Doug Robinson: Gail Miller — Carrying on the legacy of Larry H. Miller

Published: Sunday, March 2 2014 5:35 p.m. MST

“You have so much institutional knowledge,” Larry told Gail near the end. “You need to stay involved until the boys are on their feet.”

He appointed oldest son Greg as CEO and Gail as chairman of the board and owner, but Gail says: “It doesn’t have any meaning. As owner I have to ensure it remains viable and profitable and true to our values. I oversee Greg, but I don’t ride herd on him. Greg is CEO, and I’m smart enough to know he has to have the latitude to do what he needs to do.”

Gail says her primary role is to preserve and teach the values Larry espoused. She is amazed that just five years after Larry’s death, less than half of the company’s employees knew him. She remembers this during the frequent speeches she gives at company functions.

“Larry and I were very much aligned about how things should be done and the way we looked at things, particularly money,” she says. “We both wanted to protect it and looked at it as a stewardship. I try to make people understand that we have a responsibility to keep doing good, in customer relations and community involvement and the presence we have in the community. I want to preserve what Larry did so it doesn’t get lost … that’s always on my mind.”

When Larry was alive, Gail was sometimes frustrated that almost everything she did was tied to her husband and his business. She was anxious to have her own identity and life, but a curious thing happened as she attended the meetings in her husband’s stead.

“I found out it was really fun,” she says. “It was hard to extract myself. I like to be involved and having input. I’m a late bloomer. All those years I was in the background not making much of a splash. I was content to be in the background, but then, just before he died, Larry said: ‘I need you to step forward. I need you to be the bridge.’ Once I got into it, and got involved in the work, I realized it was a dynamic thing.”

Gail is involved in much of what’s going on in the businesses, including new purchases and construction, but not in the hiring and firing process. The company has grown to 10,000 employees and, according to her, just completed its best year ever.

She is also involved in the philanthropic end of the enterprise, which means, among other things, sorting through requests for money.

“It’s nice. Greg makes the money and I spend it,” she says. “But what I realized when Larry died is how big the responsibility is to be a good steward. Not just giving money away — that’s easy — but do it in the right way for the right reasons for the right purpose. I have to be very careful in decision-making about making it go as far as it can and helping as many as we can.”

Instead of slowing down in her senior years, Gail seems to have accelerated her pace. There are daily company meetings, speeches, luncheons, events in the community, Jazz games, foundation meetings, phone conferences, endless phone calls. One morning each week she meets with her sons about the business, just as Larry did, and once a month those meetings include the Miller grandkids who are 18 or older.

Gail hired a full-time assistant, Jill Brady, to manage her calendar, schedule appointments, run shopping errands and oversee her household.

“She’s never here at the house,” says Brady. “I come in at nine and she’s gone. I leave at 5 or 5:30 and she’s still not home. I don’t want this to sound wrong, but I don’t know how she’d live her life without someone like me. She’s got so much going on.”

Patti Howells, Gail’s longtime friend, has an explanation for this: “A lot of it is she feels a big obligation to (oversee) what she and Larry did. People think she’s there as a figurehead, but no one knows more of what Larry wanted than she does. She is savvy. She knows what’s happening.”

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