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Profile: Eva J. Milko, Coors Director of Business Program Management

Eva J. Milko###s intelligence, quest for challenge and drive to succeed have earned her top positions in engineering with Motorola Corp., US Robotics, and her current job as director of business program management with Coors Inc. in Golden, Colorado. Her career path represents the promise of America for those who are capable of such determination. She grew up in communist Poland, emigrating during the socialist movement uprising in the early 1980s as Solidarity was coming to power.

Joining her mother in Chicago, she and her younger sisters, although well-educated, had to learn a new language. Milko was entering ninth grade and didn###t know any English, although she spoke Russian, German and French. Thanks to her parents### long-time emphasis on education-"our job was to go to school, and we were expected to be A students"--and the strong science and math education she had received in Poland, she had already completed her high school requirements. She explored the world of art over the next four years, taking classes in painting and ceramics under the tutelage of Alice Sulinski, who she credits for helping her discover her creativity. "To this day I paint and love art. She developed an appreciation for that inside me," says Milko. "When I told her I was going into engineering she was so disappointed!"

Milko credits her mother for the spark that pushed her to seek out every opportunity to learn on the job and excel. "My mom was a pretty tough chick," she says. "In Poland, she ran the household. The two things she taught me were not to be afraid of anything, and to always take the risk. I still carry that with me."

In school Milko stood out in math and sciences, loving chemistry, physics and biology, but she enjoyed geography and history just as much. "I###ve always been fascinated by how people in the past chose the path they did. We###re here because people figured out that path for us, and the curiosity of why they did feels more scientific to me-the root causes of why things happen." As for mentors, Milko###s unofficial guide and heroine is Queen Elizabeth: "She was a leader in a man###s world as a young woman, which really fascinates me."

Milko###s first engineering job out of college was with Motorola, where she would spend the next eight years. All her bosses were women, in operations and engineering. "I remember thinking they are so cool," says Milko. "They had careers, they made money, they were in positions of decisionmaking, and they were welcoming."

They encouraged Milko to stay in engineering and manufacturing rather than go into purchasing as many other women did. "I considered them my mentors," she says. "I watched how they behaved. I###m a very reflective person. I always step back and reflect on what I am learning, and how that is shaping my beliefs. I wanted to get into management, knowing that if I was in management I could make a difference not only in the company but also for the people and customers."

Milko succeeded in her search for management positions. She never stuck to one job, working for many different divisions to keep expanding her knowledge. In 1995, she left to join a small company, US Robotics, which made modems. When the company was purchased by 3Com in the late 1990s, she stayed on as the North American Purchasing Manager before joining Coors in 1999 as Director of Purchasing.

This is her third job at Coors, the result of her continuing quest to add value by asking what else she can do. Her latest quest, however, is more personal. "I am on the quest to find out how you can expand the notion of shareholder value and customer service and shift the value of the corporation to a more human value set versus a shareholder value set, because it###s a terrible formula," she says. "Shareholder value is just not enough anymore. How can we as leaders think of ways to expand the definition of what a corporation can deliver in terms of value to customers? I###m radical in my thinking. I want to help create a culture that###s collaborative."

She chairs a work-life balance committee at Coors and is very involved with a Women###s Vision Foundation group of 15 or so executive women from the Denver area who are exploring the results of introducing more collaborative and open environments in the workplace to corporations, customers and workers.

"Corporate cultures create competition so you are often not collaborating. That is inherent in the model," says Milko. "Many women feel that they are competing with themselves, men, and other women. As leaders we have to model the collaborative way.

"Looking back, I often was not authentic. I did not prioritize based on my values. I did it based on achievements. I could never ask for help-I felt that was a sign of weakness. But if you ask for help, people will appreciate that."

In 2001, Milko was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She went through an intensive period of self-reflection and realignment of her own priorities. "I had to become clear on my value systems and the contributions I wanted to make in my life. I used to feel I had to lead at all costs, while now my definition is about being clear on my strengths, on where I can contribute, and being accepting of myself."

Today Milko limits her work hours when necessary and is enjoying time with her 12-year-old daughter and her stay-at-home husband. "You don###t have to be perfectly balanced every day," she says. "I tend to balance work and life over a longer period of time. I might work 10 days, but then I take a break. It###s balancing achievement with fulfillment."