14. Carla Walker-Miller: Charting Her Own Path to the Top

Carla Walker-Miller was named SBA’s Entrepreneur of the Year for Michigan.

The SBA named Carla Walker-Miller’s company Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year for Michigan. Photo: Aaron Eckels

More than a decade ago, Carla Walker-Miller calculated her possible options for career advancement in corporate America, and came up with a zero. After getting her degree in engineering, Walker-Miller went to work and expected the best, but after 18 years trying to break through the glass ceiling, she decided she was going to have to make her own way.

“There were no African-American women and maybe two African-American men in upper management,” she said. “I had no chance of advancing. I could not see a path,” she told Crain’s Business in an interview.

Corporate America may not have given Walker-Miller the promotions she dreamed of, but her years in the ranks did prepare her to run her own show. In 2000, she started Walker-Miller Energy Services LLC. Her business provides consulting services to companies who want to use energy more efficiently and serves her Detroit community as well.

Listed on the Inc. 5000, named one of Crain’s Cool Places to work and honored by Habitat for Humanity for service to the community, Walker-Miller Energy Services has a significant footprint in Detroit. Known in Michigan and the business community as an inspiring speaker and advocate for efficient energy, Walker-Miller also works to bring poorer communities into the dialogue.

Walker-Miller has also shown that she is a survivor. In 2009, she almost lost the company because of the recession. A brilliant strategist, she turned the business around by focusing on becoming an energy efficiency consultancy, rather than a product distributor.

In 2013, Walker-Miller Energy Services enrolled in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 program, an initiative designed to give businesses the resources they need to grow and create jobs. Fast forward to 2015. Walker-Miller Energy Services now employs 43 people (many of them African-American women) and is on track to make $7 million in revenues. In spring, the U.S. Small Business Administration named the company Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year in Michigan.