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Utah Jazz: Questions for Greg Miller

Published: Sunday, Feb. 1 2009 1:13 a.m. MST

Michael Brandy, Deseret News

A troubled economy, player injuries, an ailing father: It's been an interesting year for Greg Miller, CEO of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies. The Deseret News' Jody Genessy sat down with Miller prior to last week's Jazz-Spurs game to see how the new CEO is settling in.

Question: What do you foresee the biggest challenge being for the Jazz in the next one to five years?

Answer: Well, the biggest challenge is going to be finding ways to generate enough revenue to pay as much money as we can — you know, just to pay up to the cap or probably up to the luxury tax threshold, so that we can put the most competitive team on the floor, and spreading that load over the broadest footings possible so that no one entity or one segment of the market has to bear the brunt of that. Obviously the primary channels of revenue are ticket sales, sponsorship, TV revenue and sponsorship advertising. As you know the salary cap and the luxury tax threshold increase every year. Salaries never really go down, and so we're continually looking for new revenue streams or looking for ways to maximize our existing revenues without pricing ourselves out of the market, and it's a very delicate balance. So that's without question the biggest challenge that we're going to have. As long as this community is willing to support us to the level that they have it's going to work out. I've got to think at some point we're going to cross a line where there's enough pushback from the market and from our fans that they say, 'Hey we helped you as much as we could, but we just can't go that far.' And I hope we never have to push it that hard and I hope we never find ourselves in (those) circumstances. But as long as the community is willing — if we can just get a few more dollars as needed from the different revenue streams — then it should work itself out. So, the trick is knowing where to draw those lines and being able to identify new revenue streams year after year after year. And examples of that would be the Lexus Club — that's manufactured revenue — the Executive Club up on the suite level on Level 4 is an example of that. We've got Bunker Suites over here that are examples of that. There's a lot of them.

Luckily, we've got a lot of really good people in the Jazz organization that are very creative and hard working that can dream it up and then go make it happen.

As long as we all work together and we find a way to get the bills paid it'll be all right. But that is without question the biggest challenge.

Question: Will it be tough if the car dealerships or movie theaters or restaurants lose money to still keep the team going as it is right now?

Answer: Undoubtedly, it would. Fortunately, the way we've set up our organization it's mostly where each entity within our organization carries its own weight. They all pay their own bills. Just like any organization, we've got strengths and weaknesses. We're always looking for ways to improve our operation and strengthen the weak operations, and occasionally we'll have to subsidize one of the weaker operations from the profit of the healthy operations. But over time I think it would be accurate to say that each entity within the organization has stood on its own. And so it would only be an issue if the dealerships really started losing money in the aggregate. Then that would create a hole — it would be a tidal wave of issues and obviously the impact on the Jazz would be a huge concern but there would be enough other big issues out there that would in my mind be comparable to the Jazz that we just don't even want to go there. And so to that end we've done everything we can to shore up our businesses and get our expenses in line and get our house in order so that we don't have to ever go there.

Question: Your dad talked about two absolutes: (1) that the Jazz would not be a luxury-tax payer, and (2) that Phil Johnson would succeed Jerry Sloan as head coach. Do you hold those same philosophies?

Answer: First of all, I wouldn't be so presumptive to assume that Phil just wants to be that. I think we need to sit down with him and ask him if that was still his intention. And if he expressed an interest in that, I'm certainly interested in that. And the reason I would be interested is because I believe very strongly in the culture that Jerry and Phil and Tyrone (Corbin) and Scott (Layden) have created the work ethic, just the simplicity, the blocking and tackling, and so on.And I think after Phil has worked with Jerry as long as he has, they've both been deep enough and strong enough influences on one another that Phil would be in a great position to perpetuate the culture of the organization and the personality of the organization, which suits me very well. I like Jerry's style; I've said that a number of times.

Phil has been very respectful to Jerry and (has) not ever tried to step in front of him in anyway, so I personally have not been able to become as familiar with Phil's style as I am Jerry's, but based on what I know bout Phil and the way his mind works and his work ethic I think he'd be a great successor to Jerry. (As far as the luxury tax), I subscribe to that same line of thinking. The reason is that we want to be competitive, and I've said a number of times that we are chasing an NBA title and I think we've got the talent on the team to do it. I think we're very fortunate this year to have a very deep roster in terms of talent and skill on the team. We want to be as competitive as we can, but we can't sacrifice the well-being of the entire organization and put all of our resources toward the Jazz to the point where we're making poor business decisions on the rest of our organization just to try to win a championship.The Jazz has to be able to sustain itself economically and if we have to subsidize it a little bit in order to bump up to that luxury-tax threshold I think we can do that. We've done that before in small degrees and we would be willing to do that again. But in terms of going beyond that I'm not comfortable at this point in doing that because I think it would put too much of a load on other parts of our business that it would be an unfair burden to them and I'm just not prepared to go there.

Question: What is the greatest life lesson you've learned from your dad?

Answer: It's hard to pinpoint any one life lesson that I've learned from him, but I will say that since his health has been on the decline it's really caused me to put a renewed emphasis on my health and doing what I can to enhance and preserve the level of health that I've been given, which I think is a pretty high level of health. I try to watch more what I eat than what I did before. I try to work out more than I did before. I was able to reach my goal of riding 4,000 miles on my bike. That's very therapeutic for me, not only physically, but emotionally. It does a lot to kind of blow the cobwebs out and keep me grounded and balanced. ... So certainly concern for my health has been a great life lesson.

Question: You set out to do 100 things with your six children last year. Did you accomplish that list, and do you have a new activities list for 2009?

Answer: We actually had a little over a hundred adventures. It was the year of a hundred adventures; that was our theme. We did a lot of really fun stuff. In fact, every year at the end of the year I go through all my digital photographs and I assemble what I think are the best ones and we put that on the screen savers on our computers. We just watched that as a family Sunday night. We had the family over for dinner and we did just a short slide show of those. We did a lot of fun things. We got our hundred adventures in. It's a pretty tough act to follow. The best idea I've been able to come up with so far is that we're going to make this the year of 101 adventures. ... We've got some big plans for this year — maybe go down to Moab and do some more four-wheeling, maybe run a river, we're going to go to a race. We bought a race in an Indy car at a fundraising event, so we're going to go to California and ride in a two-seater Indy car. I could go on but it'll be fun. We're going to have a lot of fun family time this year.

Prior to being named CEO of Larry H. Miller Group, you were in charge of the Miller Motorsports Park. Why does the racetrack have such a special place in your heart?

If I were to list the entities in the organization that I had a fondness for in my heart, MMP would be one of them, but it wouldn't be at the top of the list. I would probably put our Toyota store in Murray at the top of the list just because I was there the day my dad made the deal to buy it. That was the first store that my dad bought. If you liken the organization to a tree, that's like the trunk of the tree. And everything that this organization is now, including the Jazz and the racetrack, are branches of that trunk. They were opportunities that came to us through our success through the Toyota Store, so I would list that at the top.

As far as MMP, I think part of the reason I like that so much is because I know how much it means to my dad. That was certainly a project that he loved and was involved in at a very detailed level from the outset. It was a place for him to exercise his love of cars and he's developed a pretty cool collection of old Cobras and GT40s over the years. Before his eyesight got too bad he had an opportunity to go out there and run those cars a little bit. For me it's not so much from a business standpoint, but just the experiences more like father-son experiences with my dad and the first year the track was in operation I spent a lot of time with my dad just kind of wandering around out there and driving around on the golf cart and being with him as he would stop and engage in conversation with total strangers.

As teams were working on their cars in the Grand Prix garages, he'd just walk in and introduce himself and say, 'What are you doing?' Say, 'How fast is this?' and start asking technical questions and it was really an environment that he could have a lot of fun in. And when he's having fun I'm having fun. It's nice to see him relax because we all know he spent many years putting himself and his enjoyment on the backburner and working hard for all of us to have these opportunities that we enjoy now.

You set out to do 100 things with your six children last year. Did you accomplish that list, and do you have a new activities list for 2009?

We actually had a little over a hundred adventures. It was the year of a hundred adventures; that was our theme. We did a lot of really fun stuff. In fact, every year at the end of the year I go through all my digital photographs and I assemble what I think are the best ones and we put that on the screen savers on our computers. We just watched that as a family Sunday night. We had the family over for dinner and we did just a short slide show of those. We did a lot of fun things. We got our hundred adventures in. It's a pretty tough act to follow. The best idea I've been able to come up with so far is that we're going to make this the year of 101 adventures. We've got some big plans for this year — maybe go down to Moab and do some more four-wheeling, maybe run a river, we're going to go to a race. We bought a race in an Indy car at a fundraising event, so we're going to go to California and ride in a two-seater Indy car. I could go on but it'll be fun. We're going to have a lot of fun family time this year.

Why is doing those adventures so important for you?

I guess probably the biggest reason is that I love my family and I love being with my kids. When Heidi and I, when our financial situation evolved to the point where we weren't just worried about paying the utilities and putting food on the table and we began to have a little bit of discretionary income, we talked about how we wanted to use it. And we decided early that the two things that we wanted to spend any discretionary money that we had on were an education for our kids and creating great memories for our kids as a family. And so when we go on vacation, we take one nice vacation a year and a few shorter vacations throughout the year. Just a two or three-day, maybe like a long weekend, and when we do that we try to really pack it full of fun stuff. Maybe it's a learning experience for the kids, maybe it's just a fun experience, maybe it's an adventure experience. Maybe it combines multiple facets of it. But we try to do something that is fun and will bring us all closer together.

And now that we've been able to do that for a few years it's fun to look back on the string—at last it's fun for me, I should let my kids speak for themselves—but it's fun for me to look back on all the fun memories we have.

And they're not all necessarily play memories, for example, I had a tree farm once out in South Jordan and made a deal to sell the property and we had to relocate 15,000 trees. So I enlisted the service of my sons and their friends and we loaded 11 semis full of trees, two and three layers deep, and moved them up to Idaho and basically transplanted that many trees. And even though my kids weren't having a lot of fun out there, walking through the mud and loading all those trees on the truck, I think they look back on it now and it was a character-building experience. They wouldn't want to rush out and do it again, but they were glad to have the opportunity to do it when they did.

It's just family unity. When you ask why we do it, it's just my family is the most important thing to me and I want to try to build character in my kids and being in environments like that gives me an opportunity to be an influence on my kids. And with all the influences out there in the world today =E2=80=94 some good, some bad =E2=80=94 I just want to do everything I can to eliminate the possibility of somebody else being a bigger influence on my kids than I am. So, might as well have fun while we're doing it.

Your favorite Jazz memory?

This was probably in the late '80s or early '90s.

It was a game where John sustained some kind of a minor injury and they had to take him into the locker room — this was back in the Salt Palace days, so probably the late '80s — and ... my dad went in with him because obviously he was worried about him. So they went back and while they were gone, the team lost their lead and you could just kind of feel the air leaving the building. It was like 'Ooh, we're losing.' I just remember this sense of kind of being in a tailspin. And then probably 15, 20 minutes later, John came back out. I don't know if they just retaped his ankle or what, but he came out and I can still remember seeing him sprint back over to the bench - not sprint, but run in, jog in — and my dad was just a few steps behind him and just (having) that feeling of 'OK. We're in good hands again.' Not just with John, but with my dad, just having that leadership and that presence back in the room. It kind of took the weight off and it's like, 'All right. Everything's going to be OK.' I don't even remember if we won the game or not, but I just remember for me that was a great lesson in leadership and examples and how you carry yourself and the value of reputation and hard work.

Does Carlos Boozer have a future with the Utah Jazz?

We love Carlos and we hope he's with the team. He'll help us win a championship.

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