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Businessman John Miller tells USU business graduates servant leadership is key to bottom-line success

LOGAN — A businessman whose companies have generated billions in revenues told graduates at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business Saturday that a key to successful leadership is to become a servant leader.

John Miller, who was honored earlier in the day with an honorary doctorate from Utah State University, was the commencement speaker at a ceremony for the Huntsman School of Business that recognized the graduation of more than 700 students.

Dean Douglas D. Anderson introduced Miller and highlighted some of his vocational accomplishments.

Miller, who some credit with reinventing the beef industry, is now is the founder of JR Miller Enterprises, a privately held company that has holdings in real estate, agriculture and private enterprise. Under Miller's leadership E.A. Miller, a regional meatpacking company, grew from a small regional firm with sales of $90 million in the 1970s into a national firm with sales of more than $1.2 billion by 1987, Anderson said.

Miller recently retired from National Beef Packing Company, a firm he started in 1991. Miller led the growth of the company's revenue from $500 million to more than $6 billion. In his lifetime Miller went from overseeing the processing of some 50,000 cattle per year to nearly 4 million a year, and during those years he and his partners essentially reinvented the industry, the dean said. Miller was able to brand differentiated, genetically higher-quality beef so that it could earn a premium price in the marketplace.

Miller said that Stephen R. Covey, who is the Jon M. Huntsman Presidential Chair In Leadership at the USU business school, has long been a mentor. Covey, an internationally recognized author and consultant, is known for writing the best-selling book the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People." Saturday Miller shared with the students what he called "eight core lessons."

He advised them to become servant leaders, to surround themselves with mentors, to choose a work environment where "the truth is spoken," to be responsible and to trust others to be responsible. He told the students in the workplace they need to know what their competition is doing and learn from their best practices. He suggested they learn to be "listening leaders," to "under promise and over deliver" and to focus on what "really matters."

He said that if leaders learn to really love and serve those they lead, they will fare better and said he has observed that such managers outperform others.

"Millions of dollars are spent each year on leadership seminars in a frantic search to find the secret formulas of great leaders," he said. "This one concept will ensure that your leadership style is principally centered."

He said that leaders need to learn how to listen and allow diverse opinions to be expressed

"If you find yourself working for a company where your supervisor or team leader or CEO does not foster an environment where truth is encouraged to be spoken... get out," he said.

Anderson advised the graduates to be grateful of the many that have gone before that made it possible for them to get an education.

"There are so many of you who have contributed to helping all of us and all of our students get to where we are today," he said. "I hope you will all, especially today's graduates, honor the sacrifices of those who went before them by continuing to invest your time and resources in the work we are doing at the Huntsman School. We believe the type of analytical, innovative, ethical leadership our global marketplace needs today can be found in the tenacious Aggies who walk our halls every day."

The Huntsman valedictorian, Jill Aoki, a student who maintained a 4.0 grade average while majoring in accounting, finance and economics with a minor in international business, lifted lessons from children's movies she shared in her valedictory address. She said the idea was sparked by something she read in Jon M. Huntsman's book 'Winners Never Cheat." Huntsman wrote, "Everything we need for today's marketplace we learned as kids."

Aoki quoted from "Toy Story" to emphasize the importance of maintaining friendships, from "The Lion King" to talk about continual learning and sharing and from "Pinocchio" to drive home the point that dreams, coupled with determination, can come true.

Steve Eaton is the director of communications for the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business.