Soldier, Student, IT Pro, Entrepreneur: The Many Lives of Casey Miles
By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager
SAN MARCOS, Calif. — Casey Miles feels like he has already led several lives. More reinvention than reincarnation, Miles has been a young kid growing up in small-town Nebraska, a raw recruit in the United States Air Force, and a polished IT professional.
“It’s almost like you live other people’s lives,” Miles said. “I had this life growing up in rural Nebraska — pickup trucks, drinking beer, street dances, cowboy hats. Then I have my basic training and young military part of my life. It’s a very different life in uniform than it is in a cowboy hat.”
A 2003 graduate of the University’s Bachelor of Science in Management of Information Systems program, Miles has now made the quantum leap into entrepreneurship as the owner of California Spirits Company. The distillery is located in San Marcos, California, about a 45-minute drive north on Interstate 15 from San Diego.
The distillery offers a number of products including its signature rum, a mojito, a cinnamon apple pie-flavored beverage, and whatever Miles happens to have in research and development at the moment.
“September was the first month where we had money in the bank at the end of the month after all the bills and everything. October will also be a cash positive month and so will November,” Miles said. “The outlook is better. Our airplane isn’t dragging its nose against the ground any more. It’s starting to take off.”
After spending his early years in Omaha, Miles graduated from Ashland-Greenwood High School in 1996 having already established a reputation in IT.
“I got into a little trouble in high school for things like changing my tardies and embedding a video game inside Microsoft Word,” Miles said. “All the kids could hit a key combination and start playing Mortal Combat.”
After high school, Miles worked at Mahoney State Park and took classes at a state university, but could feel that wasn’t the right path for him and that he might benefit from a more disciplined environment.
“I don’t think I was really ready to go to college. I didn’t feel it would be doing my potential any favors. I looked into what the Air Force had to offer,” Miles said. “It was better for me to go and get yelled at for a while.”
Miles first assignment was to England, but after two years he was back in Nebraska, stationed at Offutt Air Force Base and ready to knock out a bachelor’s degree.
“I was looking around and Bellevue had some really advanced offerings, especially in IT. My impression was these guys are getting ahead of the game a bit on this IT stuff,” Miles said. “I studied, I paid attention. Going to night school, you’re laser focused. We moved through the material quickly.”
With his bachelor’s degree in hand, Miles was recruited out of the Air Force by Foundry Networks in 2003, before joining Brocade in San Diego in 2008 to work in high-performance computing.
“I was in my second year of business school and started training at different distilleries throughout the U.S. — Boston, Chicago, Denver. Slowly, over a couple of years it started to come together. The point of no return was when I put the down payment on the still. It was an international wire to Germany. You know that money ain’t coming back.”
Making the leap into entrepreneurship required a lot of sacrifice and a lot of support, Miles said.
“As a small business, you have to live very small. You can’t be paying $3,500 a month on a California mortgage,” he said. “We had to sell our house to pursue the American Dream.”
Miles credits his wife, Jenni, for backing him all the way as he poured savings into the new business.
“The unwavering trust of my wife — she’s been very supportive all the way around.”
Other important supporters include in-laws Bill and Jean Bruckner; his parents, Joe and Sandy Miles; brother-in-law John Bruckner; uncle Gary Harpster as well as his siblings including Matthew Miles, who holds an MBA from Bellevue University.