Gail is an American billionaire businesswoman and chairwoman of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies. She is the owner of the Utah Jazz NBA team, and the wealthiest person in Utah. Gail is also chairwoman of the Salt Lake Community College and a leading philanthropist.
On this podcast we are able to hear her story and feel the emotion and integrity created by a life of work and service. I hope you enjoy it, I really think you’ll love it.
3:00 – What life’s about
5:30 – Who Gail is and what she does
10:57 – The unexpected journey
17:46 – What you want to pass on to the next generation
24:30 – The desire to be philanthropic
33:55 – Why she wrote the book
38:00 – Roller skating dream
46:50 – Gifts coming in through the skylight
55:40 – The 3 most common things that cause conflict in marriage: money, sex, children
59:00 – Lightning round
1:06:00 – Parents advice that stayed with her: Be your best self
1:06:42 – The writing process
1:07:35 – Being free in your thinking
1:08:25 – Never thought she would publish a book—didn’t feel she had anything important to say
1:10:14 – Rhythm replaces strength
1:17:50 – Family is her greatest accomplishment
1:19:10 – Cannot have balance in all things—need to have focus to receive the expected result
1:22:00 – Meaningful connections with spouse and children—give to each the time each needs
1:23:50 – A virtuous woman
Bryan: Let’s start with the question, what’s life about?
Gail: That is a deep question. I think life is about different things for different people. For me for a long time, it was joyful. Being a child was a great adventure. I had all the freedom to roam and play and create and make friends and be care-free, thinking that everyone else was having the same experience. Then there was the dating years, which were also care-free, and then came love and marriage. That became an eye-opener that life is about more than just you, and it causes you to think more deeply about what it is about, so for me, there were a lot of different stages, and as I look back today, the stages kind of fall into two categories, life with Larry and life after Larry.
Life with Larry was raising a family, making sure they had all the tools they needed to become productive, wonderful people. Of course they came that way. They were wonderful when they were born, and then life after Larry was figuring out who I was without him.
Bryan: Maybe before we even talk about Larry, let’s talk about you.
Gail: When people ask me who I am and what I do, I think one of the first thoughts is I’m a late bloomer. I spent a lot of my life serving others and making sure the world was a comfortable place [inaudible 00:05:53] knows that we’re in it, had what they needed. I was a caregiver. Today, I am … Gosh. I’m a woman. I’m a wife. I’m a mother, and I’m a businesswoman.
Bryan: For people who are listening who maybe don’t know you, don’t know our family, or don’t know Larry, why don’t you say just a little about him.
Gail: Well, life before Larry was 50 years, so from the age of 12 to … Actually 52 years, from age to 12 to when he died. That’s 52 years, right? That’s really the majority of my experience, and during that time, I grew up. I became a mother. I became … I worked. I served in the church. I played sports. I guided my children. I supported a very successful husband. I don’t know how you tie all of that up into one package because when you ask what life’s all about, it’s about everything you do. I often think of it as a patchwork quilt, and that meaning that each experience you have is part of a pattern of what you become, and you can make it light, beautiful, and fluffy and comforting, with a few little clouds in the corner here and there that represent the things you’ve come through that have made you better, so who I am today is a combination of all of those things, plus the nine years that I’ve lived since he passed.
Bryan: Let’s just turn for a minute to the discussion about what you built together, and if you were to describe that kind of journey, if you were to encapsulate it, I know it’s almost a four decade journey in business together, and almost the last decade without him, but how would you describe … You said that you’re a businesswoman, but what has that journey been like, what have you built, and what has it been like?
Gail: Well, I can explain that, but I think I’d like to go back for just a minute in the description about me and what my life’s been like and how I would describe me, and I just realized I used no adjectives. For instance, I’m loving, I’m kind, I’m giving, I’m patient, I’m compassionate, I’m selfless, and I think it’s important for us to see ourselves in specific emotional terms, because that’s how we relate to people. A lot of people say, “You’re very calm. You’re very easy to be around. You have a calming influence.” I think in describing myself, important to know that there are a lot of things about me that everyone has, but we often overlook them and go onto the tasks that we’ve accomplished, and we need to not … I don’t want to be preachy, but I think we need to not define ourselves only by what we’ve accomplished, but by who we really are, so that takes care of that part.
Bryan: I really want to be sure we get to is about how that journey of building your business and raising a family and living has led you to the book that you wrote, so this book, Courage to Be You: Inspiring Lessons from an Unexpected Journey.
Gail: Well, the unexpected journey certainly is the journey I’m taking since my husband passed away, since your dad, because I have always been very content to let him be the one to go out and earn a living and slay the dragons. In fact, I’d walk him to the door quite often in the morning and say, “Thank you for doing what you do so I can do what I do,” and I was a stay-at-home mom. I took care of the house, the kids, everything that was needful of my attention while he was out making a living. So the unexpected journey was after he passed away, I had a choice of … The realization I had was, “Okay, he’s not here anymore. I have to figure out who I will be, who I am, without him,” because after 50-something years, you’re pretty intertwined with a person, and I didn’t want to just be left by the wayside as, “Okay. Larry’s gone. Gail’s gone.” I knew that there would be a period of time where I had to figure out who I was alone, without him, and my first thought was, “Well, it’ll take me about a year to get disentangled from all of the things we’d done together, and work, and the identity that we have together, had start building my own.” Right behind that thought was, “Okay. We built this company together. How do I handle that? What is the future of that?”
I realized that I could either sell it and retreat into a private world, or continue to move forward and not let our legacy die with him. I chose the latter because we had done so many interesting things, and so many important things that affected thousands and thousands of people, so my choice to continue with the legacy took a very different turn than I thought it would in that I became more and more involved in what was going on in the daily life of the work world, and as I did that, I realized, “Okay. Now I can see why he stayed late at night and made sure everything was done. It’s quite dynamic.” It’s never boring. There’s something interesting going on every minute, and so the more I got involved the more I realized this was a whole different life than what I had been used to and what I had done in the past, and my opportunity to do things I’d never done before was quite exhilarating.
Bryan: What were some of the things that you were able to do that you hadn’t done before?
Gail: Larry had been quite public and done a lot of speaking and a lot of philanthropic things, and a lot of social interaction with people, and a leader and a teacher, and I had watched him all those years, and really learned from him the importance of not hiding your candle under a bushel, and so some of the things, the ideas that I picked up where he left off, and I started doing speeches. I started meeting with bankers, business meetings, learning more about that. I started being more in the light, more in the public image of the company.
I would talk about health issues to the employees, how important it was to take care of yourself, and then of course, the big one with you was the culture piece, to help preserve the mission, vision, values that we had been built on, and I could see very clearly that it wouldn’t take long before the base of our employees had changed so much that not very many people had that foundation to understand who we were and what we were all about, and so it was quite exciting to work with you to build that piece, and then make sure that it became part of who we are [inaudible 00:18:55]. Interestingly enough, as those things grew and I was able to have more confidence and be more vocal, then the community took note of what I was doing, and how I was conducting myself, and then I started getting requests to be on committees and be on boards, and so my civic interaction became more pronounced and quite exciting, because that’s a world I had not been in at all, but I had watched Larry do.
Bryan: If you were to speak to somebody who’s a parent, they’re a parent or they’re maybe a businessperson and they’re looking to be able to pass on whatever it is they’ve built in their life, even if it’s not a multi-billion dollar group of companies, what do you say to somebody who really wants to preserve or pass on the things they’ve devoted their life to?
Gail: I think it’s really important to understand first of all what it is that you want to pass on. I think you have to know why it’s important and what’s important about it that is worth preserving, and then if you don’t know how to do it, you have to ask for help. The thought, just having the thought that it’s important enough to pass on really does warrant further action, and if you need someone else to help you see a pathway to making that happen, there’s nothing wrong in that.
Bryan: Something I think about in my life as I’ve studied different cultures and I’ve looked at our family’s experience and I’ve looked at the typical experience of many Americans and people who don’t have a will prepared, they haven’t given a lot of thought to their estate plan, they maybe don’t have a healthcare directive, these kinds of basic things that I think would benefit just about every family, and then I see, like when I studied in Japan and I saw that Japanese companies, even as recently as a few decades ago, they would plan in terms of hundred-year cycles, even 200, 250 years, and it seems kind of crazy to me because I think it can be challenging enough to know what life’s going to look like next year, and if you look at some indigenous tribes that will talk about seventh generation thinking, and here in America, especially where publicly traded companies are looking for the next quarter’s results, they’re looking 90 days out, and any company or maybe any family that has a five-year plan, that seems like a long-term horizon.
Part of what I’ve really appreciated about your thinking and about dad’s thinking is looking out as far as 100 years and saying really, “What is it that we want to pass on?” And not just, “How do we want to be remembered?” But, “How do we want to pass the blessings that we have forward?” I think that’s really cool.
Gail: Thank you. It’s a challenge because as you said, it’s hard enough to look out five years, and I think today it’s even harder with all of the electronic advances that are going on and the changes in business, the way products are changing and the way companies are being run, and even the workforce is changing and the things they want are different than what my generation wanted. I was looking for security. They’re looking for adventure, and so taking everything into consideration, trying to plan for the future is almost like punching jello because you don’t really have any constants that you can count on, and yet, on the other hand, human nature is human nature, and we all want security and we all want to be able to plan for the future and know what’s coming, and so there’s a push/pull effect there with trying to understand what it’s going to be like.
Bryan: I’ve had people tell me about this experience that’s common kll, that there comes a point in life where it’s natural to start looking towards … We kind of switch our orientation from looking to the future to … I mean, we still look to the future, but maybe more we’re reflecting on the past, and I’m wondering if that’s something that you’ve experienced in your own life.
Gail: That’s a very interesting observation. For me, I don’t know that I look to the past a lot because the past is the past and there’s so many exciting things in the future, things that weren’t in the past, so looking forward is much more exciting than looking back. The part that’s hard for me is knowing that I have an undefinable amount of time life.
Bryan: Which is true for all of us.
Gail: Well, it is, but it doesn’t become as much of a reality until you get to where I am, but when I realized that it was something I had to deal with, then I started taking inventory of my life and thinking, “What are the things that are still ahead of me? What are the things that I want to accomplish?” And looking a little bit backwards about the things that I didn’t get completed. Are they still important? And I realized one day maybe 10 years ago that even though I was a wonderful seamstress, I was probably never going to sew again, so you start crossing things off your list, and I gave all my fabric away, knowing that there were other things that were more important to me that I wanted to spend my time doing. Can I quit crying? It was a combination of changes in my life where I don’t have people I need to sew for. I don’t have the need to sew for myself because I can buy whatever I need. I have a finite amount of time that I want to use differently, and yes, there were specific things that came into my life, into the future realm of what I want to do.
For instance, I want to be philanthropic. I want to have an impact on the community, and that’s the change in my life from where I ever thought I would be as a wife to a very successful businessman. I was content to let him be in the spotlight and do all the things he did and just be there for him when he needed a safe place to retreat to and be a companion, but now that he’s gone and I’ve taken over the responsibility of preserving and perpetuating this legacy that we built together, that’s where my efforts are better used than sitting in front of a sewing machine. They’re much more important at this time in my life, but when I was sewing, that was the most important, so we have trade-offs. We have things that we have to look at and determine in the big picture of my life, how can I make the most of my time at this point?
Bryan: With the undefined amount of time that you have remaining, what are you sure that you want to accomplish, and, two part question, how do you want to be remembered?
Gail: The first part of your question is a little bit hard to answer because time does change things. I want to complete the project that I took on in the corporate governance, family governance, and the legacy aspect of what we created together, and provide a future for those in my family who decide they want to take that road and be associated with the company. As far as how I want to be remembered, there is a scripture, and I think it’s Proverbs 30, verse 10, and goes on from there, about a virtuous woman, and I want to be remembered as a virtuous woman because it’s pretty all-encompassing if you read that scripture.
Bryan: What does it mean to you?
Gail: It means that I lived well, that I accomplished important things, and that my family loves me. Bryan, if you weren’t my son, I wouldn’t be crying like this.
Bryan: Well, hearing your description of what it means to be a virtuous woman, I think you’ve got that box checked.
Gail: Well, I don’t know if it’s important that other people know it, but I know it.
Bryan: I think that’s beautiful. One of the things that I’ve come to believe over the last few years as I’ve studied coaching, is that very often, people have the thing they think they want, but they don’t recognize themselves as having it, so many people think that success will come in some future, some kind of ambiguous future that’s undefined and hard to describe, and that very question about how will you know when you’ve done that or how will you know when you’ve achieved what you say you want, often … First of all, many people don’t know what they want. They can’t tell you that much. They have no problem telling you what they don’t want, but I know many people struggle to define what they want, and even if they can tell you what they want, I think it’s often hard for people to quantify it, to be able to measure it.
There’s even a third step beyond that is even if you can measure it, like acknowledging, “Okay. I have achieved that thing. I have,” for you, maybe invented a future and the family’s responded and all that, but anyway, for what it’s worth as I just said, for your own description, I hope that you have the sense of being that very thing because I certainly think you are.
Gail: Well, that’s success in itself. Thank you.
Bryan: Not that what I think matters all that much.
Gail: Of course it matters. Probably more than anyone else’s opinion. But I think you’re right. I think the secret to life is enjoying your journey, and each step you take as you take it, because even if it’s hard, there’s benefit in it. Everything you do brings a fullness to your life, whether now or late. It all becomes one package and it is the fullness of who you become. You can’t do just good things. You can’t do just bad things. You have to have a mix and a cross section of life to become a complete and whole person, and if you can enjoy the journey as you take it and not always look for something out there to make you fulfilled or to bring you that success as you think, you really do have it right here in the palm of your hand as you’re walking your life’s journey. It’s always there.
Bryan: I do remember a time when I was raising children. It was very difficult because most of the time I was doing it alone without the benefit of a husband who was involved in family, the emotional aspect of things, and the thought crossed my mind, “I just need somebody to tell me what to do. Isn’t there anybody that will tell me how I handle this and where I go from here? What can I do here?” I realized right behind that, there’s nobody going to come and tell me how to handle this problem or how to take care of this issue. I have to do that on my own and then I began to see that that is the journey.
That is the accomplishment that you have, is figuring it out and working towards it without getting discouraged and knowing there are going to be hard things, but they are growing experiences, and I probably all my life, I think, that I have been able to look at challenges and difficulties and see the good in them even though they were hard, see how they made me grow and how they gave me perspective on life and wisdom and experience [inaudible 00:41:57] no other way, that if I embraced them, made me a better person.
Bryan: How old do you think you were and where were you in the stage of having and raising children when you had that, realized there’s no help coming?
Gail: It was after my fourth one, so it wasn’t you.
Bryan: That makes sense that it was before me because my experience of growing up with you as my mom is that there wasn’t anything you didn’t know and there wasn’t anything you couldn’t do.
Gail: I appreciate that and I remember you saying that, and I thought, “I hope I never fail this boy.”
Bryan: It’s been fun for me to have that, and I still feel that way, by the way.
Gail: Thank you.
Bryan: I still feel that. Let’s shift to a few questions about this book, about Courage to Be You: Inspiring Lessons from an Unexpected Journey. Who did you write this book for and what did you want it to do for them?
Gail: I really wrote the book for you, Bryan, because you encouraged me. Not that the content was for you, but because you encouraged me to write the book. I thank you for that. It’s been a very interesting experience, something I would never have finished or accomplished without your encouragement.
Bryan: Thank you. In a way, it feels kind of unfair that you listened to me for all the years I didn’t listen to you.
Gail: No. I think you listened. You’ve been a good son, a very good son.
Bryan: Thank you.
Gail: I wrote the book because I had been encouraged by several people to share my life’s experiences so that other women could have the benefit of seeing they weren’t alone, that the things women go through are not universal but common, and that we can be a help to each other through the way we handle things, the way we look at life, the shared common experiences, and take comfort in knowing that it’s not a permanent thing, that we could get through each difficulty. In the beginning, it was very hard for me to see that what I had to say would have any benefit to anyone else because all I could see was the difficulty that I’d gone through, and I didn’t know how to put a lesson with it or a benefit to it that others could feel and internalize. I knew what it did for me, but I didn’t see that anyone else could benefit by it, so-
Bryan: Let me just interject right there and ask, have you since come to see, or maybe you saw this before, is that simply sharing your experience, even if you’re not intentionally attempting to make a point or teach a lesson, can benefit others?
Gail: It’s been incredible. The response to this book is just … I’m so glad that it’s been good because if it had been bad, I would’ve been crushed, but I’ve had men and women both come and say, “I learned so much. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for being so honest and open and for letting us see that there is a way through a problem or a difficulty.” It’s just been overwhelming to me, how many women need to know they’re not alone, that there are people who’ve done it and come through it and they’re okay, and that they can, too.
Bryan: Yeah. It’s powerful. Humans, it’s just something that I still don’t like to admit about the fact that we need each other.
Gail: We do. We absolutely do.
Bryan: It’s easy to see with an infant that will die if you don’t feed it or care for it. It’s easy then, but once we reach a certain point, maybe 15 years-old or so, we can survive on our own, but just physically surviving is not the same as really emotionally thriving or truly, so I’m so glad that you wrote this book for others and that it’s having this impact.
Gail: Thank you. I’m grateful, too. I think it’s been quite an experience for me. It’s been validating, and yet it’s been embarrassing because people are so nice about it, and I feel like, “Wow, I don’t deserve that,” but if it’s helpful, I’m grateful for that. One thing I did learn after Larry died was that we really can’t hide away. We have to take on the challenges before us because if we don’t, who will? Not everyone will see the particular challenge that we have, and so it may get neglected or not fulfilled, and it takes all of us to make the world a better place, and as you said, we need each other. We really do.
Bryan: One of the things that really struck me as this book came together was, and as I’ve been your son and seen parts of your life, to see the impact that dreams have played, or the role they’ve played, or the impact they’ve had in your life, in dad’s life, and specifically there’s a couple that I wonder if you’d be willing to talk about, one being the dream that you had about rollerskating, and to relate the dream and what its significance was to you.
Gail: Okay. This is a dream that I had when I was a very young girl. When I was five years-old, the one thing I wanted the most in the world was a pair of rollerskates, and I knew we didn’t have much money. We were quite poor, and as most of the people in our neighborhood were, mainly because my parents married in 1928, had their first child in ’29, and then four more children during the depression, so they were behind the eight ball from the very beginning, and I was the sixth child and they weren’t doing much better by then, but I wanted these rollerskates, and somehow my mother was able to get them for me, and so I spent all of my time rollerskating, and when I wasn’t rollerskating, I was dreaming about rollerskating, and we lived a half a block from the school, the grade school that I went to, and it was just a slight downhill curve in the sidewalk, and I could rollerskate down that and pick up speed and get to the bottom, it flattened out, and it was so exhilarating to be able to do that.
As I did that, I began dreaming about it, and I don’t know if I realized that we were poor and I wanted to be able to have money, but in my dream, the sidewalk was just strewn with coins. There were nickels, dimes, quarters, pennies, but not so many that I couldn’t rollerskate over them, so as I rollerskated down this hill, I could stoop down and scoop up the money and get pocket-fulls of change, and it was so fun to be able to have something of worth in my pockets, so that’s the way that dream came about, and interestingly enough, I don’t think it was the money that was important. It was being able to be like other people and know that we could have some of the things other people had, and I didn’t necessarily want it for myself. I always went home and said, “Look what I found.”
As I grew up, we never had much, but I was a very independent person and I found ways to earn money babysitting, and got a job in high school, and where sewing came in, I wanted to have the same kind of clothes other people did, but my mother always taught me how important it was to have the core values be your guide, and so I didn’t ever covet money. I just wanted to be well-dressed, clean, competent, regarded as a good person.
Bryan: Even that, I think you would say something about your mom, would say, “We might be poor.”
Gail: She did. She’d say, when she’d get perturbed at me for certain things, she’d say, “We might be poor, but we’re our children of God, and we don’t have to be dirty,” or she wanted to convince me to wear clean clothes or present a good image, so it was her that really made me understand that it wasn’t money that was the value, it was being the best person you could be, and as I grew up, I never ever intended to be wealthy. It wasn’t a goal of me, but as life would have it, I turned out to be very wealthy through the efforts of my husband and myself as we created a company, and there came a point where we … Larry would teach at BYU and he taught entrepreneurial perspective, and he volunteered his time, and then once every semester, he would invite me to come and team teach with him, and I would take three hours and the students would bring their spouse, and I would talk about what it was like to be married to an entrepreneur.
There was always one question that came up, and it was, “Now that you can buy or have anything you want, what would you buy?” The first time it threw me off guard because I never had had that thought that, “Wow, I could buy everything I want if I wanted to,” but the answer that came to mind was, “There isn’t one thing I want.” It wasn’t that I had everything. It was that money was not the value. It was being a good person, helping others understand how to be good people, sharing the talents I had, sharing my knowledge, whatever it was that was real to me rather than money, so I think as I grew from that poor little girl to a wealthy entrepreneur and philanthropist, my core values have stayed very much the same. I don’t put an emphasis on worldly things. It’s what’s inside of us that counts. It’s the values that we have. It’s the outlook and the way we can help other people that really means something to me, and if I were poor today, I think I could get along just fine.
I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich, and it’s a whole lot more fun to be rich, but it isn’t where my heart is, so I don’t think that’s what makes me who I am.
Bryan: In a way, I think it’s really a blessing to have … I haven’t grown up without money, although growing up I remember going to the grocery store and wanting to put a quarter in a video game or wanting to buy a bouncy ball or candy out of the machine and you saying, “We don’t have money for that.” It wasn’t, “We can’t afford it,” but it was this explanation, “We don’t have money for that.” There was something in what you said. I guess the way to describe it is I almost envy that you have had the experience of growing up without money, whereas although it was not my experience that we grew up wealthy, in fact, it wasn’t that at all. I remember when I was in high school, my first car was a four year-old Corolla, and many of my friends had brand new 4Runners or BMWs and they had jet skis and four-wheelers and cabins, and we didn’t have that, so of course I wasn’t privy to the business finances or even our family’s finances and I had no idea that we were probably much better off than they were, but we didn’t live like it, and I think there’s something really celebrated about the rags to riches story or the self-made man or woman that is really like …
It’s kind of a hero’s journey, and so to say that that’s not something I’ve had the opportunity to do, and really, we’re all born in whatever circumstance we’re born in, and we get to play the hand we’re dealt, and I think about a story I collected when I wrote Behind the Drive where dad took a friend to the arena when it was under construction, and as they sat there kind of observing the magnitude of this risk that you and dad were taking, and his friend said, “How can you do this? How can you stand this?” His answer was something like, “I’ve been poor before and I know what it’s like, and if this all failed, in a way, I’d be okay with it,” so this idea that we have something to lose, if we live with this belief that we have something to lose, it might prevent us from taking a risk or fully expressing ourselves, and so I just think that’s interesting in what you’re saying. The other question that I wanted to ask about dreams while we’re exploring that topic is the one about … The one that led you and dad to pay tithing, and to preface this briefly by saying that in my life journey, one of the things that I keep my eyes out for is this correlation between extraordinary financial success and generosity, and even when I look at the life of the Rockefellers and John D. Rockefeller who was the son of a very successful industrialist and didn’t necessarily want to follow in his dad’s footsteps, and instead focused on giving, not trying to run the business, not trying to be his dad, but doing what maybe came naturally to him and using the resources and the blessings and the opportunities that he was privileged to have in service to others in a different way. Will you talk about that? This is the one about … I’m sensitive because-
Gail: It’s fine. Tithing is not just a Mormon thing. It’s a religious thing that God has asked all ages to tithe, and it’s a way of showing that you recognize your gifts come from him and you’re willing to keep 90% of it and give him back his 10 in acknowledgement for what he’s done for you, at least that’s my view of tithing, and we didn’t tithe for a long time. In our marriage, we were actually not even active in our faith until we started having children, and Larry had this dream. We had a condo up in Park City and in the condo, the first room you walked into was a double-story room, and in the very high ceiling, there was a skylight, and it was very bright. It gave a lot of light to the room, and when you came in the front door, you passed a platform that had a dining room table on it, and stepped down into the living room, and to the right was the kitchen. The skylight was over the living room, and we were sitting there in the dream, and the doorbell rang.
Larry got up to answer the door, and we weren’t expecting anyone, but as he passed the dining room table, there was a gift on the table wrapped in white paper with a white bow. He instinctively knew that whoever was at the door was there to get that gift, so he picked it up, answered the door, and gave the person the gift. Closed the door, turned around, came back, sat down, and the doorbell rang again. Well, on the table, there were two more gifts and he answered the door and gave them the gifts, and every time he’d come back and sit down, there would be more gifts, and pretty soon they were coming through that skylight and filling the room, and there were so many gifts that as we gave them away, we got more and more until we couldn’t even handle them.
The room was full and he related that to the lesson of giving tithing, that once you tithe, your life becomes abundant in whatever you’re looking for, whether it’s wealth or piece of mind or contentment or service or whatever it is that’s important to you, you’re entitled to the blessings that you’re looking for. Now, we were not looking for wealth. We were looking for peace of mind and being able to handle our lives in a way that we could live satisfying lives. We were having many decisions to make. We were having problems, some with each other, some with our children, challenges at work, and so tithing became the answer. This was a message to us that if you tithe, you will have answers to your needs, answers to the questions you’re looking for, and it was a symbol of your life will become so rich in the ways you’re looking for that you won’t be able to handle it.
Now, I hate to relate that as that’s why we’re wealthy, because I don’t believe it is. We’re wealthy because we’re good stewards of the wealth that we have, and we don’t keep it all to ourself. We use it in a philanthropic way. Those two things didn’t come together at the same time, but we realized that what we had really didn’t belong to us. It was like a tithing. We were given responsibility for that 90% that Heavenly Father allowed us to keep, had to learn to do good things with it, and it wasn’t immediately that we connected the two. I remember there was a time Larry came to me and he said, “We have worked so hard and so long and done so much to shore up the company so that it’s financially stable.” We had put all our money back into it. We had lived frugal lives. That’s when you said, “We don’t have money for that.” We were doing other things with our money.
Bryan: Every last quarter.
Gail: There came a point where Larry said, “Okay. We now can start taking some of the excess money and use it to do good things with.” Not for ourself, but for others who needed help, and as we did that, we became more and more successful. More business came our way. More opportunities came our way, and so in my mind, the two are very much connected, that the more you give away, the more you get.
Bryan: I have so many thoughts from this as well, and I want to be sure to include a part that I’ve heard you share before about after having that dream when dad talked to you and said-
Gail: Oh, yes. He did say … This was after meeting with the bishop in our ward, and he came home one night and he said, “Starting on January 1st, I want you to start paying tithing on my paycheck and don’t ever ask me about it again.” He did not want to be tempted to change his mind, and he never did change his mind.
Bryan: What year
Gail: That was 1979.
Bryan: So in 1979, the year that you went into business for yourselves-
Gail: That was January. We bought our first dealership late April and started running it on May 1st.
Bryan: Which you didn’t know in January that you would have the opportunity to buy that in April, and you were able to. It sure seems like a mighty coincidence.
Gail: It does, but that’s not the only coincidence. The fact is that the man we were working for had five dealerships that Larry was overseeing, and eight sons. Between January 1st and April 21st, I don’t know exactly or what day, he came to Larry and said, “Larry, I’ve got eight sons, five dealerships. I want my boys to take over the business when I’m gone. Will you take them, a couple of them, and teach them the car business?” That was like writing on the wall. “I’m not going to be here because these are going to the boys, so what am I going to do?” And then we came to Utah for a vacation, so all of those things started falling in place. I’d like to say it was because we were asking for help through paying tithing, and I believe it. Larry believed it. You can make your own conclusion, but things changed for us dramatically right away.
Bryan: One of the things that I really like about this as well, I think it can be easy to look at the past through the filter of the present and to collapse 40 years of life and think, “Oh, the narrative goes like this. They went into business. They worked hard. Maybe they got lucky, and then they were really successful, and then they started sharing,” where if you look at it, the way you’re describing it, it wasn’t that way at all. There was this decision very, very early on, or even proceeding going into business for yourself, and then this magnificent expression grew from that.
Gail: That’s true. As I described Larry saying, “Now we can start doing philanthropic things,” that wasn’t really the beginning. That was the beginning of being able to do big things, or significant things, but we had always been serving and giving, and I remember living in Colorado early ’70s, and Larry had an employee call him and say, “I need $300. Do you have that much money you can loan us?” Well, we had $300 in our savings, which was all we had been able to save, and Larry asked [inaudible 01:08:50] give to this guy, and we did, and he never paid it back. We were giving when we had very little to give, and not expecting it. Of course he said he’d pay it back, but it didn’t stop us from continuing to help wherever we could in small ways.
Bryan: Well, what that makes me think of is how relationship therapists will talk about the three most common things that cause conflict in marriages. Money, sex, children.
Gail: We had all three.
Bryan: How was it that you were able to remain married and navigate life through all that?
Gail: Well, it goes back to the way we were raised, what we had when we were growing up. Larry’s family was a little bit better off than ours, and his dad did have a steady job, not a high-paying job, but at least a steady income, but very humble, and my family, you didn’t ever know if you were going to have dinner on that night, and so our outlook on money was if you have it, great, if you don’t, it’s okay. We didn’t want money to define us, and so money was not the issue. It was what we could do as people that was important to us, and so having the same outlook on money solved a lot of problems that way.
If I had wanted a lot of trinkets or toys or campers or things you said we didn’t have, if I had wanted those and insisted on having them, or if Larry had, and I didn’t have the money for the things I needed to do, we would’ve had a hard time, but luckily [inaudible 01:11:07] same way that money was just a tool to do good things with, and we never wanted a lot of worldly things. We wanted to be comfortable and we always did have a comfortable home, and we had sufficient for our needs, but we didn’t have excess. We used that in different ways.
Bryan: One thing I want to be sure to ask about is something that I heard you say you learned as a girl that had an impact or maybe even in some ways guided your life, and before I ask about it, I do want to comment on how amazing it is that a belief, a single belief can have such an impact on the way we live or the quality of our life or the direction of our life or whatever, and so I’m wondering if this is one of those for you, the one about greet the day with a song. Will you talk about that? Where you learned it, what it means for you, the impact it’s had.
Gail: It was a saying that as a child, I learned in church. In fact, we did a cross stitch wall-hanging with these words on it, and I was probably 10 or 11, maybe 12 when I did it, and the sayings were, “Greet the day with a song. Make others happy. Serve gladly.” It wasn’t until much, much later in my life I was reminiscing and thinking, “Why do I have the attitude I have? Why do I always want to be happy? Why do I want to make others happy? What is it about serving that fulfills me?”
Bryan: How old were you when you were reflecting back?
Gail: I was probably 30 years-old.
Bryan: About 30. Okay.
Gail: Long time. Then I realized that’s my foundation. That’s what I learned as a little girl was important and it brought me joy, and it had stuck with me all my life, and still does. I think those are three things that make a happy life.
Bryan: Okay. I want to go to the lightning round.
Gail: Here we are. We got through the crying.
Bryan: The questions here I have written as concisely as I can. You’re welcome to answer as long as you want. Question number one, and I’m going to qualify this, I’m learning from experience. Using an answer other than a box of chocolates, please complete the following sentence, life is like a …
Gail: Life is like an adventure. There is always something new around the corner.
Bryan: I like that. Number two. Tell me something you wish you were better at.
Gail: Tell you something I wish I were better at. I wish I were better at being organized and being able to … I’m good at setting goals and I’m fairly good at meeting them, but the path between the thought and the completed goal is really rocky. I’d like to be able to do that better.
Bryan: Okay. Next question. If you were required every day for the rest of your life to wear a T-shirt with a slogan on it, or a phrase or a saying or a quote or a quip, what would the shirt say?
Gail: First of all, I hate shirts that have sayings on them, so that would be very hard for me, but it would be something positive. Maybe my little [inaudible 01:15:41] with a song, make others happy, serve gladly.
Bryan: Cool. What book have you gifted most often?
Gail: Probably my own. I don’t give books a lot. I think reading is a very personal thing, so I don’t do that a lot. I’ve given The Gift of the Sea. Is that-
Gail: Lindbergh. A fair amount.
Bryan: Why have you given that book?
Gail: I think it’s a woman’s perspective on life and it’s just fun to see what other women think, and I’ve often heard women say, “Oh, that’s my favorite book.” That’s why. It’s not my favorite book. I don’t know that I have a favorite book.
Bryan: There’s so many great ones.
Gail: There are.
Bryan: You travel a lot. What’s one thing you do, maybe something you do or something you bring with you, when you travel that makes your travel less painful or more enjoyable?
Gail: These are very thought-provoking questions. I’ve changed. When I traveled with the family, I would have a checklist of things to pack and a checklist of things to do and a checklist of things that needed to be taken care of before I got back, and make sure all of those things were done, like pull the blinds down, make sure the doors are locked, make the beds, get the house cleaned so that when I got home, it was pleasant to come home. Now I’m pretty casual about traveling, so I just pack and go.
Bryan: Beautiful. I just want to point out right there by the way in your response to I wish I were better organized, and you described having a checklist, right?
Gail: Some things are easy. Some things are hard.
Bryan: Again, sometimes the thing we say we want we have, we just don’t experience ourselves as having-
Gail: Or we’re not as good at it as we wish we were.
Bryan: What’s one thing you’ve started or stopped doing in order to live or age well?
Gail: I don’t age well.
Bryan: Not with that attitude.
Gail: No. It’s true. I have to start doing things or stop doing things so that I can age well. I think I want to avoid getting old is the problem. I think I have started being more realistic about life and about what there is to do and about what I should do, and learning to play. I have to learn to play. That’s one thing I’m going to start doing, learning to play. I’ve been a worker or an accomplisher all my life. I have very little ability to be frivolous.
Bryan: What will that look like? How will you know?
Gail: It will look like not working so much. I actually have started putting on my calendar on Friday morning, open Friday, which means I can do whatever I want on Friday. Unfortunately my husband thinks that’s an invitation to fill the day.
Bryan: I’m pretty sure you can do whatever you want on every day.
Gail: I’m supposed to be able to, but my sense of responsibility doesn’t allow me to do that.
Bryan: Well, Friday morning is a start.
Gail: That’s true.
Bryan: I’m going to put that on my calendar so I don’t call you on Friday mornings. What’s one thing you wish every American knew?
Gail: I think I wish every American knew how wonderful it is to live in this free country and how precious it is, how precarious it is if we don’t appreciate it and take care of it, and the value of patriotism and passing it on from one generation to another, and not changing history but celebrating history, because we’ve had so many things in this country that have been unique and hard-fought for, that we have to preserve the freedoms and the free enterprise and the patriotism and not assume that the next generation is going to know what it took to get where we are, to have what we do.
Bryan: What piece of advice did your parents give you that has stayed with you?
Gail: Be your best self. My mother used to say that all the time. “Just be your best self. You have all the talent and all the opportunity in the world. Just be your best self. You can do anything you want to do.”
Bryan: That’s a really empowering message.
Gail: It is. It really is.
Bryan: I wish everyone’s mother told them that. It’d be a different world.
Gail: Bryan, be your best self.
Bryan: I don’t know if you’ve ever told me that in those words.
Gail: Probably not, but I think the message got through because you are a really great kid, really great man.
Bryan: Thank you. Okay. Let’s move to the final section. Talk about the creation process, how you actually got your book done, and the intention behind this, first of all, I personally love the creative process.
Gail: I do too.
Bryan: I think it’s magical, it’s mysterious. It’s sometimes frustrating, confusing, lonely. For this, what do you love about it by the way? I’m curious.
Gail: I love the way it makes you think. It makes you reflect and it gives you perspective that allows you to be free in your thinking. Being creative is very fulfilling because it goes places that you don’t normally go.
Bryan: What do you say to people who say, “I’m not creative”?
Gail: I would say you’re not giving yourself a chance. I think there’s creativity in all of us, and I think it’s very fulfilling to all of us, but if we don’t stop and allow your mind to be empty for a minute so that something else can come into it, you won’t be creative. You’ll stifle the process.
Bryan: Someone recently pointed out to me, and I’m not sure how I overlooked this for so long, but they said, “If you accept that we are made in the image of our creator, we must be creators.”
Gail: That’s a great saying. That’s true.
Bryan: I really like that. Did you ever think you would publish a book?
Gail: I didn’t. I never thought I would publish a book. For myself writing a book, I didn’t feel like I had anything important to say. I didn’t think anyone would relate. I thought Larry’s life was the impactful one. I had just been a sidebar in that, and I didn’t see any value in trying to give a glimpse into my life. It was very normal, mundane, uninteresting housewife, mother. I didn’t ever give it serious consideration.
Bryan: When you think about Courage to Be You, when did you consider you first began the project?
Gail: In earnest, it was when you were encouraging me. It was after you had done Behind the Drive and you said, “Mom, I’ll help you write the book,” because you knew I’d been working on this and I would come to you and say, “Bryan, how do you do this? How do you describe things? How do you put it in a format that has continuity? How much is too much?” I knew there were things that didn’t belong in a book, and so I would ask you for advice. You were aware that I was trying to write a book, and so after you finished that, I think this is the process, you felt like, “We’ve got dad taken care of. Let’s get mom taken care of,” and so you encouraged me and we started having interviews.
You said, “What I need you to do is commit to me that you will meet with me periodically on a regular basis and we’ll interview and then we’ll take that material and turn it into the book,” so we did that for a long time.
Bryan: And we put some structure in place and some consistency, and I have a friend who has a saying. He says, “Consistency is manifestation,” and that same friend actually shared with me last night this saying, “Rhythm replaces strength.”
Gail: That’s interesting.
Bryan: A guy named Rudolph Steiner said that. I thought it was interesting, and we were able to prove that true I think by having this structure and a team. That’s one of the things that I’ve seen in the process of writing a book, is it’s easy to think there’s the solitary writer banging away on the keyboard, but the reality is pretty much no book is written alone.
Gail: I agree with you, and I think the process that you set up made that very evident because I could not have sat down and written a book because I wouldn’t have been able to tell whether it was going to be accepted, but when you have a team working with you and they’re asking questions and then when you say something and they want more, you know you’ve hit a pocket that could be interesting, and so it was very beneficial just to have someone be interested in knowing what my life was like, and I think originally, we were thinking that we would write a biography, which is what I had tried to do on my own, which became just overburdened with superlatives that didn’t matter, nobody would want to read about, and I think I realized that early on, too, that you can’t tell the whole story. You have to tell the important parts of the story.
Bryan: Yeah, and every life is way bigger than could ever be captured in words. We talked about a little bit. What was the hardest part of this project for you?
Gail: I don’t know that any of it was really hard. I would have to say crying when I was interviewed. I hate to do that, but there were tender points to meet, relive, and talk about that made me cry and that having a whole team there watching, that was hard, but I think that’s what gave it its core is getting to that basic emotion, of knowing that there’s something there worth saying, whether it’s just for me or for others.
Bryan: Yeah. I have this kind of philosophy that words are like vessels that carry meaning, but they also can convey energy or emotion, and I remember talking with Sheri Dew about this project when we were early on, and she said, “If Gail will open her heart and get it on the page, then it will move readers,” and I think you were able to do that. Now that the book is finished, what didn’t make it in there that you wish had?
Gail: I’ve thought about what are other topics that could fit in there, and I think we covered pretty much the important things. I don’t know anything else that I’ve given focus to in my life that I could make another chapter out of. I did have to be a little guarded in some of the topics to not say things that would hurt people or expose incidences that I would not want public, so I did use that bit of censorship, and there were things in there that I felt it was important that I had permission to talk about, so I did get permission on some of the stories. I think that’s probably what the hardest part was, is having it be open and honest enough without being an expose.
Bryan: Okay. The last couple of questions that I want to ask, because one of the things that I did by the way, is I put on Facebook and I put on LinkedIn that I’d be talking with you, and I invited people to share what they would like to ask, if they had the chance, and some of them were things that I asked, but I just didn’t identify as these questions. One question here is back in the early days when you and dad were just starting out, trying to get things to come together, but maybe things seemed stuck or stagnant, or they were going slow, I don’t know if that was the case, but what would you do on a Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. when you weren’t sure what else to do? This is how the question was written. How would you get wind back in your sails to keep going? I’m going to guess that assumes you had those, if you did.
Gail: With and without Larry, how it was for me. There were times when I just needed quiet time and I would do things that I didn’t have to think. For instance, I often let ironing pile up until I had hours worth of ironing to do, and then I would iron quietly and just meditate, so I wasn’t wasting the time. Meditating isn’t wasting anyway, but it gave me a reason to have quiet time, and since I was working, nobody bothered me. That was one thing I would do. Sometimes in the early days when we didn’t have much money, I would take maybe $5 and go over to Grand Central, which was a kind of like Walmart of our day, and I would just buy silly little things, just to have the freedom to know even though we don’t have a lot, I can have this one little bit to myself, and I didn’t buy things for myself. I’d buy things like the latest can opener or a new gadget for the kitchen, but it made me feel like I had some autonomy and some freedom to do something besides be responsible.
Things that Larry and I did together, we would go for rides. We would walk. Oftentimes he would say, “Come out with me,” in the morning as he was getting in the car, and he’d say, “Listen,” and we had a wall of ivy, and he could hear the finches. He’d say, “Just listen.” It was a connection that we’d have in enjoying nature, even though he was on his way to work and I was going to go back in and make breakfast for the family, it was that little bit of time together to connect with nature and renew that spirit of peace, and sometimes we’d take time to write down our favorite things. We’d take turns and I’d say, “This is my favorite thing here,” and he’d write something, and we’d make lists, and things like green popsicles, a baby’s smile, a walk in the park, just things that meant something to us that nobody else would care about, but connected us together.
Bryan: That’s really beautiful. Again, to me, one of the things I see in that is the … I correlate the focus on what you love or what’s beautiful in the world with the kind of success you’ve achieved. I’d like to think that it’s not a coincidence, that that was your orientation, and then the results. I think that’s really cool. What do you consider your greatest success or accomplishment?
Gail: Oh, my family. That’s trite, but it’s also big.
Bryan: Why do you say your family?
Gail: Well, because that’s where my heart is. You made me cry again.
Bryan: We’ve come full circle.
Gail: Yeah. I don’t think there is anything that you invest, that I’ve invested as much in as my family. That’s my biggest accomplishment and greatest love.
Bryan: I think that’s evident.
Gail: Thank you.
Bryan: Speaking of family, what advice do you have for someone who is working to grow a business or maybe to devote their life to service in some other way, in philanthropy or some cause or something? What advice do you have for somebody who’s looking to do both, to make an impact and have a healthy, happy family?
Gail: Wow. It’s such an individual thing. I don’t believe you can have balance in all things. I think you have to have focus on whatever it is you’re working on at the time to give your effort the meaning and the result that it deserves and that you expect, because I believe there is a time and a season for everything, and for me, there was a time to raise my family, and now there’s a time to focus on doing other things. It doesn’t mean I’m not a mother still, but they don’t need me like they did when I was actively mothering, so the time and the season will, in a way, dictate the effort you put into what you’re looking to do. Now, if you feel like you can have balance in all things, in my opinion, that diminishes one or the other, because I don’t think there’s any such thing. You have to determine what it is you want to spend your time doing and look at the trade-offs and the costs, and determine for yourself which is worth the most effort.
Bryan: When somebody is giving so much to grow something or build something, or just keep something going, what can that person do to let their significant other know that they’re important?
Gail: I don’t think it takes a lot to do that. I remember, and this is a different answer than what you’re looking for, but I remember raising children and how my time was so busy. I had five children, trying to keep the house, make them happy, help them with schoolwork, teach them responsibility, and help them have a well-rounded life, and sometimes they needed my attention, and so I realized that it only took maybe one minute, eye to eye contact, to convey to them that they were important to me, and then they were happy.
Then they could go do what they needed to do and I could go too, but taking the time even if it is one minute, or with a spouse, an evening a week, and explain and talk and determine what it is that together you’re working for, and realize that even though you are a unit and you’re equally yolked, you’re still autonomous and you need to have some individual goals and desires and things that you’re working on, and then come back together and share and validate each other. It’s not a matter of dividing the time equally. It’s a matter of giving to each thing the time it needs.
Bryan: What’s something that you wish every employee of the Larry H. Miller Group knew?
Gail: Well, I wish they could all see how important they are to the whole and to the good that we do, because I get all the credit for being a philanthropist, but I certainly could not do any of it without the work that every employee brings to the table to make us successful. I wish they could have the joy and feel the satisfaction of the fruits of their labor in that way. I know they do as an employee and in their own realm, but I wish they could see the overall picture and how important they are to it.
Bryan: It’s probable that you won’t be alive to meet the fifth generation.
Gail: Probably not.
Bryan: What we consider the fifth generation of the family. What’s something that you want the fifth generation, whoever they happen to be, what’s something you want them to know and what’s something you want them to know about you?
Gail: Wow. That’s a very thought-provoking question. One thing I want them to know is that they come from a good line. They are part of a rich history and a rich legacy, and that they have a responsibility to perpetuate it. Nothing is free in life. Everything worth having is worth working for. As far as how I want to be remembered, I don’t know. I think going back to the verses in Proverbs, and I wish I had it here to read to you, but I think that’s really important to me, being remembered as a virtuous woman who cared and lived in a way that made a difference. How many other people cried all the way through your podcast?
Bryan: You’re the first other than me. No.
Gail: I think I have an excuse. It’s because it’s you interviewing me.
Bryan: Proverbs 31, verses 10 through 31.
Gail: It’s a powerful, powerful scripture.
Bryan: Yeah. That’s beautiful.
Gail: I’m having that put on my headstone, just the scripture reference. In fact, I think it’s there.
Bryan: I think it’s there right now. All right. Well, we covered a lot of good stuff, I think.
Gail: Well, thank you. I hope I didn’t ruin it by crying.
Bryan: Not at all. Not at all. I think it was really good. Is there anything … Again, I know we’ve covered so much. Is there anything that you feel like maybe we didn’t touch on that’s worth-
Gail: I think you were pretty thorough. I think you did a good job.
Bryan: All right. Thanks, then. We’ll wrap up here.
Gail: Okay. I can blow my nose.
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