9350 South 150 East, Suite 1000
Sandy, Utah 84070
Telephone: (801) 563-4100
Fax: (801) 563-4198
Web site: http://www.lhm.com
Founded: 1979 as Larry H. Miller Toyota
Sales: $4 billion (2017 est.)
NAICS: 551112 Offices of Other Holding Companies; 441110 New Car Dealers; 453998 All Other Miscellaneous Store Retailers (except Tobacco Stores); 711211 Sports Teams and Clubs; 711310 Promoters of Performing Arts, Sports, and Similar Events with Facilities; 515112 Radio Stations; 722511 Full-Service Restaurants
The Larry H. Miller Group of Companies owns and operates dozens of car dealerships, several sports teams, radio stations, theater complexes, and other businesses across 46 states. Headquartered in Sandy, Utah, the company is best known locally as the owner of the Utah Jazz franchise of the National Basketball Association (NBA), as well as the team's home arena in Salt Lake City. It also operates in the commercial real estate sector and owns insurance, financial, and marketing companies. The private company was founded by the late businessman Larry H. Miller and is owned and operated by his family.
Born in 1944, Larry H. Miller grew up in Salt Lake City, the son of an oil refinery worker and a homemaker. Even in the sixth grade, Miller demonstrated his entrepreneurial bent by using money from his paper route to acquire more marbles, baseball cards, stamps, pennies, and pigeons than any other kid on his block. After he graduated from West High School in 1962, he worked as a framer in his uncle's construction company. However, in November 1963, with the end of the building season, Miller found a job at American Auto Parts as a driver and apprentice counterman. In 1968 he took another position as a parts manager at Peck & Shaw Toyota in Murray, a Salt Lake City suburb.
In the meantime, Miller honed his skills as an outstanding softball pitcher for Salt Lake City adult teams. To play in a fast-pitch league, he moved to Denver, where he became the parts manager of the Stevenson Toyota dealership. In three years Miller turned around that dealership's parts operation from one of the poorest in sales to become Toyota's national leader. It became the first Toyota dealership in the nation to sell $1 million in parts and then $2 million in one year. “Larry did a phenomenal job,” said Gene Osborn, a partner in the Denver dealership, to Phil Sahm in the Salt Lake Tribune in May 1999, adding, “He was intense and committed to his job.”
In April 1979 Miller paid Gardner $20,000 in earnest money. He also used the rest of his own savings and a $200,000 bank loan to pay Gardner, and then agreed to pay the balance of the $3.5 million price in $17,000 monthly payments for 10 years. Deep in debt, Miller risked much in 1979 when he began buying his first dealership. “If I'd stopped to think about it, it would have scared me and I probably would not have done it,” recalled Miller to Sahm. That same year he purchased a second dealership in Spokane, Washington, but later sold it. In 1980 he bought an undercapitalized dealership in Phoenix that turned out to be his bestselling operation. In 1983 Miller paid about $2 million for Gordon Wilson Chevrolet in Murray, and by 1984 he owned six dealerships.
In October 1990 the Larry H. Miller Lexus dealership was officially dedicated at 5701 South State Street in Salt Lake City. By that point Miller owned 16 dealerships in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, and was ranked as Utah's largest car dealer and the 17th largest in the nation. He employed 1,500 in the four states. In 1989 he had sold more than 21,900 cars and recorded gross revenues of $310.8 million.
Such fast-paced growth required some changes, however. “We made a major change in our management style about two years ago,” said Miller to Kevin Ryan in Utah Holiday in November 1990. “For the first eight years, we managed primarily on a basis that we would be successful if we continued to market and merchandise aggressively and continued to grow and control expenses reasonably well. The last two years taught us we couldn't do that. We've made a lot of adjustments and started to utilize very stringent cost control methods.” Because of the tough times, Miller said there had “been a certain number of casualties…. And I don't think there's any question that there are too many dealers.”
Meanwhile, the professional basketball team that Miller would eventually buy struggled on the court and at the box office. Sam Battistone, the original owner, had started the New Orleans Jazz in 1974 and named the club for the birthplace of jazz music. Although the team had the star “Pistol” Pete Maravich, in five seasons in New Orleans it failed to win even half its games. Battistone moved the franchise to Salt Lake City, where during its initial 1979–80 season it continued its losing ways. Frank Layden, who became the head coach in 1981, eventually helped turn things around. During the 1983–84 season the Utah Jazz achieved its first winning record and for the first time went to the NBA playoffs.
In spite of the winning season, by 1985 Battistone had lost $17 million after 11 seasons of owning the Jazz. Miller was concerned about the persistent rumors that the Jazz might leave small-market Salt Lake City for greener pastures. In 1985, as a successful car dealer, he was asked if he would like to be one of several investors, with each putting up $200,000 to support the team and become limited partners. Miller declined because he felt the piecemeal approach would not work, but he negotiated another deal. In April 1985 he purchased half of the Utah Jazz for $8 million from Battistone. Then, 14 months later Miller paid about $14 million for the second half of the Jazz franchise. He borrowed much of that money, thus assuming a major debt for the second time in his career.
With his car dealerships and Jazz ownership a success, Miller decided to go into debt for a third time to build the Delta Center, a new sports and entertainment arena. The Salt Palace was simply not large enough to hold a sufficient number of Jazz fans. In 1990 Miller invested $5 million of his own money and borrowed $66 million to build the new sports/entertainment center that seated more than 19,000.
The Delta Center was dedicated in October 1991, and the Utah Jazz played its first game in the new arena that fall. That same month the center held its first rock concert when the group Oingo Boingo came to Salt Lake City. Although the center hosted mainly sports and entertainment, large business meetings were also held there. For example, Dexter Yager, a major Amway distributor, held annual conventions in the Delta Center, attracting thousands of people who booked most of the city's hotels.
In January 1993 Miller finally realized that his business success had cost him a lot of time away from his wife, Gail, and their children. In line with his Mormon beliefs, he found more time for his children and grandchildren as the decade progressed, while still promoting his businesses.
After five years of owning the Golden Eagles, a professional hockey team in Salt Lake City, Miller sold the team in 1994. The franchise left the city and became the Detroit Vipers. To promote his businesses, including the Utah Jazz, his car dealerships, the Delta Center, KJZZ-TV, Pro Image retail stores, and Salt Lake City's Thrifty Car Rental, Miller started in 1995 his own in-house advertising agency called LHM Advertising. Working out of the Jazz headquarters in the Delta Center, Francis, the Jazz marketing vice president who managed the new ad agency, explained it used direct mail and telemarketing to market the businesses, in addition to more traditional methods such as radio, billboard, and television advertising.
In 1996 the NBA Board of Governors approved the formation of the Women's National Basketball Association, and Salt Lake City was chosen as one of the eight cities to sponsor charter teams. Miller's Utah Starzz thus helped make women's basketball history. Meanwhile, changes were afoot for the retail division of the Utah Jazz, which had started in March 1987 when the Jazz purchased four Pro Image shops that sold sports apparel and other gifts and souvenirs. In 1996 the Jazz ended any association with Pro Image and changed the name of its stores to Fanzz. By March 1999, 28 Fanzz stores, including 15 stores in Idaho, California, Colorado, and New Mexico, sold items with the Jazz logo, as well as hats, shirts, and other items that promoted the Utah Starzz, Utah's college teams, professional teams in other cities, and two teams not owned by Miller: the Utah Grizzlies professional hockey team and the Salt Lake Buzz minor league baseball team.
Although retail sales were a minor part of Miller's businesses, the Fanzz stores were profitable. In 1999 the financial world considered the Utah Jazz to be one of the NBA's best-managed franchises. In March, Morgan Stanley and the First Security Bank of Utah helped refinance the $50 million that Miller still owed on the Delta Center. Investors were encouraged by the Jazz's strong fan base, aided by the team's HomeCourt magazine started in 1998 and increased season ticket sales. Investors also knew that the Utah Jazz had gone to the NBA finals two years in a row during the late 1990s and for many years consistently participated in the playoffs, thus making it one of the NBA's best teams. Standard & Poor's Corporate Rating Service gave the March 1999 refinancing a “low-A” grade, the highest it had ever given for a sports or entertainment deal. Besides Miller's Delta Center debts, he also owed about $92 million for buildings and land used by his car dealerships.
In late 1998, also in Sandy, Miller began construction on a two-story Larry H. Miller Entrepreneurship Training Center in partnership with the Salt Lake Community College. Miller planned to give the $7 million building, land, and accompanying parking lot to the college. To encourage others to take the risks necessary to fulfill their dreams of owning their own business, Miller supported the Salt Lake Community College and other programs with not only funding but also his time. For example, he taught a graduate class on entrepreneurship at the Brigham Young University School of Management.
In 1999 Miller's companies were overseen by two men. Richard Nelson served as president of the Larry H. Miller Group of Automotive Companies. Dennis Haslam, who had founded the law firm of Winder and Haslam, had served since 1997 as the president of the Larry H. Miller Group of Sports and Entertainment Companies. Although Miller took numerous risks trying new business ventures, his management style also included long-term relationships. For example, he helped veterans John Stockton and Karl Malone start their own dealerships during the late 1990s. By 1999 three of his vice presidents had served a combined 54 years with the Utah Jazz: David Allred, vice president of public relations; Jay Francis, senior vice president of marketing; and Grant Harrison, vice president of promotions and game operations. Frank Layden, the president of the Jazz and the coach of the Utah Starzz, also spent many years with the Jazz. “Hot Rod” Hundley was the voice of the Jazz on both radio and television for about 25 years. Such continuity, which was somewhat rare among other professional teams and businesses, might have seemed old-fashioned, but it was part of Miller's formula for continued success.
The center of the group—the dealerships—continued to expand. In July 2000 Miller added a pair of family-owned dealerships near Albuquerque, New Mexico, to three existing ones he owned or co-owned there. In 2001 he bought back four dealerships the Ford Motor Company had compelled him to surrender two years earlier to its short-lived Utah Auto Collection experiment, a collection of a dozen manufacturer-owned stores. The Miller Group ranked as high as the 10thlargest car dealership in the nation. By 2008 the auto group alone had sales of $2.5 billion or more.
Larry Miller's son Greg was named CEO of the group in June 2008, after his father suffered a heart attack that put him in the hospital for two months. The company was governed by a 13-member advisory board; Larry Miller's other children were involved in various areas of the business and Gail Miller remained the coowner.
Greg Miller had been working at the dealerships since his father bought the first one in 1979. After doing odd jobs around the sales lot, Greg Miller moved to the parts department and spent most of the next decade and a half working in the automotive group. He ran his own graphics business for several years before returning to the family business working at KJZZ-TV and then the company's minor league hockey franchise, the Golden Eagles (later sold). By 2005 Larry Miller was specifically grooming his oldest son to take over leadership of the company. In June 2006, after a year at the corporate headquarters, Greg Miller was named senior vice president of operations.
After 2008, when Greg Miller was officially named CEO, Larry Miller remained involved in the business, but his health continued to deteriorate due to complications of type 2 diabetes. He died in February 2009 at the age of 64. While the succession issues were playing out, a number of visible changes had taken place. The Delta Center was renamed EnergySolutions Arena in November 2006 after a nuclear-waste management company acquired the naming rights. The Larry H. Miller Group took over the Megaplex 8 at Lehi's Thanksgiving Point in January 2005, its third theater complex to date. It then opened its giant Megaplex 20 on the outskirts of Salt Lake City in May 2006. A 13-screen theater was added in Ogden, Utah, the following year. In January 2009 the group sold its Mayan and Spaghetti Mama's restaurants to Atlantic Restaurant Consultants of South Carolina, who had originally been hired to turn them around.
The group was not immune to the general malaise that was affecting the economy at the time, and the worldwide credit crunch prompted many customers to defer new car purchases. However, this was at least partially offset by improving theater attendance—4.5 million people visited the group's theaters in 2008. However, auto sales did improve as the global economy recovered over the next few years, and by 2011 the company's 44 dealerships were selling more than 60,000 new and used vehicles annually. That same year the group managed to retire all its capital and revolving debt, leaving its real estate mortgages as its only form of debt.
Another major acquisition came in 2013, when the Fanzz subsidiary acquired Just Sports, a 27-outlet sports apparel chain based in the Pacific Northwest. Just Sports, which generated a collective $20 million per year, continued to operate under its original name. Although Fanzz had traditionally favored cautious, one-store-at-a-time expansion, the Miller family felt that this was too good a chance to pass up. “When you can get major market share all in one fell swoop, it [is] an attractive opportunity,” Fanzz president Bob Hyde explained to Jasen Lee in the Deseret News that September. “[Fanzz] is a good business venture that we are making larger.” He also noted, “The [Larry H. Miller Group] philosophy has always been to operate their companies, not just buy and sell companies.”
During the summer of 2014 the dealership operation made its first foray into California, when it acquired Quality Toyota of Corona, California, renaming it Larry H. Miller Toyota. The following year the Larry H. Miller Group underwent a major reorganization that was designed to pave the way for the multigenerational Miller family ownership of the group. The effort created a new board of directors, allowing the family to maintain proprietorship while ceding day-today management of the group to a new executive team. In a press release, Gail Miller announced, “Today is a significant day in the history of this company. The changes announced in the organizational structure of the Group are a natural evolution of a large and growing enterprise. Larry's dream was for our businesses to survive the two of us well into the future. This change will provide the structure for that to happen.” As part of the transition, Greg Miller stepped down as CEO. His replacement was Clark Whitworth, the group's longtime CFO.
In 2017 the group completed a $125 million renovation of the home arena of the Utah Jazz, which had been renamed the Vivint Smart Home Arena in 2015 under the sponsorship of an area home security company. Among the many upgrades were new exterior lights that made the building glow like a lantern, a new main entrance, and all new seats. That same year the group acquired Nissan dealerships in Corona and San Bernardino, California. The Miller Group now sold cars at 62 locations in seven states.
In early 2018 the company sold the 120-store Fanzz chain to Ames Watson Capital LCC for an undisclosed amount. Plagued with inventory overstocks, the subsidiary had also apparently expanded too far, too fast, and now had too many underperforming stores in its portfolio to remain profitable. Most of the group's other operations appeared to be doing well, however. In March 2018 Gail Miller bestowed a $1,000 bonus on each of the group's 10,000 employees, partially in response to a recent tax cut. As a company spokesperson explained to Jasen Lee in the Deseret News, “We have an incredible group of employees that are dedicated and hard-working. I know Gail feels that way.”
David M. Walden
Updated, Frederick C. Ingram; Chris Herzog
Prestige Financial Services, Inc.; Larry H. Miller Education Foundation; Larry H. Miller Fleet/Lease, Inc.; Larry H. Miller Luxury Cars; Larry H. Miller Theatres, Inc.; Larry H. Miller Used Car Supermarket, Inc.; Larry H. Miller Communications Corporation; Larry H. Miller Arena Corporation; Prestige Financial Services, Inc.; Landcar Agency Inc.; Saxton Horne Communications.
Charities and Philanthropy; Dealerships; Real Estate; Sports & Entertainment.
Lithia Motors, Inc.; Mark Miller Auto Group; Penske Automotive Group, Inc.
Bailey, Jeff. “Driven (Legacy: Larry H. Miller, 1944–2009).” Inc., May 2009.
Corcoran, Greg. “Long Toss: Questions for: Greg Miller; The Utah Jazz CEO Discusses the NBA, the Economy and Taking over the Family Business on Short Notice.” Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2009.
“Greg Miller, CEO, the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies.” Dealer, March 1, 2012.
Lee, Jasen. “Fanzz Sports Apparel Acquires Northwest Store Chain, Expands to 22 States.” Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT), September 22, 2013.
———. “Gail Miller Giving 10,000 Employees $1,000 Bonuses.” Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT), March 1, 2018.
“LHM Group Sells Its Fanzz Apparel Chain.” Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT), February 9, 2018.
Pierce, Scott D. “Miller Group Buying the Zone, Hopes for Sports Radio ‘Powerhouse.’” Salt Lake Tribune, May 24, 2012.
Robinson, Doug. “An Extraordinary Life:' Jazz Owner Larry H. Miller 1944–2009.” Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT), February 21, 2009.
Ryan, Kevin. “Driven to Succeed.” Utah Holiday, November 1990.
Sahm, Phil. “Miller Built Empire on Calculated Risks.” Salt Lake Tribune, May 2, 1999.