Greg Miller: Getting to know this guy

Published: Sunday, March 22 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah Jazz CEO Greg Miller talks about the legacy of his late father, Larry H. Miller. Greg is in charge of day-to-day operations of the business empire.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Sitting his corner office, dressed in a leather jacket and business-casual clothes, Greg Miller looks and behaves like a man who is comfortable in the role for which he has trained for 30 years and recently inherited.

He is the leader of a Utah business giant born of the sweat and determination of the man whose name it bears.

In June, he was named chief executive officer of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, which included becoming head of the state's marquee sports franchise, the Utah Jazz.

The circumstance of transferring control of a professional sports franchise to an heir is not all that uncommon, according to Patrick Rishe, associate professor of economics at Webster University in St. Louis and founder of Sportsimpacts, which conducts economic impact studies and market research analyses for professional and amateur sporting events and teams.

He said how smoothly transitions go typically depend on how well the chosen successor has developed and built relationships with the local business community, the media and with fans. Rishe cited examples of similar situations that took place last year with the New York Yankees and the ascension of George Steinbrenner's eldest son, Hank, to team president prior to last season. He said that because of comments made in the media since he has taken over the team, the younger Steinbrenner has been viewed by some "as kind of cantankerous."

And more recently, the St. Louis Rams of the National Football League saw control of the franchise shift to the son of owner Georgia Frontiere, who passed away in January. Rishe said that Chip Rosenbloom, who inherited control of the team, was an unknown commodity to the St. Louis community, making his transition into the public eye a bit more difficult.

He said that transitions are easier for new executives who take the time to remind the local fan base and business leaders that the family cares about the team and has a vested interest in keeping the community informed about the long-term well-being of the franchise.

If you have people in the family who have a passion for the sport, then it makes sense to have as seamless a transition as possible, he said.

When the Jazz lost their beloved and charismatic owner last month, the team drew upon its collective passion, competitive nature and mental toughness to overcome the intense emotional adversity that came with such a loss. In so doing, they used the values and lessons they could have learned from the man who had been the face of the franchise and a local business legend for more than a quarter of a century.

The same could be said for the team's current top executive.

In an interview with the Deseret News, Greg Miller said that while "technically" his mother, Gail, is the legal owner of the Jazz, he was in charge of day-to-day operations of the business empire built from the ground up by his iconic father.

Gail Miller has done few media interviews, preferring instead to keep a low profile and to allow Greg Miller to take the lead on business matters, including the Jazz.

"She's certainly welcome to be as involved as she wants to be," he said. Her role may eventually be more of an adviser to what kind of growth opportunities the group of companies may pursue in the future, he added.

He noted that his mom currently plays an active role as a member of the parent company's 13-member advisory board that meets monthly to review business matters, and she offers her insights on various issues under discussion.

The privately owned Larry H. Miller Group is made up of more than 80 businesses, including 39 car dealerships with operations in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon and Utah, according to the company Web site.

In December, Forbes.com estimated the Utah Jazz to be worth $358 million.

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