Q&A With Donald Miller

As the year comes to an end, another chapter in the history books of Starrett draw to a close, as this December we say goodbye to Starrett UK’s National Account Manager, Donald Miller, who with over 30 years’ service to the company is retiring.

Having worked his way up through the ranks, many of you will know the bubbly and characterful gentleman Donald is from various steps in his career. Now as we take the time to step back and look over his history with the company, please join us in wishing Donald the very best for the next chapter in his life.

Donald, for those who haven’t had the chance to meet you,tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a born and bred Jedburghman and live two minutes away from the Starrett factory. I’m married to my wife Joyce and together we have two children, Kirsty and Ryan. Kirsty lives in Jedburgh with her husband and our two lovely granddaughters, while my son Ryan lives in Stirling with his wife, another Jedburgh lady, who he met at Stirling University and works for the Prison Service.

Outside of work, I follow the local Rugby team. I’ve quite a big connection with them, as I used to play for and coached the team for a few years, but now I just go and watch their home games and a few local aways.

I also like to keep fit and run three times a week, plus I’m an avid golfer and play at my local club in Jedburgh – I wouldn’t say I’m any good at golfing, but I enjoy the fresh air and exercise.

Photo: First Cut Archive Feb2019

Can you tell us about your role at Starrett and what it involved?

As UK Key Account Manager at Starrett, any British company that had branches fell under my remit. They are very diverse with a varied customer base,from electrical businesses to engineering and some of them are chains or buying groups.

Our biggest UK customer is HellermannTyton, an electrical manufacturer who produces things like cable ties, enclosures, heat transfer products and other items based around the electrical marketplace. They then sell into companies like Edmundson Electrical, City Electrical Factors and Electrical retailers.

We also supply to Toolbank, our biggest wholesaler, who have 12 branches throughout the UK, and they sell to smaller distributors, such as hardware shops. At the other end of the spectrum, we deal with companies like Eriks, who are key suppliers to the end user industry, including the food market, defence and aerospace industries. They sell directly to big players like Boeing and Caterpillar.

What aspects of your job did you enjoy the most?

Without a doubt, the interaction. Meeting the people who are responsible for Starrett within these companies and trying to come up with new ways of attracting business, whether that’s by promotional sales or marketing.

What were the most challenging parts of your role?

Managing the workload and making sure you didn’t miss anything, as there was a lot of administration in this position. Pre-Covid the easiest thing was visiting customers – we would often go out and visit three or four customers in one fell swoop, so when you came back to the office you had to make sure and go through your notes meticulously to cover off everything you said you would do. It was challenging, but not unenjoyable.

Tell us about your career path at Starrett.

I joined Starrett when I left school at 16 years old and started in what used to be the Production Control department and after five years there, I moved into Customer Services for a further four years after spending the first nine years of my working life at Starrett I quite fancied the selling game, so left the company and joined the Tweeddale Press Group, as an Advertising Sales Executive. I did that job for three years, before joining a company called Capital Copiers, but I hated it and survived two years before jumping ship and joined Seagram, who sold alcoholic beverages, so it was the dream job.

I was with Seagram for 12 years and just at that point in time, they got bought over by a huge conglomerate called Pernot Ricard. They merged two work forces into one, and I would have survived the cut, but with Jedburgh being a very small place to live, it quickly became knowledge that I had a decision to make. At that point Starrett approached me to come back as an Export Sales Manager in 1997.

I had a difficult decision to make, but what swayed it was my two kids and their school, as had I stayed with Seagram, they would have wanted me to move up to the Edinburgh-Glasgow corridor or the London Head Office which I truthfully didn’t fancy, so Starrett came back into my life at a the perfect time and I’ve stayed here ever since.

I worked in my Export role for 14 years and then moved into what was the General Sales Manager role for a further eight years, before taking up the position of UK Key Account Manager.

What changes have you seen in the company since joining?

Huge investment in new technology and the optical side of the business which has really grown and developed within the factory. They have done exceptionally well.

Plus, the longevity of the company really impresses me and our ability to adapt and move with the times.

Is it true that you’re not the only member of your family to work for Starrett?

Yes, there’s a bit of a dynasty. My grandad worked at Starrett, as did my dad, myself and my son, so four generations! My dad was with the company for 41years and was promoted to managing director for four or five of those years, towards the end of his career.

What’s been your most memorial business trip?

It’s difficult to pin it down to one, but I would say 10-12 years ago and my first visit to Amazon in London. The reason it's memorable is because we, as what everyone did in those days dressed in our business suits for the appointment and I can vividly remember walking into their head office with my three colleagues and being shown to a reception area. I can only describe it as looking like you were walking into a Costa coffee shop of today. The reception had a soccer playing area, Sky Sports on TV and everyone else was sitting in t-shirts, shorts and flipflops, with their laptops working away.

It was so alien to me and any business I had been in before. I think it shows how far ahead they were a decade ago and look where they are now. I just remember being taken aback and vividly remember my colleague leaning over and whispering to me: “We’re the only people correctly dressed,” but maybe it was us that stuck out like sore thumbs.

As an Export manager, I’ve been able to visit lots of nice countries and met so many good people along the way. What strikes me about Starrett is the depth of our relationships. A lot of people we have been dealing with in Spain, South Africa, Holland, Germany and Sweden, have been partners for over 40 years!