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Mark C. Miller

On the corner of Mark C. Miller’s desk, a papier-mache head fixes visitors with a meditative expression and imposing stare. …

On the corner of Mark C. Miller’s desk, a papier-mache head fixes visitors with a meditative expression and imposing stare. According to Japanese legend, the figure represents a Buddhist monk named “Daruma” who became so focused on his goal that his body disappeared, leaving only his eyes and mind locked in trance-like concentration.

It’s a handy reminder of the attention that Miller and his associates at Stericycle have turned to the problem of medical waste. Even before used syringes and other hospital garbage washed up on U.S. beaches in the late 1980s, safely disposing of this kind of trash was a challenge. “The only options were landfills, which were overcrowded, or incineration, which polluted the air,” says Miller, 37, who joined the Deerfield, IL-based company as chief executive in 1992. Stericycle aimed to find a better way.

It did, two years before Miller came on board. In 1990, Stericycle became the first player in the $1 billion medical waste industry to patent a disposal process that not only decontaminated trash such as bloody gauze, hypodermic needles, and rubber gloves, but actually could recycle much of it for reuse. Today the privately-held company has four plants in the U.S. and annual revenues of just under $40 million. As new environmental regulations make incineration and landfills less attractive, and liability concerns intensify, Miller believes other disposal methods will become a preferred alternative. In the Stericycle process, a mishmash of refuse sealed in plastic tubs is decontaminated using high-energy radio waves. Once the dangerous microorganisms are destroyed, the material is ground into plastic pellets, some of which can be recycled into plastic containers. These, in turn, are sent back to the hospital or lab as receptacles for more waste. Company customers include California‘s Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital and Woburn, MA-based VHA HealthFront. “What we’re trying to do is close the loop,” Miller says.

Miller joined Abbott Laboratories in 1977 straight out of school, eventually becoming vice president in charge of the company’s operations in the Pacific, Asia, and Africa. By this time he was in line to become CEO. But somehow, he found the idea of running an established company stifling, and he bolted for Stericycle.

“I realized that part of what I enjoyed was a team of people who are charged up to create something,” says Miller, an affable and easygoing former high school football star. “It was that new buzz of creating.”  

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