Lowell Millard grew up in Washington — more or less.
“I graduated from high school here, went to college at Western, came back here to Seattle and stayed here ever since."
As an Army brat, Lowell spent his youth in various parts of the nation and world before finally landing in the Seattle area in 1976. His dad, a Vancouver native, chose to serve at Fort Lewis for the last stage of his career, bringing Lowell to what would be his long-term home.
“I love seeing other parts of the country” — he’s been to all 50 states — “I just like the Northwest.”
The Operations-Technology Divide
Lowell’s professional focus is on strategic planning that helps leverage technology to support the larger goals of the business as a whole.
“I bring order and direction to companies so the business can thrive,” he said. “My passion is to see businesses run well. I love operations and manufacturing. I get excited thinking about how to build a widget better.”
Lowell has a strong background in IT, having spent most of his time as a tech leader in various companies. Over the last 10 years, he’s gravitated toward the business side.
“I was struggling with interacting with business leaders who didn’t understand and didn’t want to take the time to understand what tech was and what role it played in the business.”
As a tech leader, Lowell often received instructions to “go and do some good IT.” He realized the disconnect between operations and tech came down to something tech leaders knew and operations leaders often didn’t understand: Good IT is defined by what is good for the business.
Lowell is well aware of the headache many business leaders associate with IT by default. “I would bet 90 percent of clients we talk to, if someone asks how they're feeling about their business tech and the staff that runs it, they’re going to say it’s a hot mess they’ve never understood and they are not on the same page with the guy they’re working with.”
And this is something Lowell understands very well. Having been on both the tech side and the operations side, he’s perfectly suited to help them work together to make the business succeed.
The Beginnings of IT
Lowell didn’t set out for a career in tech, but he got a taste for it in college. When he was attending Western Washington University, there were two tracks students could take. The traditional computer science track focused on writing code and, although Lowell would end up writing a lot of code over the course of his career, he didn’t see himself as a programmer. The other track, which was just starting up when he was almost done with his degree, was what we now call IT: the business-technology end of a company. Lowell graduated from this track, then went out into the world to put it to use, learning as he went.
And as he went, he saw a huge divide.
“What took me into the operations side was doing projects with the companies I was in. I recognized there was a disconnect between business objectives and the tech people doing the work. So I said, if I’m going to support a business with this, I need to understand the business.”
Lowell doubled down on learning how to make production better, how to manage inventory and production lines and how to be a leader. He earned his Apics Certified in Production and Inventory Management (CPIM and started working on implementing technology to support processes. This included enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementations — huge investments 75 percent of businesses end up getting wrong.
“They don’t understand them,” Lowell said. “They know they need something to work better and they hope that buying a good system will fix their problems. The system isn’t the problem, it never is. It’s the processes, the understanding of what it means for us to do business. And it’s the people who execute the processes — rallying them around a clear strategic focus.”
Lowell explained that too many business leaders try to take what they’re doing and make it work on a new system without doing their homework. He saw firsthand the importance of first fixing processes so you could then do a good job of implementation.
“Strategic planning is a huge miss for the small to medium market space. They do stuff, they don’t plan and that’s where they get into trouble.
"If you’re going to do business the same way, why buy a new tool? If you’re making mistakes today, the new system is only going to help you make the same mistakes faster. On the manufacturing floor, if you buy a new CNC or cutting machine or whatever, you’re doing it for a reason. You have a plan for how to use that machine to make the production line better. We don’t do the same thing with regard to systems. We just throw it in and make it look like the old one.”
Joining the Team
Lowell met Jeff Rogers more than 30 years ago in a class for young married couples. Recently, several of their mutual friends approached Lowell independently to suggest he connect with Jeff.
So they met. Jeff laid out the vision of OneAccord helping business owners buy, sell and operate their companies, and Lowell saw an opportunity to help more people.
“I get the fractional leadership model,” said Lowell. “I looked at it and said, as a full-time or permanent CEO you can help one company; as a OneAccord Principal you can help 10 people.”