Entrepreneurs at Heart: Jessica Miller-Merrell, CEO, Xceptional HR and Dan Tamkin, CTO, Veolia Transportation

Date: January 21, 2014

To hear the entire show, click Jessica Miller-Merrell and Dan Tamkin

Hosted by Chris Dyer, the CEO of PeopleG2.  Talent Talk Radio features engaging conversation with CEOs, thought leaders and HR executives.  Talent Talk connects professionals who care about talent-related issues.  Entrepreneurs are a driving force in the growth of the economy.  Often times they offer cutting edge ideas that help to change the face of traditional business models.

Today’s guests are two entrepreneurs, Jessica Miller-Merrell, CEO, Xceptional HR and Dan Tamkin, CTO, Veolia Transportation.

Though in starkly different functions, both of today’s guest underscore the need to try different avenues and approaches within organizations of all sizes, without fear of retribution.


Miller-Merrell is a former HR director who now consults with a focus on the digital and technology space for HR and recruiting teams as CEO of Xceptional HR. The company provides creative strategies for HR and recruiting teams, including social media and content development.

She got her start in HR when an early employer, Target, transferred her to an HR role. When she wasn’t having a lot of success with job boards so she started experimenting with social media in early 2001 – before the proliferation of social recruiting, including going on dating sites to find talent. When recruiting in rural areas like western Kansas where talent wasn’t tech-savvy at that time, dating sites gave Miller-Merrell leads and she used it to place several roles from cashier to manager.

Isolation on the HR Island

The element she has enjoyed most in her entrepreneurial journey is being able to offer information to her core audience quickly. To that end, her business has been organically built around her blog, www.blogging4jobs.com, which now boasts 25 writers publishing original content to the site. “My business philosophy is that the practitioner…[is] often left out of the equation in the high-level senior and strategy session,” says Miller-Merrell.  The blog is a forum to put the voice of many on one site. These discussions are critical, Miller-Merrell believes, because HR can be very isolating since you can’t share work stories with colleagues or get too close to any one co-worker. The blog allows for a sense of community.

Miller-Merrell admits that writing wasn’t always so easy for her, however. “A lot of what I am known for is my blogging ability.” As you grow older, you can lose the creativity needed to write in a compelling way after being “under a sea of emails and policy manuals.” Over time, she has developed her voice, based on the “ability to believe you are an expert or somebody who is worth hearing from” and reflecting that in her writing.

Preparing for the Spontaneous

While HR is very compliance heavy, the ability to be able to stand up to your peers, bosses and superiors is a key success factor in the field. To do so requires constant preparation, as HR roles require you to “be able to talk off the cuff…and to get the right message out at the right time.”

What are You Reading?

Miller-Merrell is readingBe the Pack Leader,” a dog training book by Cesar Millan with “a lot of alignment as a leader with your own pack.”

How Can I Connect with You? Miller-Merrell can be reached on Twitter @blogging4jobs or her blogs: www.blogging4jobs.com and www.workology.com.




Though currently CTO of Veolia Transportation, Tamkin has also been in the VC world as well as an entrepreneur. He landed at Veolia when the company hired a software organization that Tamkin led and then eventually acquired them.

In a start-up world, Tamkin values the “ability to try things without massive fear of being thrown out of the company.”  Throughout his leadership experience, he always considers what he could do better. In that, he realized that he needs to give up more control. “People can only work with a founder or CEO as much as that person is willing to give up authority to them and stay out of their way,” he cautions.

Mentors Can & Should Change

Tamkin’s father is the biggest influence on his career and is a resource he connects with frequently.  Beyond that, contrary to the static view most people take of their mentors, he believes mentors shift over time based on where they are in their careers and what his evolving needs are.

When it comes to mentoring within the organization itself, he “looks at what’s best for the employee and how that maps to the organization.”  In past organizations, Tamkin has seen companies hold people back because they were unable or unwilling to offer opportunities for progress.  Instead, he prefers to “celebrate employees who succeed” and to “view it as a graduation” in case the company can’t sustain their growth, freeing them up for other opportunities.

Of note, that investment only makes sense if the employees are right for the company. “Get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off of it,” Tamkin advises. In the  case of the latter, “how you treat those people on the way out the door says more about the organization to those people remaining” than anything else.

Heart & Muscle

Tamkin believes it is an “unprecedented time of opportunity right now,” depending on your risk profile, for entrepreneurs, in part because it is more cost-effective to start companies today versus a decade ago. “Technology used to be a sector…and now it is a part of every industry…As technology becomes the operating system of the company…it becomes so much easier to create change.”

Especially for entrepreneurs, Tamkin asserts you have to love the industry you’re in, but that’s simply not enough. “If you’re not willing to pour everything into it, why would your customers, why would your employees, why would anybody else get excited about it?” 

What are You Reading?

While not a pervasive reader, Tamkin absorbs the writing of Warren Buffet because “there is a lot of power in his simplicity.”

How Can I Connect with You? You can find Dan on LinkedIn. 

Tune into the show next week, and remember, do what you love….and show the world how talented you can be, today.