In Adam Miller's mid-town Manhattan office, a battered neon surfboard is propped up against one wall, a reminder of the trip to Costa Rica when he caught the surfing bug. These days, he's lucky if he can make it out to the beach at Montauk, NY. But at the rate his career is going, he may be able to buy his own island soon.
Another Winter Olympics will have come and gone before Miller turns 40. He'll be busy until then, though.
In January, he succeeded firm cofounder James MacGregor as president of Abernathy MacGregor, putting him in charge of the day-to-day operations of one of the most respected M&A specialist agencies in the US. With a background in media transactions and a spot at the helm of one of the top five communications firms in the refined field, Miller could prove to be a go-to man for some of the most important business moves to come in the rapidly shifting media marketplace.
After college, Miller spent a year and a half at Ogilvy Adams & Rinehart doing PR before being recruited to join Abernathy by Joele Frank, who now runs her own eponymous firm. He started as an M&A account executive in 1994, but opportunity seemed to follow him at every turn.
"I loved the adrenaline and the high-profile nature of it," Miller says of the M&A work, which he is still heavily involved in.
"But I also became very interested in firm management, how the whole operation worked, and in the media and entertainment space."
The agency's founders both had backgrounds with media companies, so Miller was in the right place to learn about the field. With his bosses' blessing, he began climbing the ladder.
"The terrific thing about this place is there's no requirement of tenure or longevity... in order to succeed," he says. "When somebody shows up, if they do a great job... promotions and things like that come almost immediately."
Abernathy does more than transaction work, of course. Crisis communications, IR, and corporate and financial PR are also concentrations for the firm. Miller admits, however, that although M&As usually account for only about half of the firm's business, the media attention and fast pace that come with the work are a powerful energy boost and give that field the most prominence in the spotlight.
"Transactions, for instance, are the only thing that people rank," he points out. "Some people look at it as a scorecard."
He compares the experience of a big-time deal to being on a sports team, constantly engaged with "teammates" not only inside the agency, but also at investment banks, legal firms, and other advisors. Miller is proudest of his work for Comcast on its (ultimately successful) bid for AT&T Broadband, which required nearly a year of work to push through. What his experience has taught him most prominently is how to be nimble.
"Every instance is different," he says. "When you stop thinking about it that way, you start to fail. I don't think any client here ever feels as if they're getting something that came off the shelf."
Abernathy chairman and CEO Jim Abernathy, who has shepherded Miller's career along its meteoric path, says his protégé has been doing solid work since day one. "He has first-class interpersonal skills," Abernathy says. "He's the same person working with a client, colleague, [or] a subordinate. He's consistent, direct, funny."
The firm's top two are a somewhat odd pair: Abernathy, the utterly respectable graying veteran in a tailored suit, and Miller, the young upstart with Elvis-like sideburns and brash modern art draping his office walls. But their relationship will be guiding the firm through what Miller says is shaping up to be the best year since the tech bubble burst.
"We work very closely together," Abernathy says. "We have a pretty good idea what's going on in each other's brains."
President, Abernathy MacGregor
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