While relatively unknown outside America’s Mountain West, Gail Miller is an enormously influential figure and has come a long way from the impoverishment of her childhood. From the Utah Jazz and Salt Lake Bees to Intermountain Healthcare and the Gail Miller Family Foundation, her influence has been felt far and wide across her home state. And as of 2023, Gail Miller is the wealthiest person in Utah.
Making Every Penny Count
Like most American Dreams, Gail Miller’s American Dream had humble beginnings. Gail was born into a family of nine during the difficult years of the Second World War, and her early years were shaped by scarcity, necessity, and resilience. Her father was a salesman and a shoemaker, and her mother was a homemaker. Crafting her own clothes from hand-me-downs and counting pennies instilled in Gail the resourcefulness and problem-solving skills that would later prepare her for and propel her toward success.
Gail can remember times when her family had only one lightbulb, which had to be moved from room to room. “My parents struggled to feed, clothe, and educate us,” Gail recalls. “I learned quickly that if I needed something, I’d have to figure how to get it on my own. I learned how to become a problem solver. I learned an awful lot of things about living life that I would never have learned otherwise. Being poor wasn’t a detriment to me. You don’t have to have stuff—you just have to have what’s inside of you.”
Gail married Larry H. Miller in 1965, and her resourceful upbringing and dogged attitude served her well as a mother of five children. She and her husband were inseparable, even in business ventures.
In 1979, Larry and Gail Miller embarked on a journey that would redefine their lives and leave an indelible mark on Utah’s business landscape. With the acquisition of a single Toyota dealership, the Millers sowed the seeds of what would become the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies—a conglomerate boasting over 80 businesses, including 65 automotive dealerships, the iconic Utah Jazz, Megaplex theaters, and an array of other enterprises. Gail and Larry turned that single Toyota dealership into the eighth-largest auto dealer group in the United States. In 2021, Gail sold it to Asbury Automotive for $3.2 billion.
Larry’s practice of sharing the intricacies of his business world with Gail set the stage for a partnership that would bring together the realms of business and family. It wasn’t Gail’s intention or desire to be a businesswoman. That was her husband’s world, and she loved being a mother and a homemaker, but that didn’t stop Larry from sharing his experiences with her.
“One of Larry’s favorite ways to relax after work … was to soak in our yellow bathtub and download his day to me,” she said. “I would sit next to the tub on the floor, and we would talk about everything that was happening in the business. Larry included me in every aspect of his professional life.”
After Larry’s death in 2009, Gail took a much more active role in their business and continued to grow the Miller legacy. For the next five years, she served as the chair of the LHM board of directors and then allowed her son Steve Miller to take the position. She has remained focused on directing the company’s culture and operations and is still an active member of the board.
Guided by Her Faith
Gail Miller is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and her life has been underpinned by the bedrock of her Christian faith. Gail’s mother instilled in her children not only the ability to solve problems creatively with limited resources but also important Christian values, emphasizing self-worth, godliness, and the intrinsic value of one’s personal value over material possessions. These teachings provided a moral compass that guided Gail through her triumphs and her trials. Her unwavering commitment to her Christian principles has greatly influenced her leadership style in the business world.
“I choose to follow the standards that Larry and I set,” Gail said, “the values we espoused, and continue to do the things that we wanted to do in the community.”
Protecting and Expanding Utah’s Sports Culture
The Millers’ impact has extended far beyond boardrooms; it resonates in the heart of Utah’s sports culture. Involved heavily in fast-pitch softball in his younger years, Larry was an avid sports fan, and Gail shared the same passion.
“We always went to his tournaments,” she said. “Our kids were actually raised at the ballpark.”
Acquiring the Utah Jazz in 1986 marked the Millers’ foray into the world of professional sports (the Salt Lake City Stars, a minor-league team, would also fall under their ownership in 2006).
As the only professional-level sports team in the state until 2004, when Real Salt Lake was founded, the Utah Jazz are a big deal. In 2005, the Millers acquired the Salt Lake Stingers, a Triple-A minor league baseball team, and changed the franchise name to the Salt Lake Bees.
Under their stewardship, the Delta Center was constructed for the Jazz in the early 1990s and has been a boon for downtown Salt Lake City ever since.
In the late 1980s, there were fears that the Jazz would be sold and moved to a different state—the Millers are credited with saving the franchise and keeping it in Utah. Gail also played an instrumental role in securing Salt Lake City as the host for the prestigious NBA All-Star Game in 2023.
Philanthropy and Shaping the Community
Gail Miller has been thoroughly involved in philanthropy and charity. When her husband passed, she could have taken a step back. Instead, she stepped up and became more involved in the community. Her portfolio of public and private honors and charitable giving is extensive, and she spends much of her time in civic and educational pursuits.
Gail is the chair of the Larry H. Miller Family Foundation and also presides over the Larry H. Miller Education Foundation. She is the recipient of the Congressional Award Foundation’s Horizon Award and the Giant in Our City Award, and in 2012 she received the internationally recognized ATHENA Award. Both were awarded by the Salt Lake Chamber.
If that isn’t impressive enough, Gail is also the recipient of five honorary doctorate degrees, including degrees from the University of Utah, Salt Lake Community College, and Weber State University. She serves on the Shelter the Homeless board and the Zions Bank Advisory Board, and she is a member of both the University of Utah’s National Advisory Council and the President’s Leadership Council at Brigham Young University.
She is also co-chair of the Kem C. Gardner Institute at the University of Utah and authored the book Courage to be You: Inspiring Lessons from an Unexpected Journey—Larry also authored an autobiography entitled Driven.
Gail also serves as chair of the board of trustees for Intermountain Healthcare, a healthcare system located primarily in the Mountain West. And she has leadership roles in the Larry H. Miller Education Foundation and the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation, both of which are dedicated to nurturing educational opportunities and improving other aspects of the community.
Clearly, Gail Miller’s influence reaches far and wide across Utah and even beyond the borders of the Beehive State. She has done all she can to do all she can.
Gail Miller Knows What the Dream Is Really About
If you go onto the Forbes website, every person on the Forbes 400 has a self-made score. While it’s sometimes nice to note the degree to which someone made it “on their own,” this kind of perspective doesn’t truly embrace the American Dream. The Dream isn’t about forgetting everyone else and climbing the corporate ladder by yourself. It isn’t about refusing help. For those who received more help than others, their American Dream isn’t less valuable or less American. If anything, the concept of “self-made” is in some ways contrary to American values.
While we value independence, we also value community, togetherness, and family. Gail Miller climbed the ladder hand in hand with her husband Larry. Of course, after his death, she continued climbing without him physically by her side. But there is nothing more American than a happily married couple raising a family and prospering together.
Further emulating that commitment to marriage and comradery, after her husband Larry H. Miller died, Gail Miller married Salt Lake City attorney Kim Wilson, a widower himself.
Gail Miller really is a living testament to the power of marriage, faith, and family and to what can be achieved when we reach beyond ourselves to lift others. The American Dream and American communities are all about living beyond our own little bubbles, lifting others, and ensuring that everyone has a fair and equal opportunity to succeed.
“My life is really good. I’m very blessed. Even through the trials and the hardships, I recognize I’ve had so many blessings [I] can’t count them all. … I’m grateful for the gospel in my life, and I don’t know where I’d be without it—probably out there floundering.”