While calling home tonight to speak with my family (a weekly tradition in my family), I heard the sad news that Larry H Miller had passed away from complications to his Type II diabetes. Long-time readers may recognize his name from some of my business posts. Larry was a self-made billionaire, literally starting as a high-school dropout working at an auto-parts counter to owning one of the ten largest car dealership chains in the US, and several other businesses (including the Utah Jazz, and several other sports teams in Utah).
I had Larry as a team-teacher for one of the best business classes I had the fortune of taking while at BYU. He team-taught a class on “Entrepreneurial Perspectives” with Dr Hunt (who’s probably now retired). It wasn’t a hard analysis class or a marketing class, but to me was probably one of the most useful classes I took in the five years I spent at the Y. A large part of the class consisted of Larry recounting his life story, discussing lessons learned, warnings, things he wished he had done better, things he was glad he did. All told, a treasure-trove of knowledge from a guy who knew how to make successful deals better than anyone else I’ve ever met. You kind of get to know a guy a bit in a setting like that.
But more than that, he was a genuinely wonderful human being as well. Like most good men, his impact for good extended far beyond his career, and it probably won’t be in this world that most people realize how many lives he truly touched. Larry was the kind of guy who gave freely, but typically anonymously. He was giving because he loved, cared, and could, not because he wanted attention or fame. I could tell stories, but in some ways, I think it would probably detract.
Larry was a good inspiration about striking the balance between entrepreneurship and those things of a more eternal significance. I think BYU is one of the few places in the world where you can have an entrepreneurship class being team-taught by a billionaire, where scriptures and testimony were shared almost as freely as business advice. I know for some readers that may seem like a turnoff, but I really loved that about Larry. He was good friends with many of the Apostles and Prophets of the church over the past two decades, and some of his anecdotes really gave an insight into the character of those men. One of the things that really lit up his eyes was when he was telling us was his involvement with The Joseph Smith Papers Project, an effort to put together a complete and accessible set of transcriptions from the several thousand papers, journal pages, letters, etc written by Joseph in his lifetime.
I cried a little when I heard the news that Larry had died. It’s kind of ironic. Before I had heard the news, I had already been thinking a lot this weekend about absent friends. I only actually knew him from that one class, but he will be greatly missed.