#168 Larry Miller Driven An Autobiography

Summary Notes


In "Driven: An Autobiography," Larry Miller candidly reflects on his rise from a Toyota parts manager to a successful entrepreneur, owning numerous businesses including the Utah Jazz. His relentless work ethic, driven by an initial fear of financial insecurity, propelled him to work 90-hour weeks for 20 years, prioritizing business success over family and health. However, Miller's story serves as a cautionary tale, with profound regrets over neglecting his wife and children, and his health deteriorating due to stress and poor lifestyle choices. Ultimately, Miller's autobiography underscores the importance of balance and the irrevocable cost of sacrificing personal life for professional achievement.

Summary Notes

Epiphany and Life-Changing Moment

  • Larry Miller experienced a pivotal moment in March 1971 that shaped his future.
  • Realizing the responsibility of supporting a growing family, he felt a sense of urgency to excel.
  • He committed to working long hours as a Toyota parts manager to ensure success.

"Here I was, 27 years old, married, with two children and one on the way, and I was responsible for raising and supporting those children, providing food and shelter and college and housing and much more while preparing for old age and retirement. And I realized I had nothing to fall back on."

This quote highlights Larry's sudden awareness of his responsibilities and the lack of a safety net, which motivated him to work harder and become exceptional in his role.

Work Ethic and Dedication

  • Larry Miller's work ethic was driven by his desire to provide exceptional service and outperform competitors.
  • His approach involved meticulous attention to systems and practices, aiming to control outcomes and excel in all facets of his job.

"I would simply outwork them. I would become so good that it could not be denied. I was obsessed with doing everything I could and accomplishing as much as I could."

This quote emphasizes Larry's determination to differentiate himself through hard work and excellence, which became a central theme in his life and career.

Consequences of Work Obsession

  • Larry Miller's autobiography serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of prioritizing work over family and health.
  • Despite his professional success, he acknowledges the personal sacrifices made along the way.

"All I did was work. And as a result of that, I neglected my wife, my kids. Everything came second to my work."

This quote reflects the regret Larry experienced for prioritizing work above his family, highlighting the importance of balance.

Larry Miller's Background and Rise to Success

  • Larry Miller's success is notable given his limited formal education and challenging family circumstances.
  • His determination and work ethic propelled him from a stockboy to a highly successful entrepreneur in Utah.

"99% of the people in Salt Lake City had done business with one or more services provided by Larry Miller. Not bad for a man who was a D student in high school and who attended college for only six weeks."

This quote illustrates the extent of Larry's influence in Salt Lake City and underscores his achievements despite a lack of formal education.

Business Ventures and Growth

  • Over 30 years, Larry Miller expanded his business portfolio to include a wide range of companies and became a prominent figure in Utah's business landscape.
  • His wife continued to run the Larry H. Miller Group after his death, maintaining its significant economic impact.

"Upon his death 30 years later, he owned movie theaters, auto dealerships, a world class racetrack, a movie production company, an advertising agency, ranches, restaurants, tv and radio stations, a real estate development company, an NBA franchise, a professional baseball team, an NBA arena, and sports apparel stores. Nearly 90 companies in all."

This quote details the diverse range of businesses Larry Miller owned, demonstrating his entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen.

Reflections on Failure and Success

  • Larry Miller emphasizes learning from failures and not repeating mistakes.
  • He shares his experiences and insights in his autobiography, hoping to guide others in their pursuits.

"It's a warning from the grave. Don't do, you could take the good, what I did, building the companies, because I do have some good ideas doing that, but don't repeat my failures."

This quote conveys Larry's intent to provide a balanced perspective on his life, acknowledging both his successes and the lessons learned from his failures.

Early Life Challenges and Drive for Independence

  • Larry Miller's difficult childhood and family relationships contributed to his drive for success and control over his destiny.
  • His experiences with a dysfunctional family environment and juvenile detention left a lasting impact on his desire for independence.

"I had experienced vulnerability, and I didn't like it."

This quote captures the essence of Larry's motivation to succeed and maintain control over his life, stemming from his adverse experiences as a youth.

Family Dynamics and Generational Change

  • Larry Miller's upbringing influenced his parenting style, which he later reflected upon and sought to improve with his grandchildren.
  • He acknowledges the importance of being present as a parent and role model, beyond just providing financial support.

"He didn't realize how important he was as a father and role model because he hadn't had parents who did that for him."

This quote reveals Larry's realization that his role as a parent involved more than just financial provision, highlighting the emotional and guidance aspects of parenting.

Perception and Recognition

  • Larry Miller's transformation from being seen as a "nerduel" to a respected and successful figure is a testament to his personal growth and achievements.
  • His in-laws' changing attitudes reflect societal perceptions of success and failure.

"Even after we were married, my mother in law didn't like me much. But this is where it shifts... after we became successful, she would sometimes introduce Gail as Larry Miller's wife."

This quote illustrates the shift in Larry's mother-in-law's perception of him, from disapproval to pride, as a result of his success, highlighting the societal value placed on success.

Champion Mindset

  • Bill Walsh's philosophy emphasizes that winners and champions adopt their mindset and behavior before their success becomes evident to others.
  • Most people misunderstand the sequence, believing success precedes a champion's mindset.
  • Belief and drive are integral to success and precede recognition from others.

"Champions behave like champions before they're champions."

This quote underlines the idea that the mindset and behaviors of champions are present before their achievements are publicly recognized, suggesting that mindset is a precursor to success.

Early Career and Odd Jobs

  • Larry Miller had a series of odd jobs after dropping out of college, which helped him understand what he did not want in a career.
  • These jobs included working in a book binder, framing houses, mixing concrete, delivery driving, and picking strawberries.
  • A pattern emerged from these jobs, leading to his discovery of a talent for creating efficient work systems.

"I wandered aimlessly through a series of odd jobs that taught me what I didn't want to do."

This quote reflects the period of uncertainty in Larry's career, where he engaged in various jobs that ultimately led him to realize his strengths and interests.

Discovery of Time and Motion Studies

  • Larry Miller identified his knack for improving productivity through time and motion studies before knowing the formal concept.
  • He applied this approach to his work, which involved repetitive physical labor, to increase efficiency.
  • This skill became a hallmark of his labor style and contributed significantly to his later success.

"I was practicing time and motion studies... it was simply a manifestation of my personality and would become the hallmark of my labor style."

This quote highlights Larry's innate ability to optimize work processes and foreshadows the impact this skill would have on his professional life.

Valuing Time as Capital

  • Larry Miller resonates with the idea that time is an evenly distributed form of capital that everyone possesses.
  • He emphasizes making the best use of time, which he did effectively in his work but not in other life areas, such as family and health.
  • The concept of time as capital is also shared by Chong Joo Young, who attributes his success to the efficient use of time.

"Time is a form of capital provided equally to everyone."

This quote encapsulates the philosophy that time, as a resource available to all, can be used effectively to achieve success.

Auto Industry Career and Promotion

  • Larry Miller gained experience in the auto parts industry, which led to promotions within dealerships.
  • Despite being taken advantage of by employers, he learned valuable lessons about employee treatment.
  • His performance in parts sales led to a rapid rise from 961st to the first place in the nation, demonstrating his innovative approach to expanding the market.

"Within a year, I was doing the hiring, firing, scheduling, and ordering of parts."

This quote shows the result of Larry's dedication and learning approach, which quickly elevated him to a leadership position.

Expansion of Market and Innovation

  • Larry Miller developed a national wholesale business to expand his market beyond the typical ten to 15-mile radius.
  • He actively sought business from body shops and independent mechanics instead of waiting for inbound inquiries.
  • His strategy is likened to William Randolph Hearst's media expansion, highlighting the importance of market expansion for business growth.

"I developed a national wholesale business."

This quote illustrates Larry's strategic thinking in growing his business beyond conventional boundaries.

Transition to General Management

  • Larry Miller was promoted to general manager due to his exceptional results, a position typically reserved for those in sales.
  • He learned to meld his mentor Gene's ideas with his own, which led to unique and effective business strategies.
  • His success as a parts manager led to further promotion, overseeing all five of the dealership's operations.

"I was going to do it, how Larry would do it. It was the dawn of a new era for me."

This quote signifies Larry's transition from following his mentor's methods to forging his path and leadership style.

Entrepreneurial Leap

  • Despite a successful career running multiple dealerships, Larry Miller's demotion due to nepotism spurred his move into entrepreneurship.
  • He purchased his first car dealership at age 35 with only $80,000 in the bank, leveraging loans to cover the $3.5 million price.
  • This move was risky but marked the beginning of his journey as a business owner.

"Sometimes we must take a step back before we can move forward in a way we would never have imagined."

The quote reflects the unexpected turn in Larry's career that led to his entrepreneurial success, emphasizing resilience and adaptability.

Leveraging and Risk Management

  • Larry Miller's approach to leveraging was extreme, at a ratio of 40 to one, far beyond the standard one to one or even two to one.
  • He was conscious of the risks involved, acknowledging that if things did not go his way, he could be wiped out.
  • His mindset was that he was betting on himself, showing confidence in his own abilities and decisions.

"I was about 40 to one. And this is very interesting. This is five words. This is how he thought about the loans. I was betting on myself."

The quote illustrates Larry's high-risk financial strategy, which was based on his self-confidence and the necessity of his actions for success.

Work Ethic and Mindset

  • Larry Miller attributed his professional success to hard work and continuous learning from both successes and failures.
  • He applied the knowledge he gained to improve and find better ways to do his job.
  • He valued excellence for its own sake, striving to do his best and learn as much as possible.

"There are a few great secrets to my professional success, just hard work and a conscious attempt to draw lessons from things that happened to me and around me, to learn everything I can about my job and find a better way to do it."

This quote summarizes Larry's philosophy towards work, emphasizing hard work, learning from experience, and continuous self-improvement.

Inspiration from Historical Figures

  • Larry Miller found inspiration in biographies, particularly identifying with John Adams after reading David McCullough's biography.
  • He admired Adams' contentment with life and work ethic, as well as McCullough's succinct writing style.
  • Miller also drew inspiration from Theodore Roosevelt's quote about daring mighty things rather than living in mediocrity.

"Miller considered John Adams a kindred spirit after reading David McCullough's biography of the man."

The quote reflects Larry's connection with historical figures who shared similar values and work ethics, influencing his own approach to life and business.

Shift in Motivation

  • Larry's initial motivation was fear, but as he experienced success, it shifted to exhilaration.
  • Success became intoxicating for him, and his motivation became success-driven.
  • He believed in meticulous work to control outcomes and was passionate about his work, which led him to work long hours and learn intensively.

"The insanely long hours that I work were driven by fear, as I've mentioned. But then the success became intoxicating."

The quote reveals the evolution of Larry's motivation from fear to the thrill of success, which fueled his intense dedication to his work.

Micromanagement and Regret

  • Larry praised micromanagement, believing it contributed significantly to his success.
  • He was hands-on in his approach, deeply involved in every aspect of his business ventures.
  • However, he later expressed regret for not spending more time on his health and family.

"I make or manage for years, and that was a great reason for my success."

This quote highlights Larry's belief in the value of micromanagement, though it later conflicted with his reflections on work-life balance.

Desire and Commitment

  • Larry noted that many people express desires but are not willing to put in the necessary time and effort.
  • He admired those who were willing to go to great lengths, like Sam Bronfman, who traveled by dog sled to secure a business deal.
  • Larry believed in being a generational inflection point, changing the direction of one's family for generations through hard work and dedication.

"A bunch of people say, I want to have and I want to be, but they're not willing to pay the price."

This quote emphasizes the difference between merely wanting success and being willing to work hard for it, a key to Larry's philosophy.

Lessons from Personal Experience

  • Larry remembered a lesson from his grandfather about always working hard, regardless of compensation.
  • His grandfather's advice was that working hard and learning would eventually pay off, focusing on personal growth rather than immediate rewards.
  • This lesson profoundly influenced Larry's work ethic and approach to business.

"I often remember the discussion with a grandpa that had such a profound influence on my life and the way I worked."

The quote reflects the significant impact of wisdom from older generations, shaping Larry's attitude towards work and effort.

Business Acumen and Negotiation

  • Larry learned to establish the worth of a business venture to himself and to stick with it, avoiding emotional bidding wars.
  • He emphasized making fair offers and not succumbing to pressure, a principle he used in many subsequent negotiations.
  • This approach helped him secure deals without overpaying, demonstrating his business acumen.

"Establish what something is worth to you, whether you're buying a hubcap or a large dealership, and then stick with it."

The quote encapsulates Larry's negotiation strategy, focusing on personal valuation and discipline in business transactions.

Nostalgia for Early Entrepreneurial Days

  • Larry expressed nostalgia for the early years of his entrepreneurial career when he had to be creative with financing due to a lack of traditional options.
  • Over time, he found less interest in day-to-day operations and more in bringing ideas to life and building things.
  • He missed the challenges and creativity required in the early stages of his business ventures.

"I love those early years of my entrepreneurial career. I miss them."

This quote highlights Larry's fondness for the formative years of his career, where his creativity and problem-solving skills were crucial.

Construction of the Delta Center

  • Larry was deeply involved in the construction of the Delta Center, focusing on details and deadlines.
  • He believed that things could always be done faster and pushed for efficiency in the construction process.
  • Larry's involvement in every aspect of the project, even down to the type of trees planted, demonstrated his meticulous approach.

"I thrive on work in the details. Instead of delegating as I should have, I dived into the minutiae of every project we undertook."

The quote illustrates Larry's hands-on approach and attention to detail, even in large-scale projects like the construction of the Delta Center.

Construction of the Delta Center

  • Larry Miller faced a significant financial challenge with escalating losses year over year.
  • He needed to complete the construction of a 20,000 seat arena before the 1991 season to avoid substantial losses.
  • The construction timeframe was extremely tight, with 16 months to complete what was typically a much longer project.
  • Initially, Miller had unrealistic expectations about the speed of the design phase.
  • The architect introduced him to the concept of fast-tracking, where design and construction happen simultaneously.
  • Despite challenges, including a two-week shutdown due to cold weather, the Delta Center was completed in a record time of 15 months and 24 days.

"I had to get the arena done before the start of the 1991 season or it would take those, those kind of losses."

This quote highlights the urgency and financial imperative behind the construction of the Delta Center.

"We built the arena in 15 months and 24 days, by far the fastest construction of a major arena in the United States."

This quote emphasizes the remarkable achievement of completing the arena construction in record time.

Larry Miller's Business Philosophy and Historical Parallels

  • Larry Miller's approach to business was influenced by historical examples, such as the Dodge brothers' determination to build a car factory within 18 months.
  • Miller believed in the importance of speed for success and did not accept conventional time limits.
  • He used historical examples as a motivation to challenge the status quo and accelerate processes.

"Most people don't understand that how important that speed is, like your success is a function of how fast you can go."

This quote reflects Miller's belief that speed is a critical factor in achieving success.

Personal Sacrifices and Family Impact

  • Larry Miller's work ethic led to professional success but also personal sacrifices.
  • He missed out on significant family events and moments due to his dedication to work.
  • Miller's absence had a negative impact on his children's upbringing and his relationship with his wife.
  • He later regretted not balancing work with family time and recognized the importance of being an emotional leader, not just a financial provider.

"I missed most of my children's youth. I missed ball games and science fairs and back to school nights."

This quote illustrates the extent of Miller's absence from his family's life due to his work commitments.

"The great irony of my life is that I originally began working those long hours to benefit my wife and kids, but I wound up hurting them."

This quote captures the unintended consequences of Miller's work-focused lifestyle on his family.

Health and Well-being

  • Larry Miller's neglect of his health had severe consequences, including diabetes and extreme fatigue.
  • His condition deteriorated after ignoring symptoms and failing to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
  • Miller's health crisis serves as a warning about the importance of self-care and the dangers of prioritizing work over well-being.

"I didn't even tell Gail that I had diabetes. I didn't want to admit that I had a problem, so I resisted doing anything about it."

This quote reveals Miller's initial denial and neglect of his health condition.

"The lesson, of course, is to take care of yourself, to make time to eat and sleep and exercise. I learned that too late."

This quote is a poignant reflection on the importance of self-care, which Miller realized only after suffering serious health issues.

Reflections on Life and Legacy

  • Larry Miller expressed deep regrets about his choices, particularly regarding family and health.
  • He acknowledged that certain mistakes, like missing out on his children's childhood, cannot be rectified.
  • Miller's story is a cautionary tale about the true cost of professional success and the importance of prioritizing time with loved ones and personal health.

"Mine is a cautionary tale. I missed all those years in my family, and I can't have them back."

This quote is a somber admission of the irreversible nature of Miller's choices and their impact on his family life.

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life."

This quote, attributed to Steve Jobs, encapsulates the importance of mortality awareness in prioritizing life's choices, a lesson echoed in Miller's reflections.

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