After former Larry H. Miller Group of Companies CEO Clark Whitworth stepped down in January, the organization needed a new boss. But after a national search, owner Gail Miller and others found the answer in one of their most successful divisions: sports and the Utah Jazz.
So Jazz president Steve Starks was promoted Wednesday to CEO of the whole group of companies, including the auto dealerships Larry H. Miller originally made his name from. That leaves a hole at the top of the Utah Jazz, one that team executive vice president Don Stirling will fill on an interim basis until a new team president is found.
Starks won the job among six finalists, including other internal and external candidates. All went through an extensive 18-hour interview process, but in the end, it was the man the late Larry Miller took on as a protege over a decade ago that secured the position.
"He’s proven his capability through doing well at everything that’s been given to him,” LHM owner Gail Miller said. “So I have total confidence in Steve. And I’m pleased that we’ve come to this conclusion.”
There are parts of Starks’ old job that he’ll continue doing as CEO. He was the Jazz’s alternate representative on the NBA’s Board of Governors — Greg Miller is still the primary representative — a role he’ll maintain. Starks also played a larger role in basketball decisions than many NBA team presidents, but he says that he’ll still be working with Dennis Lindsey, Justin Zanik, and Quin Snyder in much the same fashion, despite the new title.
Starks was named president of the Sports and Entertainment division in 2015, a role that put him in charge of the Jazz, the Salt Lake City Stars, the Salt Lake Bees, Vivint Smart Home Arena, Megaplex Theatres, the Tour of Utah, and 1280 AM. Before that, Starks ran the management side of LHM’s business, working with the auto dealerships division’s mergers and acquisitions, as well as Saxton Horne Communications and Total Care Auto. He also recently completed terms as president of the Salt Lake Chamber Board of Governors, and as a trustee at Weber State University, his alma mater.
Perhaps Starks’ most notable accomplishment as team president was overseeing the renovation of Vivint Arena, a $125 million project that sought to renew one of the oldest arenas in the NBA and keep it functioning for decades to come. But there is also the increased success that the Jazz have seen in Starks’ time at the helm: from a 38-44 season before Starks was named president to three consecutive playoff berths, though all ended in the first or second round.
“I think of where he’s brought the team to, I mean we’ve got some exciting things ahead of us. Hiring Quin Snyder, and bringing in players we have, and watching and supporting what they’re doing, it couldn’t have happened without Steve,” Miller said. “That’s part of why he’s going to stay involved, just because there’s a continuity. You don’t want to ruffle feathers at this point in the game.”
The interim team president, Stirling, has a long history in sports management. In his career, he’s worked for the Denver Nuggets, for former commissioner David Stern in the NBA offices in New York City, the LPGA, and the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee. He was hired as Chief Revenue Officer of LHM Sports and Entertainment in 2013, and was promoted to executive vice president last year. Starks and Miller chose Stirling for the role of interim president to maintain continuity while they search for a new leader, as Stirling has solid relationships with those on both the business and basketball side of the Jazz.
The search for the new team president will include both candidates external and internal to LHM — though an internal candidate is certainly favored — with a focus on managing the business side of operations while Starks maintains a similar impact on the basketball side.
“We’ll look for somebody who has strong business acumen, who understands the operations, who can be a strategic thinker that can develop marketing strategies and can continue to promote the brands,” Starks said. “We don’t necessarily want to limit it, but we feel like we have really strong people internally.”
But while Starks’ promotion is new, his collaboration with Miller is not.
“We have a lot of miles on the road together, and we built something that we think has a chance to be very special,” Starks said.