Unraveling the Success of Larisa Miller, CEO of Phoenix Global

Larisa Miller

Larisa Miller is navigating an uncharacteristically unique career, to say the least. As the CEO of Phoenix Global, a global consulting firm, she works with governments and businesses across five continents, playing a role in the critical development and modernization of many developing nations. She disrupts legacy business models, allowing businesses to find new ways-forward in an unprecedented and transformational global business environment.

As part of her commitment to social responsibility, Larisa intentionally seeks out the vulnerable, those who lack access to opportunity, and empowers and guides them to futures of entrepreneurship. All these experiences have converged to shape who she is as a leader. Larisa is a leader who recognizes the value of a team, the importance of mentoring emerging professionals, providing a way-forward to those who lack access to opportunity. She is a woman who freely shares her lessons-learned to make the journey of others a bit easier to traverse.

In this Cover Story interview, we endeavor to explore the mindsets that have shaped Larisa Miller’s career pathway – the experiences, philosophies and perspective that have helped to make her a global business icon.

You are a self-proclaimed disruptor. Where did this disruptive mindset originate and how does it shape who you are as a leader?

I learned from an early age that there isn’t an industry, sector, process, or mindset that is immune from disruption. No matter how institutionally entrenched a sector is – or business within that sector – they are vulnerable if they aren’t always looking for ways to disrupt their business model. Just because we have always done something a certain way doesn’t mean that we’ve been doing it in the most efficient, productive, or growth-propelling manner. We must always be mindful that the greatest disruption to an industry or sector usually always comes from outside.

For instance, hotels did not create Airbnb, taxis did not create Uber, Blockbuster did not concept streaming services, and Kodak did not anticipate filmless telephones that could take photos better than top-of-the-line SLR cameras. While some industries got comfortable with ‘the way it’s always been done’, there were outside innovators preparing to disrupt. That’s the kind of mind I have…always looking at a business model or idea, and then snapping it apart and reassembling it in a way that will make it stronger, more unique, more resilient, and more successful than its competitors. Why get stuck in the middle of the pack with your competitors when you can lead the way, set the trend, and determine a new way forward for your sector that will have competitors chasing you, not the other way around.

Larisa Miller Exeleon Women
Larisa Miller on the Cover of Exeleon Women’s inaugural issue.

You’ve had quite a diverse career. How has this influenced your approach to business?

I’ve worked with people from a diverse cross-section of cultures, geographic locales, and business ethos’, and that has made my lens for business much more expansive. I’ve seen challenges – and solutions to those challenges around the world, and it allows me to extract the value and the lessons-learned and apply them to projects and clients who haven’t had the benefit of exposure to these thought-processes.

When you operate within a bubble, unaware of the world around you, your potential for innovation and diversity is limited. You don’t know what you don’t know. That’s not the fault of the business but having the opportunity to explore solutions to problems you didn’t even know existed, architected by people who have had to navigate these challenges, can be a catalyst for positive change. This approach allows businesses to innovate without having to reinvent the proverbial wheel. Shifting through processes and introducing unique strategies and solutions is what I endeavor to bring to the table for all our clients.

What is the most important consideration in the governance of a business to make it successful?

You have to remember that it is always about the people. The people who work for you, the people who choose to work with you or buy from you, and the people in the community – and world – who both impact and are impacted by your business. Sometimes we focus so much on operational efficiency, innovation, and processes that we forget the people who are at the core of every successful business. I’ve been fortunate to have lived around the world, seeing the best of humanity and the worst of humanity.

The governance a company applies to the people they employ and serve plays a critical role in the operational excellence of the company, as well as the responsibility and reputation derived from their commitment to good governance. Good stewardship and governance must include accountability, transparency, equity, and responsibility, particularly in the areas of risk management and corporate strategy. When a business can successfully infuse responsibility and administration, then the people within the business ecosystem will be compelled to be an active participant in the governance, not just a beneficiary or bystander.

What advice would you give to young people who are just starting their career journeys?

My favorite question to answer! No matter how progressive the world is, there are a few universal truths that most people only learn or acknowledge following years of trial and error.

Do not say goodbye to education. Your formal education is only the beginning. Life never stops teaching, so you should never stop learning.

What you expect to be…the life plan that you’ve drawn for yourself…will be as ever-changing as a Dubai Street map. Be open to adjusting your route, relishing the unexpected detours that life bestows. These detours will lead you to unimagined experiences, destinations, and people, often missed by those who are too inflexible, fearful, or distracted to see these diversions as opportunities. Put down your phone. Look up. SEE the world. Destiny will walk right by those who are too busy taking selfies.

With each juncture in life, you will need to make a decision. Be strong in your convictions, even if those convictions are contrary to popular opinion. Do not be afraid to swim against the current. Make your decision, believe in that decision, and follow it through to the end – regardless of the outcome. Be resolute and do not quit. Do not doubt yourself. YOU are the one person with whom you can have complete trust. Make mistakes. Mistakes are as much a part of life as successes, and they often teach you the largest, most important lessons. Do not be afraid to fail. Failure is one of the necessary stepping-stones of life. Follow your endeavors through to the end – sometimes the end is bitter, and sometimes sweet, but each conclusion you reach will leave you stronger than you were at the start.

Follow your dreams, but do not be afraid to change those dreams. As you grow and evolve, so will your hopes, goals, and aspirations. Life is unpredictable, and ever-changing. Be brave enough to change with it. As Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change”. Do not be afraid to embrace change. Have no regrets. If you want to learn French, study it. If you desire to see the sunset on the Thar Desert, go see it. Climb the steps of the Eiffel Tower and appreciate the view from each level. The perspective, as with life, will change the higher you climb. Do not make one bucket list in your twenties and expect the list to be the same in your forties. Your list, as with life, will change. Don’t be afraid to add pursuits and destinations, and don’t be afraid to scratch some off.

Travel. See the world. Prioritize spending on experiences, rather than material possessions. Appreciate cultures, foods, and landmarks. Experience the beauty and diversity of the world, and learn that people are people, despite differences in language, tradition, or religion. There are good and bad people – good and bad behaviors – in all countries and cultures. Be respectful.

You are the stewards of our planet. You have the power to heal the turmoil that my generation has created. Be tolerant, understanding, and helpful to those who need it most. While it is never good to judge a book by its cover, learn to trust your instincts. They rarely steer you wrong. Always treat others with dignity and compassion. Be helpful, not hurtful. You may never know how deeply an unkind word will affect someone. Be empathetic. Compassion, honesty, commitment, and humor are necessary qualities found in all great leaders. Every one of you has what it takes to be a great leader.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

People ask me this question often, and my answer is a resounding, “I have no idea!”. Being open to the journey and embracing new and unexpected opportunities has been the beauty of my life. It’s led me on a journey that I could never have scripted or planned, and if you had asked me this question five years ago, if I would have tried to guess where I’d be in five years, I would’ve been wrong! Putting yourself into a box or molding your journey to a contrived plan will cause you to miss the beauty and surprise of the journey itself. The unknown is not a comfortable place, but if you can get comfortable with being uncomfortable, then you open yourself up to a life filled with extraordinary experiences, opportunities and relationships that lead you to ultimate fulfillment. So, if I try to guess, as I said, I am certain that my prediction will be wrong, so I’ll just continue to be along for the ride.

What is one word you would use to describe yourself?

Unstoppable. No matter how rough or challenging life gets, I always keep moving forward. I’ve taken many detours, I’ve had to pause and lick my wounds a bit when things don’t go my way, but I never quit. When I fail at something, I never quit. Quitting is finite, whereas failure, one of the necessary steppingstones of life, is just a redirection.


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