SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has an increasing number of women who are taking leadership roles in the state’s steadily growing business community. Utah’s largest privately owned business organization, the state’s largest electric utility, and government and higher education have women in high-profile leadership.
Chief among them is Gail Miller, 71, Utah Jazz owner and chairwoman of the board for the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies. She has a message for those who may have taken unlikely paths, or are waiting to begin a journey at all.
“We need to be role models for other women. Because I’m a woman, I have something special to give,” Miller said. “A lot of women don’t recognize it about themselves. All women have something special to offer.”
She said Utah has a perception from the outside of suppressing women, but she said that opportunities exist for women if they are willing to take the chance to succeed.
“You’ve got to say, ‘So what if I fail?’” Miller said. “You can’t succeed if you don’t take the risk. If you’re not afraid of things, the world is yours.”
Born in Salt Lake City and raised in the Marmalade District, she lived a typical life in the “poor” area of town where she met a young fellow who would become her lifelong friend, husband and first business partner.
“Larry and I met when we were 12 years old,” she said. “We went to Horace Mann Junior High together and West High together and dated a couple of years out of high school before we got married.”
After six years of courtship, they began their lives together with no real plan, she said. Larry worked “six or eight different jobs” in their first five years of marriage, while she worked at the telephone company and they had their first two children.
He eventually took a position as a parts manager of a Toyota dealership, which would begin the path toward a billion-dollar business empire that would include more than 80 companies across the country, with revenues in excess of $2 billion.
Gail Miller said she didn’t participate directly in the business on a day-to-day basis. But the two were equal partners as her husband made sure she was informed about what was happening and the decisions that were being made to grow the business.
“He would come home and ‘download’ to me everything that was going on, and keep me totally informed and kept me in the loop about all that he did,” she said. The result was an apprenticeship into the business world that prepared her to become an effective leader and a respected voice in the boardroom and community.
Since becoming sole owner of the Jazz upon Larry Miller’s death in 2009, she has taken a more active role in the LHM Group’s newly restructured boardroom and in the local community, participating in various philanthropic endeavors.
Together with Palmer DePaulis, former Salt Lake City mayor, she led a commission to identify the many problems surrounding care for the homeless in Utah. The yearslong effort resulted in a nearly $10 million appropriation from the Legislature and a committment from cities and counties to work together to put services where they are needed.
Last year, Gail Miller was named the Salt Lake Chamber’s “Giant in Our City” for 2015 — an honor that was also bestowed upon her late husband in 2007.
Research from Bloomberg has shown that having women in high-ranking positions helps businesses grow and can also temper risky behaviors.
Gail Miller's second husband, Salt Lake attorney Kim Wilson, calls her “a quick study,” with the ability to learn and decipher complex situations rapidly.
Cindy Crane was named the president and chief executive officer of Rocky Mountain Power in November 2014, and like Gail Miller, took an unexpected route to the top of business.
She is responsible for managing one of the region’s largest electric utilities, which serves 1 million customers in Idaho, Utah and Wyoming.
But becoming the top executive at a regional power company was a circuitous journey for Crane, 53. Raised in Boise, she started her career in the banking industr, after leaving Boise State University before receiving a degree.
She first worked as a teller at a local bank branch and then gained experience in various other positions within the institution. She eventually became the branch manager, her first-ever supervisory position.
After spending 8 1/2 years in banking, she moved to the Bay Area in Northern California when her husband took a job in the plumbing/pipe-fitting industry. The move meant a cut in pay for her despite relocating to a Western banking hub along with “a quadruple cost of living increase.”
With the limited prospects in branch banking, Crane decided to make a career change and took a job in executive recruitment. She began as the bookkeeper and office manager for a small firm and eventually moved up to a position as a “headhunter” for civil engineers.
Soon after, however, the family relocated again to the Pacific Northwest when her husband got a new job near Portland, Oregon. After a short break to care for her father-in-law, Crane had resumed her career in the executive search arena when a neighbor approached her with what would become a life-changing career opportunity in the energy field at a NERCO Inc., a subsidiary of PacificCorp — which is the parent of Rocky Mountain Power.
At NERCO, Crane worked on due diligence efforts for holdings of Union Texas Petroleum.
“It brought me into a different industry that essentially has facilitated my career to where it is today,” Crane said. She said while never giving herself limitations, she also never really considered becoming a high-level executive.
“My dad told me that you could do anything if you worked hard. And that’s what I’ve done,” she said. “I’ve worked hard and done a great job at whatever I was working at.”
Having worked full time since her teenage years, Crane said she got her work ethic from her father, who was in management in the trucking and metals industries. She did not plot the path she has taken to her current position, but she has remained ambitious.
"I like to be motivated. I like to learn new things. I like to be challenged and I like to explore,” she said. “It just always seemed natural to have that kind of drive.”
Prior to her current position, Crane served as vice president of Interwest Mining and Fuels for PacifiCorp Energy, where she was responsible for the Energy West and Bridger Coal mine operations, as well as coal supply acquisition and management of PacifiCorp's coal-fueled generation power plants.
Having worked in about a dozen positions within nearly every segment of the corporation over many years, she credits her ability to “deliver” at every level she has worked as the main reason for her ascension to chief executive.
“It’s been my delivery and success that has opened up every opportunity for me,” Crane said. “I haven’t gone after the opportunities. It’s mostly been them coming to me and asking, ‘Would you be willing to take this (challenge) on?’”
She said establishing leadership and working with others within the organization to guide the company in the right direction is key to being a successful executive manager. While Crane acknowledges that women are still a minority at senior level management, the trend is changing for the better.
“I think the men in the business have developed a stronger appreciation for the contributions the women in senior roles are providing,” she said. “Because of the diversity of thinking and the things that women can contribute. There is a much broader appreciation (particularly) among the men in senior roles as a result of it.”
For Kimberly Henrie, former deputy director and chief operating officer at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the path to high-ranking executive has including some difficult personal challenges combined with some self-imposed hardship as well.
A West Jordan native, the 39-year-old married mother of two boys boasts an impressive list of academic achievements to go along with professional accomplishments that currently has her working in higher education as the associate commissioner for finance and facilities.
A determined and dedicated "overachiever," she received her doctorate in educational leadership and policy from the University of Utah in 2014, while working full time and managing a family at home. A few years before, she attended Westminster College where she received her Bachelor of Arts in international business and a Masters of Business Administration with an emphasis in human resources and organizational development.
As GOED deputy director, Henrie aids executive director Val Hale in the administration of the agency in its efforts to create, grow and recruit business, tourism and film projects to Utah.
Before joining the agency, Henrie served as the assistant vice president of budget services and financial planning at Salt Lake Community College, overseeing the administration of the college’s operational budget. Prior to her tenure at Salt Lake Community College, she served as the assistant commissioner for budget and planning for the Utah System of Higher Education.
Henrie has also worked in manufacturing semiconductors and outdoor recreation equipment. In addition, she co-owns and oversees financial operations of two small businesses with her husband.
Her dogged pursuit of education and professional attainment was stoked by her mother — who finished high school at age 30 after dropping out 13 years earlier — and some influential instructors whom she met while attending high school, she said.
“The importance of mentors giving advice and guidance and being a sounding board was pivotal in me making decisions along the way,” she said. “Just trying to figure how to make myself the best possible person to prepare me for the future.”
Before embarking on a career in business, Henrie had been accepted to law school. But just prior to the start of her first year, her plans changed when her husband — a construction worker at the time — was injured skiing. That made her the breadwinner for the family while he recovered.
She took a position in budgeting and finance at the state Board of Regents, where she began the fulfilling career path she enjoys today. One thing she noticed fairly quickly, however, was the lack of women in the field of finance.
“(It) wasn’t necessarily a bad thing because I had (male) mentors who wanted to see success,” Henrie said. “They went out of their way to help (me) navigate those waters.”
She said “people tend to hire people like themselves.” Now as she has moved to higher-level positions, she makes a point to promote the notion of diversity within the workplace.
“Since I’ve entered the field, it’s my obligation to make sure the right person for the job is hired, not necessarily based on gender,” Henrie explained. “But also being sensitive to the fact that you need the right representation. You need role models for people to see themselves (in).”
She said most people will face barriers during their professional and academic lives, and how they deal with them will determine how successful they will be.
“You will have challenges. You’ll have obstacles, but they’re not necessarily obstacles you can’t overcome,” she said. “(Remember) you’re there because you are qualified.”
Her new position with the Utah System of Higher Education allows her to reconnect with the institutions of higher education that she was acquainted with early in her career and carry on her example of leadership.
“(I want) to be able to show that a lot can be accomplished if you put your mind to it. If you don’t ‘pigeonhole’ yourself into a certain function or industry, there are unique opportunities that exist,” Henrie said.
“You need to be able to figure out and articulate how the skills that you come prepared with will fit into any of those roles and opportunities.”