Why Larry H. Miller’s Family Sold Utah Jazz and Their Car Dealers

One of the largest companies in Utah made another major announcement Wednesday: the sale of Larry H. Miller Auto Dealers, a group of more than 70 auto centers across the West that have all been owned for more than four decades in the family name.

This news comes on the heels of several other major moves by the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, now owned by late Larry H. Miller’s wife, Gail Miller, and her family: the sale of Utah Jazz to Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith; Acquisition of Advanced Health Care Corp. and buy Daybreak, one of the largest planned communities in Salt Lake County on the outskirts of southern Jordan.

So what does all this mean for the future of the Utah giant?

Exiting the auto dealership business is the latest step toward diversifying the company’s portfolio with the goal of “continuing to enrich society,” Steve Starks, CEO of the Miller Group of Companies, told Deseret News in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

So no, the Larry H. Miller group of companies will no longer be known as a major auto dealership owner, as it has been for more than 40 years, but rather a group that “owns and operates a diverse portfolio of businesses and industries and has an investment portfolio.”

Nellie Minor, who spent three years on dialysis before having a kidney transplant for Dense Kidney Disease, shows Jill Miller on a tour of a dialysis clinic at the outpatient services building of Eccles Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City Jan. 21, 2020. Intermountain Healthcare announced It plans to create a national model for children’s health care, including the new primary children’s hospital campus in Lehi. Miller and her family have donated $50 million to the $500 million endeavor.

Kristen Murphy, Deseret News

“The Miller family, as a philanthropist in our community and surrounding areas, truly allows us to accomplish the mission of enriching lives,” he said. “Now, we see us become a diversified portfolio management company that owns and manages the business and investments. It represents a really natural and exciting maturity and evolution of what Larry and Jill started in 1979.”

merlin_715704.jpg

Homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson, left, hugs Utah Jazz owner Jill Miller at the unfinished Jill Miller Resource Center in Salt Lake City on May 2, 2019. Officials announced Thursday that they are naming the new Homeless Resource Center after Miller because of her dedication and her generosity toward ending homelessness in Utah.

Spencer Akam, The Desert News

new projects

Starks specifically cited the purchases of Advanced Health Care Corp and Daybreak as “two amazing acquisitions” to advance the companies’ goals, which Starks said continue to represent “oversight” of Utah’s future.

Starks said the business decisions are “very complementary” regarding Jill Miller’s own interests in addressing some of the biggest issues affecting Utah’s future: housing and homelessness. In recent years, Jill Miller has been an outspoken advocate of homelessness initiatives. She donated $10 million to three homeless resource centers in Utah, one of which is named after her. Jill Miller now also serves as co-chair of the newly organized Utah Council of the Homeless, tasked with coordinating the state’s efforts on homelessness.

“When this deal expires, Gale will make another important contribution to her foundation and will continue her role as a community leader and invest in areas in need, and homelessness is definitely one of those,” Starks said. “The affordability of housing is something we stay close to and keep in mind. The Miller family will continue to want to invest and give back to the community in a big way.”

Starks noted that the Miller family has also been a “big supporter” of education, saying “it will continue to be so.” When asked for details of what future contributions would be, Stark said he wanted the Miller family to talk to that.

Starks said the Daybreak purchase was built on the companies’ “strong real estate holdings”. What’s particularly exciting about Daybreak, Starks said, “is that it gives us an opportunity to work with stakeholders and the southwest quarter of Salt Lake County to develop a master plan for the next 20 years of growth.”

“We really see this as an opportunity for generations to collectively plan for this growth in a smart way,” Starks said. “Really, we do it because we love Utah. We feel a sense of oversight to make sure it’s still the best place to raise a family, build a career, run a business, and re-create it.

“Our foundation and Miller family have always invested in this state and want to enrich the community, and we believe we are in a unique position to bring people together, plan for it, and ensure we do it in a smart, environmentally friendly and sustainable way — all the things that Daybreak has created,” Starks said.

“Now, we see us become a diversified portfolio management company that owns and manages the business and investments. It represents a truly natural and exciting maturity and evolution of what Larry and Jill started in 1979.” — Steve Starks, CEO, Miller Group

With Utah continuing to be the fastest growing state in the country — with much of the growth focused in the state’s tech corridor, Silicon Slopes — Starks said the goal is to use the Daybreak model to “hopefully remove some traffic from the roads (with) closer jobs.” to the place where people live.

“There is so much talent moving into our state that we just feel a sense of oversight to help do it right,” he said.

With the sale of jazz, it led to questions about whether the Larry H. Miller Group of companies might usher in a new sports franchise. The Real Salt Lake soccer team is looking for a new owner, and in January, new Utah Jazz owner, Ryan Smith, said he contacted Gail Miller about buying RSL jointly.

Starks said Wednesday that the Larry H. Miller Group of companies “is not actively seeking to purchase Real Salt Lake as an acquisition.”

“We’ve offered to help Major League Soccer and any other way we can help them and we want to make sure that the next owner of Real Salt Lake comes with the same sense of stewardship and community. … We’re here to help where we can, but we’re not actively pursuing this situation.”

Starks said moving away from the sports and car dealership business would better position the Miller Group of companies to continue the pursuit of community stewardship.

“When we think about the future, we will look to acquire additional companies in line with our vision and culture,” he said. “So we will reinvest in our existing business, but we will also look for new business that makes sense and fits those criteria.”

Starks said companies will also continue to invest in private equity opportunities for venture capital and direct investors to “exciting tech companies.”

“We have become a part of the Silicon Slopes ecosystem to help grow the next generation of great technology companies in Utah, which we are really excited about,” he said.

merlin_2886151.jpg

Evan Ellis sold the first car when Larry H. Miller Toyota first opened in Murray in 1979. Pictured here with Larry H. Miller, left, Ellis are the customers who bought that car the second time Larry H. Miller Toyota sold it. The first owner delivered it on a new car and Ellis sold it again.

the end of the era

Miller, the late Larry H. Miller, who died in 2009, started it all in the auto industry.

He started his career with American Auto Parts. In 1966, he became a parts manager at a Utah auto dealer, later moving to Denver to work as a parts manager for two Toyota dealerships. Soon he became the chief operating officer of more than five Toyota stores, and became the No. 1 Toyota parts dealer in the United States and the first to achieve $1 million in sales, and then $2 million in sales, according to Larry H. Miller dealer website.

It was in 1979 when he bought one Toyota dealership in Murray, which became Larry H. Miller’s first Toyota. In the following years, he bought more dealerships, eventually operating 20 auto brands across more than 60 auto dealerships in seven western states: Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho, California, Washington, and Colorado.

For years, many Utahns thought he was a car dealer who owned jazz.

merlin_2873873.jpg

The Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers during the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City on June 10, 2021.

Jeffrey D. Allred, The Desert News

Using his fortune from his success in the automobile industry, Larry H. Miller has quietly built a business empire, from farms to theaters and restaurants to racetracks, the Delta Center (now Viviant Square), film production projects, sports, clothing stores, real estate development, insurance companies, broadcasting, dance studios and more. .

The sale to the Georgia-based Asbury Company includes 54 new car dealerships, seven used car dealerships and 11 collision repair centers, valued at $3.2 billion with about $740 million in real estate, according to Wednesday’s press release. When asked if the selling price matches the value figure, Starks only directed Deseret News to issue.

David Holt, Asbury President and CEO, described Larry H. Miller Dealers as “one of the nation’s most respected car dealership groups” and said the acquisition “will rapidly expand Asbury’s presence in these highly desirable Western markets.”

“They just saw great value in a name and a brand that has been established over four decades, and that was important to them and something we are proud to see continue.” – David Holt, President and CEO of Asbury

However, Larry H. Miller’s name will not disappear from the buildings.

Asked if the agents would keep their founder’s title, Starks said they would. This was negotiated as part of the deal, he said, noting that Asbury “saw great value in the name and brand that was built over four decades, and that was important to them and something we’re proud to see continue.”

merlin_2728570.jpg

Larry H. Miller standing in front of the early construction of the Delta Center in September 1990.

Don Grayston, The Desert News

What will Larry do?

The late Larry H. Miller, the man who risked his entire fortune and more to keep jazz in Salt Lake City, vowed that the team would never leave and that the sale would be tantamount to “selling the valleys.”

“What would Larry do?” Jill Miller last year told Deseret News. It came naturally as she and her family wrestled with the decision to sell the Utah Jazz. As her husband was dying, she said, “It was really clear that this world no longer mattered to him. His attention was diverted to more important things.” Therefore, she said, “He put me in charge,” trusting her to make the right decisions.

Again, when the issue of selling agents arose, Starks said that Larry H. Miller was, of course, in the hearts and minds of the family, but that the decision was up to Jill Miller.

In a meeting earlier Wednesday with agency employees, Jill Miller told them, “We think Larry would be very proud of this,” Starks said.

“With great respect to Larry, whom we all honor and love, we believe in Jill Miller,” Starks said. “Over the past decade, what we’ve really seen is that Jill Miller has emerged as a brilliant business leader and supporter of the community. Really, we’re always here applauding Larry, but we also acknowledge Jill’s leadership. Her DNA and fingerprints are all over this company.”

Starks said the decision was made with the “full support” of Jill Miller, her children, the companies’ board of directors and the executive management team.

“We’re always sensitive to what Larry is going to do, but we also asked, ‘Jill, what do you want to do, and how can we help support your vision for the future of this organization and family? ”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: