SANDY — The announcement of a church mission call for a local business leader will mean big changes at the top of one of Utah's best-known business institutions.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has tapped Clark Whitworth, CEO of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, for a three-year assignment as mission president in Villa Hermosa, Mexico.
While Whitworth says he is humbled and honored to serve, the calling will effectively mean the end of his working professional career — nearly 32 years of which will have been with the Miller Group, with the last four years as its CEO.
"(The company) has been very near and dear to me, and it's been a 'good friend,'" Whitworth, 59, said. "We'll miss it, but it's in very good hands."
He noted that the LHM Group has been quite successful over the past decade since its founder and namesake passed away in 2009. He said the organization has restructured in a way that allows for one individual to change without disrupting the everyday operations of the corporation's various businesses.
Gail Miller, owner and chairwoman of the group, said Whitworth's departure will leave a significant void, but she recognizes the importance of the calling for Whitworth and said the business will now launch a search for its next CEO. And whoever assumes that position in the future will have to adhere to the same strong mission, vision and values that were instilled since the business was started in 1979.
"We have a very strong culture. We're very strong on values," she said. "We have permeated our whole company with that and people buy into it, understand who we are and why we do what we do and why we do it the way we do it."
Miller said she wants to preserve that ideal in selecting a new CEO. The search will begin immediately and they hope to have a replacement chosen by June or July when Whitworth is scheduled to officially step down. Until then, he will be involved in the search as a member of the board of directors.
Prior to Whitworth's March 2015 appointment as CEO, he served as the chief financial officer of several of the group’s primary revenue-generating business lines, including finance, insurance and automotive, according to the corporate website. During his tenure, profitability increased and 45 car dealerships were added, helping the Miller Group to become the nation’s 10th-largest auto retailer.
Today, the Miller Group of Companies employs more than 10,000 people across the western United States with approximately 80 companies involved in industries including automotive, sports and entertainment, finance and insurance, real estate, as well as philanthropy.
In November 2015, Gail Miller announced the appointment of the organization’s 12-member board of directors consisting of family members, company officials and outside business executives. Under the corporate structure, the board provides direction to the group’s leadership and ensures the company’s culture and values are preserved into the future.
Whitworth said that despite his title as chief executive, the corporation has many experienced senior executives who help guide their individual business segments quite capably leading most of the day-to-day operations. He prepares to leave knowing that the business is "in very good hands."
"The presidents and the other key executives are excellent and that ripples all the way through the organization," he said. "I just try to stay out of everybody's way. It'll be almost like, 'Will they even know that I'm gone?'"
While the comment was made in jest, Whitworth reiterated his confidence about how he believes the corporation will continue to prosper in his absence. He added that he feels "extremely blessed to have been along for the ride."
As for his impending assignment south of the border, he said his experience in business will provide some benefit to how he approaches his calling and manages the duties of being a mission president.
"How to help, organize, direct and channel efforts into a consistent direction for good causes," he said. Being able to motivate and challenge people to do their best and be supportive of their collective purpose of service is one of the skills he'll rely on as he and his wife, Jennifer, perform their duties in Mexico.
In the 10 years since founder Larry H. Miller passed away, Gail Miller said the once relatively small family-owned business has doubled in size, number of employees and revenue.
All that, after becoming quite successful under the primary leadership of its iconic, driven leader. With that in mind, the current board chairwoman and sole shareholder said it's time to find the next person to lead the business into the latest period of what will hopefully be continued prosperity.
"I don't really worry about (things) because the foundation (of the business) is strong and I want to keep it strong," Miller said. "The things that we believe in, we're true to those (principles) as we move into a new phase of the Larry H. Miller Group. So it's very important that we choose the right CEO."4 comments on this story
She said the goal is to find someone who can carry forward ideals cultivated over many years that have made the Miller Group extremely successful and well-respected in the community and by the people who work in the business.
"I want to do what's best for everyone, especially my employees," Miller said. "They have to know that we support them and that we're looking for the best person to be able the help make their lives better and move us into a place where we can prosper even more."