Four years ago, when Alix Miller interviewed for a job as vice president of the Florida Trucking Association, the trade group that advocates for the trucking industry in Tallahassee, she faced questions about whether she could handle the sharp-elbowed male-dominated world of Florida trucking.
Miller thought back to her days as a young ballet dancer and how dance training had conditioned her to be tough, both mentally and physically. At 9, she says she’d learned to pirouette from a teacher who told her to look for her “ugly face” in the studio’s mirror so that she wouldn’t get dizzy as she spun around.
Miller assured her interviewer that she was tougher than she looked.
“Not much fazes me,” says Miller, now president and CEO of the trucking association. “People think, ‘from tutus to trucks.’ That’s asinine, right? But one of the greatest gifts bal-let gave me is that I got rejected all the time. As you get older, you start auditioning for summer programs and ballet companies. It’s constant rejection, and it builds tenacity. You kind of have a thicker skin.”
Miller, 45, grew up in Albany, N.Y., the older of two daughters. Her dad is a lawyer, and her mom a clinical psychologist. She began taking ballet lessons at 6, and when her first-grade class made a time capsule in 1981, she included a note to her future self, predicting that she’d be a professional ballet dancer within 20 years.
“Curiously, in 2001, I graduated with my M.F.A. in dance,” she says. “I just decided early on that that was what I was going to dedicate my life to. Growing up in Albany, we were right there near Saratoga Springs, the summer home of the New York City Ballet.”
By her late teens, she was good enough to tour with the Albany Berkshire Ballet — a paid position. “I missed a good portion of my junior and senior years of high school because I was on a tour bus throughout the Northeast and Canada with 30-something and 40-some-thing- year-old professional dancers,” she says.
Although she continued her dance training in college, she began to see a future for herself as a professor. She majored in English at Tulane University in New Orleans and got her master’s in fine arts at Florida State University.
She then taught dance at the University of Tennessee-Martin, where she started the state’s first major in dance education, and made one more run at performing, joining the Fort Wayne Ballet in Indiana as both a dancer and academy principal. At 34, she got her Ph.D. in humanities from FSU.
In 2014, she was teaching dance at the University of Georgia and raising identical twin girls when she decided to make a career change. “The lifestyle of a professor is lovely, but there’s not a huge opportunity for growth. I needed to better support my girls, and I’d done this basically for a whole lifetime, comparatively,” she says. “It was a now-or-never point.”
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She moved back to Tallahassee, taught some courses at FSU and worked on contract for the Florida Department of Children and Families during the 2015 legislative session. She found that her teaching experience transferred well to government affairs, and her new career took off.
Within four months of joining the state Department of Education, she rose from public information officer to press secretary. A year later, Tallahassee-based On 3 Public Relations hired her as vice president of accounts.
“Whether it’s on stage, in a classroom or at the Capitol, it’s really all the same. It’s just the content and audience that change,” she says. “I love being able to convince someone to care or being able to explain a system or process to someone. I always say, ‘know your audience.’ If you can teach dance history to Division 1 football players at 8 a.m. and have them engaged and care about the class, then you can teach anyone.”
In fall 2017, Ken Armstrong, then president of the Florida Trucking Association, approached Miller about the vice president position. “We clicked,” says Armstrong, who has a Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of Virginia. “It was very clear that she was high-energy, and that appealed to me. I could tell immediately that she was a quick learner and an eager doer.”
From her earliest days with the trucking association, Miller says, she felt like she was in the center of the action. “I have never met kinder, more gentlemanly, patriotic and proud men. It was like entering into a family,” she says. “We really are one of the most powerful invisible industries. No one understands how vital it is, and at the same time, no one wants trucks around. There’s an opportunity to change that narrative or fix that disconnect.”
In August, Miller became president and CEO of the association, succeeding Armstrong, who retired. As chief advocate for Florida trucking, she now must help steer the industry through a number of challenges, from a shortage of drivers to rising insurance costs and traffic congestion.
Last spring, the American Trucking Associations estimated that employers would need to hire at least 60,000 drivers nationwide to keep up with demand in the supply chain. Miller notes that more than 90 percent of Florida’s manufactured freight by weight is carried via trucks. “I know some companies are offering $15,000 signing bonuses,” to recruit new drivers, she says. “You may have noticed that your Amazon packages aren’t coming as quickly as normal. It’s hitting every sector right now.”
Among the industry’s proposed solutions: Working with high schools to introduce driving as a career to students and revisiting a federal law that prohibits commercial drivers under 21 from crossing state lines for interstate operations. “An 18-year-old can drive from Key West to Pensacola, but they can’t drive from Tallahassee to Thomasville,” Miller says.
She says she also supports tort reform to prevent runaway jury verdicts in lawsuits involving truck accidents, which she believes are driving up carriers’ insurance costs, and she sees promise in state efforts to make the freight transport system more efficient. “One of the things we can improve on is empty backhaul. In the Tampa Bay area, for example, 67% of trucks that arrive full leave empty. More often than not, one-half of a truck’s trip is spent empty. That drives up costs and is less efficient for everyone,” she says. “We need creative solutions and funding for safe roads.”
Longer term, autonomous driving technology is expected to transform the industry. Many truck drivers will still have jobs, she says, but those jobs will change — in some ways for the better.
Indeed, driving isn’t the only thing that truck drivers do, she says, noting that other tasks, like securing cargo and providing customer service, can’t be fully automated. Ultimately, she says, technology will make the job more attractive, especially to women, who represent less than 10% of today’s drivers. “It can be a hard life. It’s tough to convince a 22-year-old woman to leave home for three weeks at a time and sleep overnight in a rest area,” she says.
“The face of trucking is changing, and we need to embrace that,” she adds. “The biggest generation in trucking is retiring. I think it’s important to show that trucking is not just this one thing or one stereotype anymore.”
Who better than a former ballerina to drive home that point. “I never need a name tag, that’s for sure,” she laughs.
Alix Miller, President /CEOFlorida Trucking Association, Tallahassee
EDUCATION: B.A. in English from Tulane University, 1998; M.F.A. in dance, 2001; Ph.D. in humanities, 2011 from Florida State University
FAMILY: Mother of twin 12-year-old girls
CAREER PATH: Miller was a professional ballet dancer and college professor before she decided to pursue a career in communications and legislative affairs. She began as an intern for the Florida Department of Children and Families and later was press secretary at the state Department of Education. She joined the Florida Trucking Association as vice president in 2018 and took the helm in August.
PERSPECTIVE: “We’ve all seen ballet movies and shows. While it’s not Black Swan, it’s very cutthroat,” she says. “It’s a harsh environment to grow up in, but it teaches you to not be afraid of failing. You have to go for it.”
- 517,223: Commercial driver’s license holders in Florida
- $42,700: Average annual salary of truckers (2018)
- 379,820: Number of trucking-related jobs
- 46,390: Number of trucking companies
- 470,310: Tons of manufactured goods transported by truck per day
- 84.9%: Percent of communities that depend exclusively on trucks to move their goods
This story originally published in the December issue of Florida Trend Magazine as part of a series on the next generation of Florida executives. Read the entire series here.