In life, Larry Miller was a hands-on empire builder renowned for his attention to the smallest detail.
After his death Feb. 20 at age 64 from complications related to type 2 diabetes, Miller's most enduring legacy to the 7,000 employees of his six-state dealership empire may be a family succession plan he set in motion three decades ago.
In the summer of 1979, Miller put his oldest son, Greg, then 13, to work sweeping the parking lot of the Toyota dealership the elder Miller had just opened in Murray, Utah. Last July, after Larry Miller suffered a massive heart attack, Greg Miller took over as head of the empire.
"I'm very thankful he turned the business over to me seven months ago," said Greg Miller, now 42. "He was still around so that I could ask him questions and take advantage of his experience."
The younger Miller said the 29 years he spent working inside and outside the family business helped him step into the CEO role more quickly.
The business that has sprung from the Millers' first Toyota store is huge. At its core, the Larry H. Miller Group of Cos. encompasses 39 auto dealerships in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho and Oregon, plus one motorcycle dealership and related insurance and finance arms.
The company is listed by Automotive News as the No. 10 U.S. dealer chain and the fourth-largest privately owned group. In 2008, the auto unit's revenue totaled $2.5 billion, said Tony Schnurr, COO of the group's automotive division.