Nicole Hagerman Miller is a fifth generation Montanan; her ancestors were some of the pre-eminent cattle-ranching families in the state. Nicole actually grew up on one of those family ranches, just outside Bozeman, Montana. Maybe that’s where Nicole got the pioneering spirit that has led to such a diverse and successful career that spans from leading global sourcing for an e-commerce giant to opening a home decor store in Missoula. One thing is for certain: whatever Nicole does, she’s deeply motivated by her passion for protecting the natural beauty and social fabric that makes places like Montana so unique. As she defines it:
“I grew up really connected to outdoors and nature, and to this day I can’t sit still. I just always want to ‘go and do’ instead of being idle.”
Nicole Hagerman Miller
Managing Director, Biomimicry 3.8
Listening to Nicole’s story, it’s evident there never has been much sitting still. While she was still a student majoring in business at the University of Montana, Nicole secured an internship at the Montana World Trade Center (MWTC) with a focus on increasing Montana’s international trade through public-private partnerships. During a MWTC conference Nicole met Patrick Byrne, the CEO of the e-commerce retail powerhouse Overstock.com. Their conversation at the MWTC event kicked off a connection that led to Nicole being recruited for a marketing position at Overstock at their headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah.
When Nicole arrived at Overstock in 2002, the company was still relatively small and the whole e-commerce industry was still feeling the aftershocks of the “dot com” bust of 2000-2001. Nicole describes her first few months there as something of a ‘choose your own adventure’ story:
“Patrick [Byrne] essentially let me identify what my job would look like by asking me what I was passionate about. My passion for international business development didn’t exactly fit with what Overstock was doing at that time, but within a few months the company decided to explore direct sourcing and I had found my role.
Nicole was such an asset to the company that she was promoted to Overstock’s Director of International Sourcing and not long after was charged to manage and restructure Worldstock.com, a division sourcing artisanal products from individual artist in developing markets around that world. Her time with Worldstock.com enabled Nicole to see first-hand how business can really make a positive impact on people’s lives by providing better wages and protecting natural resources. There was only one downside: while Nicole was located in Salt Lake City, her now-husband Drew Miller was living in Missoula. When the opportunity to work for Overstock as a sustainability consultant opened up in 2007, Nicole jumped on it. The consultant position not only made it possible to return home to Montana, it allowed her to focus on her growing passion for protecting the environment through better business practices.
Soon after returning to Missoula, Nicole reconnected with Arnie Sherman, her mentor from MWTC. Arnie immediately saw how Nicole’s skill sets and experience with Overstock would be beneficial to MWTC, and recruited her to join the organization in a part-time role that would allow time for her consulting work to continue.
Through that role with MWTC, Nicole was introduced to Missoula-based Biomimicry 3.8, whose mission is to “train, equip, and connect scientists, engineers, architects, educators, and other innovators to sustainably emulate nature’s 3.8 billion years of brilliant designs and strategies.” Nicole immediately fell in love with the organization’s mission of applying the best designs from nature to innovative products that improve human life while protecting the environment. In September 2012, Nicole was recruited by Biomimicry 3.8 to join their management team full-time, providing business guidance to help the company scale in a time of rapid growth. Nicole’s initial role was to help articulate the principles and application of biomimicry from a business perspective:
“Amazing people choose to be in Montana because they love it, and they want to help other people realize their dreams here, too.”
- Nicole Hagerman Miller, Managing Director Biomimicry 3.8
“There’s definitely some initial confusion about the value and application of biomimicry, but when businesses can see and understand that it’s inherently about innovation and the elimination of inefficiencies they get really excited about the possibilities.”
Once again, Nicole’s business expertise and passion for sustainability was a huge success. In December 2013, Nicole formally took on the role of Managing Director at Biomimicry 3.8.
If all of this achievement wasn’t enough to make your head spin, in May of 2009 (while consulting for Overstock and working with MWTC), Nicole partnered with a friend to open House Design Studio in downtown Missoula. The modern design home decor studio opened its doors right at the time the global economy took a dramatic downturn, and discretionary spending was cut for the majority of households. Nicole and her partner were nervous, but she had a business advisor that said if the business survived this recession, it could like weather any challenge. Five years later, House Design Studio is thriving in Missoula - and a second location was launched in Bozeman while the e-commerce side of the business grows exponentially. When asked what she sees as the key to her success in all of these ventures, Nicole brings it back to the Montana advantage:
“There’s so much opportunity that can be realized here because everyone rallies to make it happen for you. There’s a connective spirit where everyone is working to propel everyone else forward, along with world-class talent that is completely accessible. Amazing people choose to be in Montana because they love it, and they want to help other people realize their dreams here, too.”