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Miller empire in familial hands

SALT

LAKE CITY — For years, Greg Miller was groomed by his dad to take over

the family, a responsibility he understood and willingly accepted.Now,

one year after the passing of his iconic father, Larry H. Miller's

eldest son is quite comfortable in his role as the top executive of one

of Utah's foremost business empires.

Last February, Larry Miller succumbed to complications from Type 2 diabetes. He was 64.

He

left behind a legacy of business success and community involvement and

was admired by many.On the business side, the Larry H. Miller Group of

Companies is composed of 80 to 90 individual enterprises that include

car dealerships, a pro basketball team, movie theaters, restaurants, a

racetrack, retail stores and various other holdings.

From

a business perspective, taking the reins of any successful venture

would generally be considered a daunting task to almost anyone. Taking

over for a beloved business and community leader would seem to add even

a little more pressure.

But Greg

Miller knows his role and is more than prepared to take it on. While

his father was more inclined to be involved in virtually every single

aspect of all the businesses, he chooses to delegate authority.

"My

style is much more collaborative," he told the Deseret News. "I'm

willing to involve my executive managers more ... and the load is spread

over a much broader footing than it was previously."

Miller

said that approach has helped him make a smoother transition since he

took over as chief executive officer in June 2008. Also helping:

operating expenses have been streamlined, creating more cost

efficiencies and greatly reduced overhead costs across the companies.

"We've

done a better job managing our inventories, particularly our new car

inventory," he said. "We've reduced that by 40 percent."

Miller said those kinds of cost-saving measures have helped the LHM group remain profitable despite recent economic challenges.

"Fortunately,

we're doing very well," he said. "My dad left the organization very

well capitalized (and) very well positioned economically.

"With

the combination of our expense reductions and our (collective efforts)

to keep our house in order, we've been able to remain profitable."

Miller

said revenues have declined due to the recession, but "we're still

making money every month and we're still servicing our debt."

While

Miller said the group overall is performing well financially, there

have been major challenges to contend with, including the recent recall

problems involving Toyota.

"I

think Toyota will be just fine. With eight Toyota dealerships, (it)

represents a significant portion of our profitability," he said. "I'm

very happy with the way they've handled (the recall situation).

"If not for (the recall), we likely would have sold more cars this year than we did during the same period last year."

Navigating

those kinds of potentially troublesome situations has garnered Miller

the respect of many in the Utah business community.

"What's

impressive is that (Greg and the family) have literally stepped in and

taken over" in somewhat difficult circumstances, said Lane Beattie,

president and chief executive officer of the Salt Lake Chamber.

"It's

one thing to take over for someone in the best of economic conditions,

but they have taken over at one of the worst times — if not the worst

time — in Utah's economic history."

From a business perspective, you gain an even greater amount of respect for Greg, in particular, he added.

"I'm very impressed with his maturity in business," he said.

Beattie

commented that the smooth transition at LHM is also a testament to the

forethought and vision of Larry Miller, who put Greg and others in the

places they needed to be in order to keep the organization moving

ahead.

Besides car dealerships,

the crown jewel of the LHM business group is the Utah Jazz. On the

court, the franchise has been among the most successful in the league —

reaching the post-season in all but three seasons since 1984. Forbes.com in December valued the team at $343 million.

Miller

said in the wake of the slumping economy, ticket sales are off at

EnergySolutions Arena, just as they are for other teams around the

league. He said in spite of the lower revenue streams, "things could be

a lot worse."

The team has been able

to remain competitive for so long because of thoughtful consideration

about balancing expenditures with available revenues, he said. That

will continue to be a priority in the years ahead, Miller added.

He

noted, however, that the organization will spend what is deemed

financially prudent to field a championship-caliber team, even if it

means potentially paying the league's luxury tax — the

dollar-for-dollar penalty paid by teams that exceed the league salary

cap, which is the total amount of money that NBA teams are allowed to

pay their players.

"If we are going

to compete, we have to be willing to spend money," he said. "If that

means we have to go over the luxury tax, then it is something that we

have to consider."

Miller said he

likes the direction the team is headed and added that the organization

will continue to work toward bringing a championship to Utah.

"I think things are going very well on the Jazz front," Miller said.

Miller noted that while he has become the new face of LHM, his mother Gail is still an important presence in the organization.

"She's

been very involved in the business," he said. "I'm probably in meetings

with her three to five times a week. She is engaged in those meetings,

(and) she's absorbing what other people say and she is quick to offer

her own wisdom."

He said many in the organization appreciate her sage advice.

"More

often than not, she's the smartest person in the room and we all

benefit from having her in the room," Miller said of his mother.

On

a personal side, Miller said since his father's passing, he is

regularly approached by people who express their gratitude for advice

or help that his dad gave to them at some point.

"It amazes me how many people were impacted by him," Miller said. "It's really inspirational for me to hear those stories.

"My

dad's success was a result of the kind of person he was. I don't think

his businesses would have grown like they did if he had been taking

advantage of people.

"Culturally, he made it very clear what he stood for in the organization. Now it's my turn to perpetuate those values."

Miller

admits that his personal style is quite different than his father.

While Larry Miller was not shy about being "in the spotlight," Greg

Miller is "content to go under the radar."

"I'm

OK just going to work every day and doing what I can to help the

organization and hopefully move it forward," he said. "I love my job."


E-mail: jlee@desnews.com