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Miles Beacom is one of South Dakota’s most successful people today, but decades ago he was a McDonald’s employee whose ambition was attaining a hat that didn’t say “trainee.”

He worked at McDonald’s in high school and college. At the time, new employees were given white “trainee” hats and had to earn a blue hat.

“My goal was to get a blue hat before any of the group ahead of me that started two weeks prior, and I did that,” Beacom said. “Some of the people there said, ‘Why are you working so hard?’ And I said, ‘Because I want to be the best.’”

Beacom was the guest Friday morning for Morning Fill Up, a speaker series sponsored by The Numad Group and the Bush Foundation at The Garage, a co-working space in downtown Rapid City.

He said working hard and embracing competition have been keys to his success and that of Sioux Falls, his hometown.

Beacom, 59, is CEO and president of Premier Bankcard in Sioux Falls, where he works for famed philanthropist T. Denny Sanford. Beacom grew up as one of six children in a three-bedroom house in Sioux Falls, with parents of modest means whose idea of a vacation was a road trip to Mitchell’s Corn Palace.

He earned a track and cross-country scholarship to attend Dakota State University in Madison, where he graduated with a business degree. He said jobs were scarce upon his graduation in 1981, but he caught a break when Citibank relocated from New York to Sioux Falls that year, as the result of then-Gov. Bill Janklow’s lowering of usury rates in South Dakota.

Beacom said he applied for a job with Citibank and spent two days in a library learning everything he could about the company before his interview. He got the job and worked with Citibank until 1989, and then made several career moves in the credit-card industry that led him and his family to relocate to Chicago. They returned to South Dakota in 1993 when Beacom accepted a job with Premier Bankcard.

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Citibank’s arrival in South Dakota was transformative for Beacom and Sioux Falls. The Sioux Falls of his youth, he said, was a small town where rumors of a strike at the local meatpacking plant routinely rattled the community’s collective nerves. The arrival of Citibank changed the community’s identity.

“Prior to that, I don’t know if we knew we could compete with anybody in the country,” Beacom said. “When that happened, all of a sudden our chests puffed out and we said, ‘We can compete with anyone.’”

It’s that eagerness to compete that has set Sioux Falls apart for the past several decades, Beacom said. While leaders in other cities may worry about new companies moving in and taking good employees from existing businesses while driving pay upward, Beacom said leaders in the Sioux Falls business community have welcomed such challenges as opportunities to diversify the city’s economy.

“I’ve never been afraid of competition,” Beacom said. “Bring it in. It’s the right thing for our community long term.”

Persistence and commitment have been further ingredients of personal success for Beacom, who has spent 38 years in the credit-card business.

“I’ve known so many people that always wanted to make a quick buck,” Beacom said. “And they were great people, that would get in and start working on something, and if they would’ve just stayed and dedicated themselves to it and committed the time to it — but then they’d see something else that they could jump over to.

“And today they’re still jumping from job to job. And if they would’ve stayed with one and committed to be the best, who knows what would’ve happened.”

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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Enterprise Reporter

Enterprise reporter for the Rapid City Journal and author of "Calvin Coolidge in the Black Hills."