Profile: Karl Mills '84
in his heart
Karl Mills '84, opera is a labor of love
Mills '84 expected the greatest challenge of his career to
come from a money management business he co-founded in the
Bay Area, but instead it stems from a very different source
president of the San Francisco Opera Association, a volunteer
job, Mills oversees the second largest opera company in the
country. "This has been the most challenging and expensive
work experience in my life," Mills admits. "But
also some of the most valuable, and I have gotten to work
with extraordinary people."
was asked to join the board in the late 1990s and became president
duty is to work with the general director, the board and the
community to provide long-term leadership for the company
and to help raise the enormous amounts of money required to
keep the music playing," says Mills, who has helped to
effect a dramatic turnaround of the organization since 2001.
"This has been an extraordinary effort that would only
have been possible with the commitment of thousands of people."
from Montclair, N.J., Mills graduated from Bates College in
Lewiston, Maine, in 1982 with a degree in English. With this
strong liberal arts background, Mills headed for business
chose Kellogg because of its culture and generalist focus,"
says Mills. "The Kellogg students, faculty and alumni
were energized and optimistic."
studying marketing and finance, Mills also was active with
the "Special K Revue," the Kellogg School's popular
musical and sketch comedy production. "It was one of
my significant learning experiences at Kellogg, involving
managing over 150 participants, he says. "It was also
a blast and we were all very proud of the result."
notes that his B-school insights have remained important.
"At Kellogg, one learns the importance of personal relationships,
and a set of skills and a way of tackling challenges that
are vital later in life."
graduation, Mills went to work in strategic planning for a
division of Elsevier, a Dutch-based publishing company, in
New Jersey. Later he joined the firm's San Francisco sales
the company wanted me to relocate to New Jersey in 1986, I
chose to quit," Mills recalls. "I realized I was
going to take a leap in a direction I didn't want to go in."
Mills eventually joined Jurika and Voyles, a small money management
firm located in Oakland, Calif. With $130 million under management,
Mills helped build the firm to $7 billion in assets when the
company was sold. He left in 2001.
gained a lot of experience there, but I was ready for something
new. That's why I got more involved with the opera and why
I was eventually game to start a new venture in the investment
business," Mills says.
2003, Mills helped create a new investment partnership, JMK
Investments, with his former partner, William Jurika, which
focuses on a concentrated number of very small public companies.
"Building a business and investing in businesses from
the ground up is an exciting process, especially with the
right people," he says.
describes his management philosophy as focused on values and
people. "First of all, define the culture of your company,"
he explains. "Live and breathe that value system. Most
importantly, work with people who want the same value system
to succeed. Be collaborative, and see that your employees
relied on these strategies when he started working for the
San Francisco Opera Association.
always had a big interest in the arts," says Mills, who
draws cartoons in his spare time. "Because I was exposed
to this scene from an early age, I want to help make the opera
available to a new generation. Kids today do not have the
same exposure to music education as past generations, and
this is some of the greatest music ever written. Though it
can be trying at times, I've loved every minute, especially
watching all our work behind the scenes materialize in stage
productions that really move people," says Mills, whose
favorite productions have been "Billy Budd" and
"St. Francis of Assisi."
my work for the opera, I have learned so much," notes
Mills. "Though life can get messy, it's important to
carry on, step by step, and to have a vision of a better future
and how to get there. If there's a collective will, much can