Leadership Bicentennial Blog: Travis Mills, President, Travis Mills Foundation

In celebration of Maine’s Bicentennial and 200 years of leadership that paved the way to make Maine “the way life should be,” members from MDF’s Leadership Maine Baskahegan Class interviewed leaders from around the state.  With diverse backgrounds, industries and geographies, they each share deep interest and commitment to the state of Maine and its people. This is the story of Travis Mills, President, Travis Mills Foundation, and his leadership journey. Travis was interviewed by Anna Dugal.

How he got here from there.

It is hard to find a Mainer who doesn’t recognize the name Travis Mills. Building a nonprofit in central Maine, Travis has garnered a lot of attention from across the country. Sheer grit, will and determination have gotten Travis to where he is today and will continue to drive him forward as he pursues his goals.

In 2012, United States Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills was critically injured on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan by an IED (improvised explosive device). Thanks to his amazing strength, the heroic actions of the men in his unit, the prayers of thousands, and many skilled healthcare providers, Travis remains on the road to recovery and is a loving husband and father.

Travis lives by his motto: Never give up. Never quit. And decided he wanted to make a difference by giving back. Travis started giving back modestly, by creating and sending care packages to veterans. Together, with his wife Kelsey and the mentality of never giving up, Travis developed and grew the Travis Mills Foundation to the nationally recognized organization it is today.  

Travis is quick to say that a lot of this success is thanks to Kelsey, as she provided enormous amounts of support and encouragement along the way. Travis and Kelsey have two children and live in Manchester, close to the Gardiner/Hallowell area where Kelsey grew up.

His advice for young leaders in Maine and outlook for the future.

To be confident in setting expectations and executing, Travis believes a successful leader needs to be willing to do any job themselves. A leader needs to understand all aspects of an organization and be willing to step into any role but also be prepared to be the one to go without. Recalling his Army days – eat last, go to sleep last, take care of your team. Travis believes that a leader needs to encourage others, bring the team together and not be afraid of conflict. “It’s not easy, “says Travis “there is no proven pathway, but it is how you deal with the issues that come up. You will have struggles and need to find a way to keep the ship floating and fix it whenever you can. Be able to come up on the other side.”

Travis also believes that empowering others and delegating are extremely important characteristics of a successful leader. “If your colleagues need you, have their back but also help them develop their skills and grow.” says Travis

Travis knows that when you are trying to build something that lasts, it takes many hands, hearts, ideas and passionate people. He believes in embracing working together with others and as a team. This is what builds strong individuals, organizations and communities.

His inspiration from the past.

Travis is moved by those who look to make a difference in the lives of others. He is specifically inspired by Harold Alfond, who at a young age was part of an incredibly successful company but also saw the importance of giving back. Following in Harold’s footsteps of filling a need when you see it is something that Travis aspires too.

Harold’s philanthropy emphasized collaboration, teamwork and community involvement. All common threads that clearly drive Travis’ work as well. As a leader, Travis talks about the importance of these key areas of focus and of being a steward of the community.

Says Travis, “You can always get up and keep up. Inspire the next generation.”