’m a nicer person, I think. Yeah. I thought I was…I thought I was a pretty decent guy to start with, but I’m – and we’ll talk about that a little little on…a little later on – but really saw some stuff happening. So I jumped online, and lo and behold, much to my surprise and delight, there’s, like, an infinite amount of yoga on the internet. And I found a couple of yoga instructors that I…that really resonated with me. And all through the pandemic, I was probably doing yoga every single day. If I missed a day here and there, was no big deal, right? So…so it’s pretty cool. And I know I’m gonna jump into some of those questions. I’m just…I’m just going going for it. Because, you know, this was such a transformation for me, that was completely unexpected. And what it did for me was sort of take some ideas to expand that, and Ramapo College, where I teach, asked me to create a a course on crisis management for the undergraduate program, and I was able to sort of merge the thought process for crisis management and take some of that good teachings from from yoga. So, you know, the first thing I hear a lot of times is that – and I say this all the time, I say it to my 90 year old mother who’s struggling with a pandemic – I said, “Leave behind that which no longer serves you.” And it was like, wow. And you know, I never really thought about how much stuff I carry that’s really not serving me. And I started sort of, like, letting one go, letting another one go, kind of going through that. And, you know, we took that to business and said, let’s focus on what’s really, really important. So on the…when the pandemic came and the lockdown occurred, you know, we’re all scattered, and we’re a very communal company, we built this very strong communal culture, and how are we going to maintain this culture and maintain the vision when we’re all separated all across the country, and even our manufacturing – we have manufacturing in India, we have warehousing in Europe, and we have manufacturing in the United States – how are we keeping everybody connected? So we worked really, really hard in communications and having open channels of discussion on a regular basis. It’s gonna sound funny, but another really important thing that I learned from the mat was the importance of breathing. And, you know, like, we all take breathing for granted, right? I mean, we do that normally. But there’s breathing, I don’t have to tell you, but there’s breathing. And then there’s breathing. And a lot of the instructors that I saw were just saying, you know, you’re still doing yoga if you’re still breathing. And the business is still operating if it’s still breathing. It may not be running in the direction that you want to go, but so long as the company is still breathing and everybody on the team is breathing, both, you know, both actually, and literally, literally and figuratively, then you’re in a good place. So I think that was really, really important for me to be able to do.
That’s awesome. So, it’s interesting you say breath, because I am working with a yoga coach just for my own continued development, and I was having a really hard day, and so we were on the phone chatting about the hard day and she asked, “Well, at the end, you know, if if nothing goes well, if everything just falls apart, what do you have?” and I really struggled. And it was my breath, at the end of the day. The worst days, the best days, and every day in between, the consistency in all of that is my breath. And as long as I have breath in my lungs, I live to see another day and can turn it around. And I just thought that was so powerful, that resonated with what you just shared about the life blood and the breath work in the…in the business and on the mat.
Could you share one of the things that – like, a kind of an example of something that you decided to let go of?
Yeah, there’s…there…there’s some some people in the world that I might have some conflicts with, right? We may or may not agree with each other entirely. And, you know, I hear some of these discussions just rolling through my head over and over again, and I realized that that wasn’t helping me. And that sort of internal conflict, external conflict wasn’t helping me whatsoever. And I realized that this is the way things are until they change, and I can control the things I can control, and I have to let go of the things that I can’t. You know, of course…
Great example. And I think we all have that in our lives.
The other…the other sort of more business-oriented aspect was the frustration. So we’re an early stage company, and my motto is “in an early stage company every day is an eternity.” So during the lockdown when not only we couldn’t get where we wanted to go, but our…our customers couldn’t be working with our products the way they should be, and that’s really frustrating, because you’re just losing time. Every day is an eternity. And there was nothing in the world I was going to do to change that. So I accepted it. And then once I was able to do that, then all of a sudden, all the alternatives opened up. Maybe our customers weren’t putting it together, but maybe we could. So there were a lot of alternatives once I stopped that internal fighting, that just sort of came flowing. So yeah, it was…it was a very transformative experience.
So, when you think of kind of the younger version of Mark Miller, what advice would you have to give him, or even just to use today?
So, the first thing I would tell younger Mark Miller is invest in tech stocks. Buy Apple, Microsoft, Google, and buy it soon. Sadly, Mark Miller missed that the first time.
Well renewable energy, right?
Well, you know, I’ve dedicated most of my adult life to sustainable solutions, and, and, and I’m really happy about that. I mean, that makes me makes me happy, what I’m doing. The second thing I would have told younger Mark Miller is try yoga. It’s not as soft as it looks. So by then I would be able to do all those crazy postures that people do and, and be better with it. So that would have been the second thing. But more seriously, I think what I would have told Mark was to listen more and listen more deeply. And it’s, it’s a lesson that I’ve learned later in life and it’s one of the things I pound on my students about the importance of truly, I call it active listening or resonant listening, to not only hear what people are saying, but hear what people mean, and more importantly, what they feel. And I think I probably wouldn’t listen to me at that time, but then again, I’m a pretty cool guy, so maybe I would have had an influence on that guy, I don’t know. And then sort of lastly, it’s, you know, just love more. Just be more open to to positive experiences.
It’s interesting you say listen, Mark, because one of the things, as a yoga instructor, where we tell people to do to get them in and out of their practice, right, is to, like, turn in, listen to your body. It’s telling you something, right? There’s a voice, there’s an energy, there’s an emotion that’s coming up, but to, like, turn in, be present, and just listen, that there’s so much unfolding that can happen when you do that. So I appreciate that you…that you share the listening piece. So speaking of this sort of, kind of unfolding that happens when you’re actively listening, either to, you know, what’s happening inside you or to what others are trying to share with you. Coming out of 2020, and now that we’re, like, square in 2021, as a business leader, what’s kind of the silent issue that no one’s actually listening to that we need to be cognizant of as the world continues to open up, rebound, and recenter itself?
That…that’s a great question, and that’s something we look at every single day. And I think…I think the really important things is…is first, just we’re not out of the woods yet. You know, we’re feeling better and people are getting vaccinated and the numbers are slowing down, but we’re not out of the woods yet. But importantly, we have to move on with our life. I don’t think we’re ever going to go back to what we were in 2019. So, you know, people talk about a new normal – we are in a new normal now. And how do we move forward positively, to be safe yet to be experiencing and out in front of customers and out building businesses? And I think that’s the one thing I don’t think people are looking at enough is, what is the new normal and how do we communicate better with that?
So, I’m intrigued, Mark, about kind of this new normal from an employment perspective. Peggy and her organization, Purple Ink, as HR consultants, spend a lot of time talking about – and you can interrupt me, Peggy – but spending a lot of time with their consultants, consulting clients talking about that, kind of making that hybrid shift, and what does that look like. And we’ve had lots of conversations, Peggy and I have, offline, just as we, you know, strategize over after a yoga class or over a glass of wine on you know, the difference between…
I want in on the second one, right? So when we strategize over a glass of wine count me in.
You got it, sir.
It yields a lot of creativity.
There is a lot of creativity in there. Those tannins just, you know, bring it all up. But you know, the difference between the employee expectations of an employer now versus what an employer expect.s So can you talk a little bit, as you see it, just from your seat for BT, if you’re willing to…to share it, on this kind of new normal around employee engagement and what that actually means for BT and, like, how you’re thinking and actively listening to your employees and your suppliers, all the stakeholders, as you define new normal under BT’s umbrella?
Well, as I mentioned, when we had that lockdown, we, you know, initially, we made sure that we constantly communicated. We had organized huddles a couple of times a week, we had a team meeting at least once a week, we actually had a virtual happy hour on Friday, which is funny, because on the East Coast, right, Friday at 4:30, it’s sort of early happy hour, but I have guys on the West Coast, so for them, it’s, like, 1:30, it’s like, a little too early for happy hour for you. And it became an event, right? It became…we – people brought their family and their pets, people were bringing musical instruments, and…and we were doing puzzles. So it became sort of a new way of being together. We actually hired two people during the pandemic, during the lockdown, and on the pandemic as part of our growth. So, recruiting virtually is a…is a…is a real skill, because what we also do, part of our culture – we’re a communal culture – is we…we team interview, and we want you to be – make sure that you fit in with us. And, and, and, and they, and they fit in with…however, whatever the opposite of that is. We all…
We get what you’re telling at, Mark.
So, so that’s critical, and getting everybody in a room together, whether you can do it in personally in a socially distant way, or you’re doing it virtually, so critical. And then, and it’s one of the things I’m teaching in a new course that I’m doing, “Leading in Contemporary Times,” it’s how do we onboard virtually, but how do we indoctrinate people into our culture? How do we make people feel that they’re part of the fireside circle, that you’re safe in this organization, that we respect and we hear you? And that, that takes a lot of…a lot of effort, because it’s just a different sort of…a different sort of skill set than we’ve ever had before. So I think that’s really, really important. BT is using a lot of systems like this, right? We’ve got little video clips, some of which are informational, highly technical, for sort of one odd audience, some of it – and check out on our website, the “Me and My Reactor,” I’m going to get you all doing that, which is sort of a spoof, but still has a little bit of educational value. So we’re doing these online forums, we’ve just begun sort of in the United States, getting out onto the road a little bit, seeing people in a face-to-face way. So we’re expanding very cautiously as to what we can do, working with our other stakeholders, right, our, our customers and our suppliers and the people in in our area where we’re interacting with them on a regular basis. Some of the larger corporations are not actually seeing people yet, but where we can, we try to have as much person-to-person dialogue as possible.
Yeah, and that’s really, when you look at studies, people leave organizations, usually, because of their manager. So that relationship, keeping that relationship really as close and communicative as possible is really critical. So one of the other things I know that people really want in terms of staying with their position and with their company, and just feeling really positive about their employer and feeling engaged, is feeling valued by that employer. And I don’t know, how do you guys maybe show employees that they are valued and that what they’re working on really links to the mission of the company?
That’s a great question. And that’s…that’s hard to do, even in the best of times, and harder still to do in in times of separation and things like that. And it’s really important, you know, so first of all, bringing it back to the mat, right? I believe and I think, you know, I’m learning that, in order for me to be good to others, I need to be good to me first, and I’ve got to be in a healthy, calm, receptive state, and I, you know, spending an hour on a mat, I come out and I’m…I’m a happier person, I’m a nicer guy. I’m more focused and…tranquil, I guess. You know? And I know an important thing that you also learn is sort of focus, right? It’s the presence, it’s the here and now. We all…we know that all the data says when you multitask, everything gets diminished, and you’re not as successful as you could be or productive as you could be. When you spend time on the mat, you really get focused on sort of one thing at a time, you put the noises out of your head, those other voices, which is part of…part of the breathing, as well. That loud ocean, I’m trying to remember that the term…
Ujjayi breath, yes.
So, so that helps you sort of calm those noises down. And once you get those noises out of your own head, you can hear what other people are saying. And when you’re really, really focused on that, you can hear what they’re feeling. So one of the things we did at BT, particularly, sort of during the crisis mode, right, it was all new. It was all scary. It was all bad. We listened, we checked in with each other on a regular basis, and we made sure that everybody was okay. And we were receptive to sort of those…those unspoken feelings and emotions. And we tried to connect with them and bring them back down and let them know that things are going to work out, that their job was secure. And we were, you know, as a company, we were fortunate enough to be able to weather the storm, and keep…keep on trudging through. So it was a really important aspect, both from a business perspective, and from the yoga perspective.
That’s great. And I think it’s wonderful that you tried to be kind of transparent about the jobs, because that insecurity can lead to a lot a big loss of productivity and emotional stress on employees, too. Well, I think the elephant in the room is that artwork in the background. I sort of fancy myself to be an artist, so I’m very taken with it. And it also look scientific. So can you tell us a little bit about it?
Well, as you probably can tell, I’m a little bit of a nerd and, and just a tiny bit of caffeine addict. And that is actually the caffeine molecule. And what’s really cool about the molecule is that it’s, it’s, it’s all coffee related items. So the brown parts are actually coffee beans. The gold and silver are coffee beans that are spray painted. The white are coffee filters. The bottom border is a broken coffee mug. And as we all know, the carbon double bonds are the black stirrers that are tied together. What…what would caffeine be without those double bonds? Yeah, so…so all the…all the essence, all the products that have been, or elements of it have been sort of repurposed, modified, right? Which, I do a lot of the modifications, when, when somebody is doing a bind on a mat. I was like, my hands are never gonna even wave at each other. But I’m happy right where I am, right? Because, because I’m still breathing, and it’s all good.
Yeah. And sometimes we ask you to do a double bind, right? It is a double bind and you know how to modify, so it fits.
I’m probably gonna have to find a new body or that younger Mark who did did yoga for the last 30 years. And maybe he’ll do that.
…of what doesn’t serve you! What’s not fitting.
Exactly. Hey, I do want to say before you end one more time. I do want to say that one of the cool things that yoga has given to me that I don’t talk about a lot. But now that your viewers and you and I are so close – I can actually put my socks on standing up.
How cool is that?
That is very cool. Very good. Well, see, there’s…there are things, goals that people have that are achievable.
That was a goal, actually.
Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s a really good concrete example. And I’m sure it will serve you well, too, if you were to, like, slip on ice in Indiana in the winter or something, that balance is critical. So.
Look at all these yoga core moves as he’s doing, like, tree pose on the ice.
Well, that is a fun piece of artwork. I love that it kind of mirrors, you know, kind of the mission of sustainability and, you know, reusing things, I guess, recycling things and letting things go on to serve in a new way. So thanks for sharing that with us.
You’re very welcome.
We’re going to end the way we would end on a normal yoga practice. So, Courtney will lead us in that.
So sit tall, elongate the spine, lift the chin, open the heart and the throat, inhale, arms come up and out. Palms come to kiss. Exhale down to the center of the body. Thank you, Mark, for sharing your energy, your presence today. Namaste.