What You Need to Know From Driven – Larry H. Miller’s Autobiography

I returned to an old favorite this past week. I signed up for Deseret Book’s Bookshelf PLUS program and have been listening to a handful of LDS themed books. They have an audiobook of Driven: An Autobiography: Larry H. Miller. I read this book back in January and it quickly became one of my all-time favorite books.

If you do not live in Utah or one of the neighboring states of Utah you may not have heard of the legend of Larry H. Miller. He was an absolute economic and charitable force in the state of Utah. For years, his company used the slogan: “After all, you know this guy” for all their advertisements. If you lived in Utah you knew this guy. The book says that “perhaps only Brigham Young has done more for Utah than Larry H. Miller.”

If you don’t know who Larry H. Miller is here is a shortlist of some of the businesses he owned: the Utah Jazz, the Salt Lake Bees, over 60 automotive dealerships, Megaplex theaters (18 theaters), KJZZ-TV, Miller Motorsports Park and many more. In all, he owned over 90 businesses.

This is an amazing story that I turn to for inspiration. Larry Miller was not born into a wealthy home. He grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. But he was driven by the sheer sense to win and compete. He turned his will to win into success through hard work.

Here are seven things I learned from this book:

1. Confidence is Key.

The book doesn’t explicitly say this but I believe Larry H. Miller was an insanely confident man. He was blessed with tremendous intellect and the book highlights that he had an amazing photographic memory and he could do complex calculations in his head. He didn’t let anything get in his way. If he thought he could do something he went and did it. He bought an NBA franchise when he had really no net worth compared to other NBA owners.

He dropped out of college after only six weeks. And when he died he had over six honorary degrees. He loved to say that he had an honorary degree for every week of college he completed. Even though he didn’t have formal education he never let that ruin his confidence. He worked hard and had a mindset that he could outwork anybody.

2. Put forth your best work.

A highlight of the book is a lesson he learned early on in his career. He had been working as a parts manager at a car dealership in Salt Lake Valley. He worked hard and got the parts department organized and profitable. But the store had a policy that raises were to be made on a predictable time table and there were no exceptions. Larry calculated that he was single-handedly responsible for 60-70% of the profit but was getting paid the same or less than four other employees. He confronted his bosses but they said they couldn’t go against the policy.

He told his uncle, who was a successful man, that if his employment wasn’t going to pay him any more than he wasn’t going to put forth any effort than what he was getting paid. His uncle told him that he should not worry about what his employer was paying him but that he should do the best he can and even if he doesn’t get rewarded with a raise at this point in time, later in life it will come to him. 

This principle teaches that no matter what circumstances one finds themselves they should always give their best effort. They should always strive to leave their position in a better spot than when they found it. You only hurt yourself when you slack off.

I will take this principle and apply it in my own life. In my career, I want to be known as a hard worker who gives his best no matter what even if I don’t receive the recognition which I think I deserve. I will still put forth my best effort and I know that on some future day it will come back to me.

3. The price of success.

I am constantly reading books about successful people in the business world. There is a recurring theme about constantly working. Morning, day and night they are all working. Their lives seem to be 100% about their careers and work.

Larry H. Miller is in the category of extreme workaholics. For 20 years he was constantly in the office at all times of the day. He put other parts of his life on hold including raising his kids and taking care of his health. The book has a few reflections Larry had about whether working so much was a good or bad thing.

In these reflections, there seems to be a part of Larry Miller which regretted that he spent so much time at work and not as much time with his wife and kids. But he also acknowledges that he didn’t know any other way to live his life. If he were to go back and do it again he probably would keep up the 80 hour work weeks.

It pains me to read an account like this. It makes me question how much I am willing to give to my career aspirations. Ray Dalio repeatedly says in his book Principles that he wanted meaningful work and meaningful relationships. I want both of those too, but the relationship part (in my case my family) takes precedence.

4. Don’t let “consultants” talk you out of great ideas.

This point builds on point number one. I was really impressed with Larry’s mindset to not let others tell him he couldn’t do something.

A great example in the book of this is when Larry H. Miller created his megaplex cinemas. He didn’t know anything about owning movie theaters. However, he had an idea that he wanted to create a movie theater and hired some consultants to help him go about creating his theater.

In creating his theater he wanted to add elements that he thought were missing from movie theaters. For example, selling pizzas and other unique types of food. He wanted bigger seats and larger movie halls. The consultants shut down a lot of these ideas saying that it would never work. They told him that large-seat theaters were going away and that moviegoers wanted popcorn, not pizza.

But he built the theater how he thought they should be built and they became extremely successful. Today the Larry H. Miller Megaplex is considered one of the best movie chains. The head of Warner Brothers studio said it was the finest movie complex in America. The Megaplex at Jordan commons consistently leads the nation in ticket sales. When the so-called consultants came and visited the theaters they were amazed how great Larry’s ideas  turned out

5. Living in the details.

Larry H. Miller thrived in the details. He had a hard time delegating out work. This was both a good and bad thing. The good; he was able to make sure projects were exactly to his specifications, the bad; he spent thousands of hours doing work that possibly could have been delegated out.

The book has an example of when he was building the Delta Center (it is now called Vivint Smart Home Arena) for the Utah Jazz. Larry got caught up in every detail of its construction. Larry says that he was heavily involved in the decision of what trees they would plant outside the arena. In all, he said he spent over 100 hours researching and learning about the types of trees that would best be suited for his arena. He was very happy with the decision now as it was exactly what he wanted. He did his research, but he felt that maybe the task could have been delegated.

I don’t criticize Larry H. Miller for living in the details because he obviously created a very successful enterprise. However, I do wonder if he could have accomplished more if he would have delegated out some of these decisions.

6. Take care of your health.

This is a rare example from the book where we should do the opposite of what Mr. Miller did. Larry gave his all to his work, and, as a result, he didn’t take care of his health. The last few years of his life were plagued with many health crises. Eventually, his legs were amputated and he was constantly in and out of hospitals.

It’s a stark reminder that there needs to be some balance in one’s life or you will face these consequences. You should find time to exercise and have ways to manage and relieve stress. There is a story about how one day Larry H. Miller threw a candy bar in his car for his lunch. He got home late that night and the candy bar was still in the car and he hadn’t eaten anything. This was obviously not a healthy habit.

7. Loyalty to where you live.

Larry Miller’s headstone has the statement “a man who loved Utah” written on it. He told his wife Gail that he wanted to be remembered as a man who loved Utah. He sacrificed a lot for the Utah Jazz to stay in Utah. In the 1980s the Jazz were in financial turmoil. There were may investors outside the state of Utah that wanted to buy the Jazz, but Larry did everything in his power to keep them in Utah because he knew they belonged in Utah.

He wanted to make the state of Utah a better place. What can you do to build the local community where you live?

Driven: An Autobiography is a great book about a great man. If you are from Utah this is a must-read about a well known Utahn. If you are an inspiring entrepreneur this book can teach you about what it means to be “driven.”

I have also read Larry H. Miller – Behind the Drive: 99 Inspiring Stories from the Life of an American Entrepreneur. I recommend Behind the Drive as well. 

Write to me: sam@samuelpedro.com

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