At 64 years of age with a full and highly successful professional life in the private sector, the last thing R. Michael Gill says he was looking for was a government job when Republican Gov. Larry Hogan came calling in 2015 with an offer to be Maryland’s secretary of commerce.
“Never had a government job in my life,” the 70-year-old Mr. Gill says today. “Never thought of myself as a government employee.”
He says he told Mr. Hogan that and emphasized the point by saying the only brush he ever had with elected office came in high school in the 1960s.
“I said, ‘Hey, Guv, I ran for student government at Calvert Hall, and I didn’t even win that.’”
“Well, I did the same at DeMatha, and I didn’t win either,” he quotes Mr. Hogan as replying.
“I said, ‘Let’s go; I’m all in,” Mr. Gill recalls, with his typical enthusiasm.
Looking back on the experience in Annapolis, he says, “I loved it. The four years went like four hours. And I think the reason it worked for me is that there was never a day where I thought of myself as a government employee. I just thought of myself as the chief sales officer for the state of Maryland.”
What that meant in terms of policy was the creation of a “culture of yes,” according to Mr. Gill.
“I’ve got this great product called Maryland, and we created something we called ‘the culture of yes.’ The 500,000 plus corporations in Maryland — be it a big guy like McCormick or Marriott or a little guy like a couple of ladies with a dress shop in Cumberland — what they all had in common is they are all customers. And if you’re a customer, we say, “How can we help you?’” Mr. Gill says. “We had a great team at commerce, and I love to say for those four years I was in the role, we kicked Virginia’s butt and beat them in job growth all four years.”
Mr. Gill’s respect for teamwork and deep sense of competitiveness suggested by that statement about outperforming Virginia goes back half a century to those Calvert Hall days when he played four years of varsity baseball, made All-Metro twice and threw four no-hitters. He went to Clemson University on a baseball scholarship.
He played “very little” there, he says. “Injuries and lack of talent [are the] only things that held me back,” he adds jokingly.
After earning a bachelor’s degree from Towson University in 1974, his first job was in sales at IBM, and he quickly rose through the ranks until he was teaching sales for the company.
Following management stints at Ernst & Young and Data Systems, Mr. Gill went into business for himself in 1984 founding AMERICOM, a technical services company in the wireless industry. By 2000, it had grown to 1,200 employees. Mr. Gill then founded the wireless communications company First Page USA Inc. In 2007, he joined Evergreen Advisors, an investment bank and corporate advisory firm, where he remains chairman since returning from leave to serve in the Hogan administration.
“Mike Gill has done amazing things in his career including serving as secretary of commerce. He just did that job because he loves the state and he wanted to make a difference. He didn’t need to do it,” says Jim Clements, president of Clemson University.
“I’ve known Mike for 30 years. He’s like a big brother to me. And he’s been a really good mentor. I learned a lot about leadership and working with people in organizations and creating a vision from him,” adds Dr. Clements, who grew up in Randallstown and served as provost at Towson University. “At Clemson, he’s on my president’s advisory board. He just spoke at one of my graduation ceremonies for my leadership institute. I think the world of Mike Gill. He’s got a good heart.”
Tom Kelso, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority and president of Matrix Capital Markets Group Inc., says, “Mike is extremely generous with his time and money, and his commitment to causes that matter to him is strong. He is an amazingly great leader with wide vision and great energy that helps motivate others to achieve meaningful change.”
Attitude is the secret to Mr. Gill’s success, according to former State Sen. Frank Kelly, who says, “Nothing great ever happens without a positive attitude, and Mike has one of best, most positive attitudes I have ever known.”
David H. Nevins, President of Nevins and Associates, a Towson-based marketing and communications firm, calls Mr. Gill a “Maryland phenom.”
“His energy and enthusiasm are contagious. He’s an idea machine. But what I admire most about him is his ability to pivot, his willingness to go in a different direction than the herd. You want Mike on your team for sure,” Mr. Nevins says.
“I always thought Mike would be about the last guy to enter government service, so when I heard that the governor had selected him, and even more surprisingly that he had accepted, I almost fell off my chair. Not because he wouldn’t be good at it, but because he was so wedded to the private sector and such a booster of all things business. It turned out, of course, to be a brilliant selection and we are all better off for his service.”
R. Michael Gill
Current residence: Towson
Education: Calvert Hall College High School; Clemson University; bachelor’s degree in business administration, Towson University
Career highlights: Director of Data Systems, Ernst & Young; founder and CEO, AMERICOM; principal and chair, Evergreen Advisors; Maryland secretary of commerce (2015-2019)
Civic and charitable activities: Chairman, University of Maryland St. Joseph’s Medical Center; Catholic Charities; Calvert Hall College Family Scholarship Fund; Maryland Family Network; President’s Advisory Board-Clemson University
Family: Wife, Mary; three children