Gail Miller didn’t set out to write a religious book, but she ended up doing just that — albeit in a low-key, nonjudgmental way.
The owner of the Utah Jazz acknowledged that “there’s a lot of religion” in “Courage to Be You: Inspiring Lessons from an Unexpected Journey.”
“I didn’t intend that, but that’s who I am and it just came out,” Miller said.
She doesn’t write anything that sounds like a sermon. She does write of growing up a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, becoming inactive in that church after she married Larry H. Miller, and how they both returned to the faith — Larry more slowly than Gail.
It comes across like Gail Miller chatting about her life and the lessons she’s learned.
“It could be misconstrued to be preachy, but I didn’t want it to be,” she said. “I wanted it to be relatable.
“If you can benefit from it, great. If it means nothing to you, that’s OK, too.”
Jazz fever • Miller has a lot of things on her plate. A multibillion-dollar business. Thousands of employees. A husband, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And her new book.
But, 33 years after her late husband became an owner of the Utah Jazz, Miller admits she still gets anxious and excited when the NBA playoffs roll around.
“I do,” she said with a smile. “We play every year for one thing, and only one team gets it. And we came so close.”
(The Jazz made the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, only to lose to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.)
“I think we can do it again,” Miller said. “There are so many factors that come into play, you can’t count on any of them. You just have to do your best and let providence shine on you, I guess.”
Reluctant author • Miller is clear. She had no intention of writing a book.
“Well, I didn’t see any purpose in that. Larry included me in his book,” she said. “Our life together was what it was about, and he pretty much explained it. I just didn’t see the purpose in doing a book. Or how I could even do justice to writing a book.”
But after the publication of “Driven: An Autobiography” — which she helped complete after Larry’s death — her children talked her into sitting down for weekly interviews. After months of that, the Millers approached Deseret Book.
“I still wasn’t entirely convinced, but it worked out,” Miller said.
Not an autobiography • Miller tells a lot of stories about her life in “Courage to Be You,” but “Deseret Book really didn’t want an autobiography. They wanted something that women would relate to,” she said.
The result is 10 chapters on faith, marriage and motherhood, hard work, money, service, friendship, death, patience, success, and finding (and using) your voice.
It’s about “experiences that women could relate to,” Miller said. “And maybe they’ll feel good that I had gone through something that they’re going through — if I can do it, they can do it.
“Hence comes the courage to be whoever you are. That’s kind of how it got started.”
Courage to Be You: Inspiring Lessons from an Unexpected Journey
By Gail Miller with Jason F. Wright
Kiss me, Larry • Among the stories Miller shares in her book is the time when, as a ninth-grader, she “walked right up to” Larry in the hall of their junior high “and said the words that changed the course of our lives: ‘Kiss me, Larry.’”
“That was so not like me,” she said. “That took all the courage I had.”
No sugarcoating • Miller writes that there were times when she considered divorce and times when Larry did the same.
“Fortunately, we never thought about it at the same time,” she said.
No do-overs • In the book, Miller writes that she has “zero regrets,” then adds, “There are certainly things I would do differently.”
“That sounds contradictory, maybe,” she said, laughing. “But I can’t have regrets because I did the best I could. And I don’t want to go back and redo it.”
Miller said she would have “insisted my husband be a better husband,” and that she would’ve been a better wife and mother. “But I’d have to know more than I did then,” she added.
Smoke and fire • Miller writes that she met her second husband, Kim Wilson, years ago when they lived in the same LDS ward. And his house burned down. Twice.
She jokes that she makes sure there are batteries in their smoke detectors.
“Well, I was always in charge of the house, so it comes naturally,” she said with a smile.
Back to business • The young Gail Saxton, who grew up poor in Salt Lake’s Marmalade District, seems a long way from billionaire businesswoman Gail Miller. Even to Miller.
“I do have that thought now and then,” she said “But it happened gradually.”
Gail and Larry Miller looked at the money “as a stewardship rather than an ownership,” allowing them to “distance ourselves and have the satisfaction of having done it, without taking the credit for it.”
When Larry Miller bought his first car dealership in 1979, Gail figured that would be it.
“It’s really quite remarkable when you think that we started with one dealership and 30 employees, and now we have 65 dealerships and 11,000 employees. I just think — how on earth did we ever do this?” she said with a laugh. “I mean, we have 80 businesses.
“It was the genius of Larry. And he was pretty remarkable.”
Business challenges: When Larry Miller died in 2009, his widow considered turning the business over to others. Or selling it.
But she decided to maintain ownership. And in 2015, she created a new management structure. She heads a board made up of family members and others.
“I am the chairman of the board and I do oversee the companies,” Miller said. “I work with the CEO and stuff. I give direction, but I don’t make decisions. I have really good people that do that.”
Larry Miller intended that the company would “last 80 to 100 years … but he didn’t put the mechanism in place.” Gail Miller did, putting in place a “family governance … so that the company can continue when I’m gone and when the kids are gone. That’s what keeps me involved, not the day-to-day business.”
An unexpected journey • Gail Miller never envisioned herself as the chairman of a multibillion-dollar company. And her book isn’t about the business — it’s about the “unexpected journey” she takes that has led her to where she is.
“That’s what the book is about — the courage to step out of where I was,” Miller said.
She recounts how she and Larry had to go into debt to pay for a life-saving operation for their oldest son. They never took on personal debt again.
“Other than, we could’ve lost the business when we borrowed $8 million for the Jazz,” she said with a laugh. “That was pretty scary.”
But she also writes of how they saved up to buy a 20-inch black-and-white television. Relatable stuff.
“Money is not the important thing in life, it’s what you do with it that’s important,” Miller said. “And how you handle it.”
Business is pleasure • Miller said she’s been pleasantly surprised to discover that she enjoys being a businesswoman.
“It’s been exciting. I can see why Larry stayed late every night,” she said with a laugh. “And came in early every day. I mean, I was here the other night and I looked at the clock and I thought, ‘How’d it get to be 6 o’clock?’”
Get some counseling • Miller’s co-author, Jason F. Wright, “really pushed” her to include in the book her history with counseling. Not that she resisted.
“I would not have survived without counseling,” Miller said. “And I’m not ashamed of it.”
She encourages other women to seek counseling, saying it’s “a reflection of courage.”
“I had a great counselor, and he helped me a lot,” she said. “I learned a lot. And I became a fuller person. … I think people who go through counseling and do the work come out stronger in the end. And how can you feel bad about that?”
Feeling exposed • Miller never planned to be a public figure, and she isn’t entirely comfortable being one.
“In fact, having this book come out has been more difficult than I thought it would be — just because it is so open,” she said. “And people know everything about me now. It’s a little awkward.
“That sounds funny, because if you’re going to publish a book, you have to take what comes with it.”
Miller is relieved that “Courage to Be You” is being favorably received.
“If it had been bad, I would’ve felt horrible. I did all that and now you don’t like it?” she said with a laugh.