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Board Profile: John Miller Is No Machiavelli

Tom Soter in Board Operations on July 18, 2017

Upper West Side, Manhattan

Miller Time

John Miller, board president, in the front doorway of his co-op at 465 West End Avenue (photo by Jennifer Wu)

July 18, 2017

Given a choice between having a doorman or a porter, most people would choose the doorman, right? But shareholders in the 41-unit co-op at 465 West End Avenue opted for the porter.

“We’ve had two referendum votes to change from 24-hour elevator man to a 24-hour doorman, which would cost us nothing. The majority prefer the porter as elevator man,” says John Miller, the board president. “With a 24-hour elevator operator, the guy takes you up and he waits until you get into your apartment. A lot of people feel safer that way.”

That no-nonsense approach is typical of Miller, 70, who has served on the board of this 12-story co-op for 30 years, 28 as president. “Over the past 30 years, the agenda has been to put money back into the building to try to keep it competitive with the rest of the buildings in the neighborhood,” Miller says. With money from flip taxes, “we have improved boilers and roofs and also the building aesthetically. In the 1990s, we were the first building in the neighborhood to add a gym. We’ve redone the hallways and the lobby. It’s first class.”

The property, built as a rental in 1910 and converted to a co-op in 1982. Miller has lived there since 1986, when he moved from the East Side with his wife and two children. “I couldn’t afford to buy 2,600 square feet on Park Avenue,” he says. “So we went west.”

Miller was born in Brooklyn. His family moved to Great Neck, Long Island, when he was three, and he lived there until he graduated from Long Island University. For the next 30 years, he worked with his older brother in the family business, Young Stuff Apparel, which was started by their grandparents in 1905.

“The apparel business has gone, for most people, from the tri-state area to Central America or Mexico, to Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, and those countries,” he observes. “I did some work in Taiwan, South Korea, and China. Everybody did. We chased the cheap labor.”

In 2005, the brothers sold the company to a Chinese firm – but the younger Miller had already moved on, starting a new apparel operation in 2000 called Aries Worldwide Partners. He found that his experience in the apparel business helped him in running the co-op board. “My whole life I’ve been negotiating for goods and services,” he says. “It helps, in terms of sitting down with contractors and, in a sense, trying to get the best prices for whatever work we have to do. I got on the board to try to make changes. I saw what the building desperately needed. Gradually, I was able to effect my agenda, which was to improve this building.”

Board service, he concludes, is a blend of business, politics, and diplomacy. “You have to be aggressive, to a certain extent, but at the same time it’s like running any kind of a company,” he says. “I’d rather lead by example than be a Machiavellian type of leader. I think that belief has served me well.”

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