May 25, 2011

Entrepreneurship professor brings diverse background to Fisher

While a doctoral candidate, Justin Miller told some fellow American scholars at an Academy of Management (AOM) conference he was thinking about conducting research into the chocolate industry.

They laughed, loudly, at his idea.

He floated the same thought to some European researchers also attending the same AOM conference. “They said, ‘of course, what a fantastic and original idea,’” Miller recalled.

Miller’s sometimes unconventional, but always enterprising approach to scholarship is also reflected in his diverse careers. He was a U.S. Navy officer who served on submarines and ships; a civil-rights attorney, a technology entrepreneur, and a Hollywood actor who worked alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the blockbuster film, Titanic.

Although Miller is not a finance scholar, the assistant professor in Fisher’s Department of Management and Human Resources is regarded as an expert on the history and invention of hedge funds and hedge fund firms.

“I decided to focus on financial entrepreneurship,” said Miller, who earned his doctoral degree in management at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “I was in New York City. Pursuing research on the financial industry did make more sense than the chocolate industry.”

His dissertation “Inventing Hedge Funds: A Comparative Study of Institutional and Individual Entrepreneurship in Ambiguously Regulated Environments,” earned Miller a “Best Paper Award” from the Academy of Management. Although hedge funds didn’t enter the “popular lexicon” until the latter half of 20th century, Miller’s dissertation pinpoints 1940 as its “regulatory” inception with the Investment Company and Investment Advisors Acts. According to Miller, the first hedge fund firm was not created until nine years after the 1940 act. Miller, whose research interests centered on entrepreneurship and organizational theory, examined hedge funds as an emerging industry.

 A Southern California native, Miller had extensive experience as an entrepreneur. He co-founded two companies: a civil rights law firm that specialized in serving San Diego’s gay and lesbian community and an information security consulting firm.

It was also about that time that Miller began dabbling in acting and landed a role as a second-class passenger in Titanic. Because of Miller’s experience in the Navy, he was originally cast as one of the ship’s crew members. His role was changed to passenger after he failed to grow a beard that satisfied director James Cameron.

“I variously ate, drank, slept, ran screaming and drowned like three times,” Miller said of his role as a passenger. Much of the film was shot in Mexico, and during that time Miller spent a significant amount of his time in the water. “The water scenes were hard. The water temperature was 85 degrees, but we were in the water for hours. We wore skin-colored wet suits underneath our costumes to keep our core temperature from dropping too much.”

While Miller has fond memories of the experience and meeting the starring cast members such as DiCaprio, Winslet and especially Kathy Bates, it was also about that time he realized he might be better suited as a college professor.

Miller did lend his acting talents to Fisher’s Educational Technology team for a video for an Ohio State competition on innovative teaching.

But he hasn’t given up the idea of studying the chocolate industry. “I’m convinced there is some research potential there, and I’m looking forward to taking a bite from that apple.”