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Gail Miller: Stepping into the Spotlight
By: By John Coon
February 18, 2014
Gail Miller is the owner of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies. Starting from an auto dealership her late husband founded in 1979, the company has grown to encompass more than 80 businesses and properties operating in 45 states—including, most notably, the Utah Jazz. Automotive dealerships, a chain of movie theaters and a chain of apparel stores are all under the company umbrella.
UBM: In terms of day-to-day operations, what sort of role do you take with the company?
GM: When Larry and I started this company, he worked long hours and I stayed at home with the children. But he always came home and told me what he was doing, how things were going, what he was working on, who the people were and asked my advice and talked about things. We’d spend hours and hours [talking] and I was fully engaged in what he was doing. In fact, there were times where I thought, “He looks at me like another employee,” because he would say, “Will you do this?” or “Will you do that?” as he’d leave the house in the morning. He had a whole list of things for me to do. So I was very much involved, even though I took a background role.
I didn’t like being in the public eye. As we grew our business, he was the front person and he liked that. He was good at it and I preferred to stay in the background. But we were very much a team. Before he died, he said to me, “You have so much institutional knowledge. You need to stay involved and you need to be the bridge from me to the boys until they get their footing.” And so I’ve done that—probably a little too long. But I find I really like business now that I’m in it.
After Greg took over, I was not getting those day-to-day downloads, so I said, “Greg, I’m not getting enough information. You’re going to either have to start reporting to me or I’m going to have to start coming to the meetings.” So that’s what I have done. I go to the meetings Greg has daily. The buck stops with me. If Greg wants to buy a dealership, he has to get my OK. So I’m very much involved in what’s going on in the business, even though I don’t run it.
UBM: What do you enjoy about your role in the family business?
GM: Business is really fun. It’s dynamic. It’s vibrant. It’s engaging. There’s just so much going on all the time—especially in our business because we have so many assets. And it’s not just automobiles. And it’s not just the Utah Jazz. There are lots of other things that we do that keep us excited about life. They give us a lot of opportunities to be progressive, engaged and use talents and entrepreneurship. So it’s a really fun business to be involved in. It’s very unique. I’m not sure there are very many companies that have the diversity we have.
UBM: Larry H. Miller always emphasized that he considered the Utah Jazz a gift to the community, and that drove his efforts to save and build up the team. Do you share that same view of the team?
GM: I did then and I do now. Absolutely. The thing people don’t understand, for the most part, is we didn’t buy the team because we like basketball. We bought the team because it was an important asset to the community. If it had been lost, our community would have a big hole in it. It wouldn’t have the economy that it has. Now that sounds very self-serving, but it’s a true statement. The Utah Jazz bring a vibrancy to Salt Lake City and the state that wouldn’t be there if the Utah Jazz weren’t here. So Larry understood how important it was to keep it here. And that’s the reason we bought it. It wasn’t because we could afford it. It wasn’t because we liked basketball. The real reason we bought it was that it was something the community needed to keep.
When we did buy it, it wasn’t recreation to us. It was a business. Larry ran it like a business and made money right from the beginning with it. It had never made money up to that point. I don’t know if that was the difference—that we ran it like a business rather than used it as recreation. ... Since then, it has become a very important part of our business. I think if we sold it now, we’d probably have to move. And we’re not intending to sell it.
UBM: You have a unique opportunity to serve the community in many different ways. What charitable causes are closest to your heart?
GM: We started out with a focus on women’s and children’s issues and health issues. But I’m seeing it evolve over time. Larry had a focus on helping homeless people, but he didn’t ever have an opportunity to do something significant. Since his passing, our company has grown to the point where we now can focus our efforts in substantial ways that we couldn’t up to that time. We were just beginning to be able to do that before he passed away. It takes a long time to build your business to a point where you have extra money. We’re at a point now where we designate a certain amount for charity.
I’m very concerned about the homeless issues—mostly because it is going down into the youth and the children. When we feed the homeless here at the arena, that’s the thing that strikes me—how many women and children will come through. It’s very sad to see how much need there is. I just think there has to be a concerted effort in the community to take care of that issue.
… Larry and I started—even before we bought our first dealership—being charitable in small ways as we could afford it. I remember the first time someone asked us for help and we gave them our life savings—which was $300. That’s one thing we felt very fortunate in. We did not covet money. We felt like it was a tool to do good things. And we didn’t ever have to worry about what the other one was thinking if we wanted to do something for someone because we were very aligned in that. When he died, my statement at the press conference was we intended to carry on this legacy and continue to do good in the community.
UBM: What have you learned about the importance of these causes through your involvement?
GM: They’re important because they affect all of us. We are all human beings and if we forget any segment of our society, we are less as a people for that. Just because someone is having a difficult time in life does not diminish their worth. If we can help them to get in a better position so they can use their talents and their own abilities, most of the time they go on and help someone else.