Five Questions For … San Antonio Entrepreneur & Investor Morris Miller

San Antonio—Entrepreneurship has been a constant theme in Morris Miller’s life.

That arc stretches from his grandparents’ businesses in key cutting and dry goods to Miller’s success as a co-founder of San Antonio cloud computing giant Rackspace, which sold to New York private equity firm Apollo Global Management for $4.3 billion.

Along the way, he also founded Curtis Hill Publishing, a legal publishing firm that first put Texas case law on CD-ROM, and tech venture firms to invest in startups. Today, he’s CEO of Xenex Disinfection Services, a San Antonio maker of a disinfecting robot for use in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. He’s also a managing partner of Tectonic Ventures.

For this week’s “Five Questions For …” we speak to Miller about the importance of market research before product development and finding a career based on your strengths. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation:

X: How do you relax outside of work when you want to tune out the noise?

MM: For me, no question that golf is my number one favorite activity. If I really want to get away from everything it’s a little bit harder to arrange. I’ll go windsurfing. In the process, I am completely focused on wind direction, balance on the board, the position of the sail, how am I going to get back to position on the shore. I usually do this on a lake and you have to pay attention so you can return to the same place you started. [Otherwise] it’s the walk of shame to get back to your lake house. I have to carry back the board and the sail separately, which takes two trips. So I’ll see people along the way, saying, “Hey, Morris, taking the walk of shame again?” It gets old. It makes you really want to learn how to get back to shore.

X: What leadership lessons did you get from your parents?

MM: Mom’s dad is who I’m named after, Morris Abrams. He had a company called Curtis Industries. He invented the
machine that copies keys. … You would see these signs in hardware stores: “Curtis Keys Made Here.” They manufactured the key blanks and machines that cut the keys; they did this for 50, 60, 70 years. The original Curtis key gun would handstamp the keys. He sold [the machine] literally door-to-door, car dealership to car dealership, hardware store to hardware store. He said, “You can’t be afraid of rejection; you’ve got to keep knocking on doors, and sometimes they’ll open.”

[My mother] told me, first he strived to always know all of the names of all of his employees and to call them by name when he saw them. He took a personal approach to working with employees and valuing them individually.

And he was always open to new ideas. They had these factories—this was way before the time of robots—and to speed up the fulfillment of orders, employees would wear roller skates around the factory.

My dad’s dad, he came down to Texas with nothing. He had a dry goods store and they differentiated themselves by the good care they took of customers. One of his first jobs was selling shoes. He took much care to tie the shoes and let [customers] walk around. He wanted them to make sure it was the right fit because that’s how they were going to come back.

X: What’s your biggest failure as an entrepreneur?

MM: When we were … Next Page »

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Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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