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Business leader tells graduates servant leadership is key to bottom-line success

By Steve Eaton

A business leader whose companies have generated billions in revenue told graduates at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business Saturday that a key to success is to become a servant leader.

John Miller, who spoke to Huntsman graduates on Saturday, is now is the founder of JR Miller Enterprises, a privately held company that has holdings in real estate, agriculture and private enterprise.

John Miller, who was honored earlier in the day with an honorary doctorate from Utah State University, was the commencement speaker at the ceremony for the Huntsman School of Business that recognized the graduation of more than 700 students.

Dean Douglas D. Anderson introduced Mr. Miller and highlighted some of his vocational accomplishments.

Mr. Miller, who some credit with reinventing the beef industry, is now is the founder of JR Miller Enterprises, a privately-held company that has holdings in real estate, agriculture, and private enterprise. Under Mr. Miller’s leadership, E.A. Miller, a meatpacking company, grew from a small regional firm with sales of $90 million in the 1970s, into a national firm with sales of more than $1.2 billion by 1987, Dean Anderson said.
Mr. Miller recently retired from National Beef Packing Company, a firm he started in 1991. Under his leadership, the company’s revenue grew from $500 million to more than $6 billion. In his lifetime, Mr. Miller went from overseeing the processing of some 50,000 cattle per year to nearly 4 million a year, the dean said. Mr. Miller was able to brand differentiated, genetically higher-quality beef so that it could earn a premium price in the marketplace.
Mr. Miller said that Stephen R. Covey, who is the Jon M. Huntsman Presidential Chair In Leadership, has long been a mentor. Dr. Covey, an internationally recognized author and consultant, is known for writing the best-selling book the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” During the event, Mr. Miller shared with students what he called “eight core lessons.”

He said students should become servant leaders, surround themselves with mentors, choose to work in an environment where “the truth is spoken,” be responsible, and trust others to be responsible. He told the students when they start a firm or work for a company they need to know what their competitors are doing and learn from their best practices. He suggested they learn to be “listening leaders,” advised them “under promise and over deliver,” and to focus on what “really matters,” he said.

Mr. Miller said if leaders learn to really love and serve those they lead, they will fare better and said such managers out-perform others.

Jill Aoki, the Huntsman School of Business valedictorian, celebrates.

“Millions of dollars are spent each year on leadership seminars in a frantic search to find the secret formulas of great leaders,” he said. “This one concept will ensure that your leadership style is principally centered.”

He said that leaders need to learn how to listen and allow diverse opinions to be expressed.

“If you find yourself working for a company where your supervisor or team leader or CEO does not foster an environment where truth is encouraged to be spoken… get out,” he said.

Dean Anderson advised the graduates to be grateful of the many people who have gone before who made it possible for them to get an education.

“There are so many of you who have contributed to helping all of us and all of our students get to where we are today,” he said. “I hope you will all, especially today’s graduates, honor the sacrifices of those who went before you by continuing to invest your time and resources in the work we are doing at the Huntsman School. We believe the type of analytical, innovative, ethical leadership our global marketplace needs today can be found in the tenacious Aggies who walk our halls every day.”

The Huntsman valedictorian Jill Aoki, a student who maintained a 4.0 grade point average, despite majoring in accounting, finance, and economics, with a minor in international business, lifted lessons from children’s movies that she shared in her valedictory address. She said the idea was sparked by something she read in Jon M. Huntsman’s book ‘Winners Never Cheat.” Mr. Huntsman wrote, “Everything we need for today’s marketplace, we learned as kids.”

Jill quoted from “Toy Story” to emphasize the importance of maintaining friendships, from “The Lion King” to talk about continual learning and sharing, and from “Pinocchio” to drive home the point that dreams, coupled with determination, can come true.

On May 4, more than 600 graduate students were recognized at the University’s Graduate Commencement and Hooding Ceremony. Mark McLellan, the vice president for research and dean of graduate studies, told the graduates that they should “stay hungry, stay foolish” and make a difference.

“You have already helped us understand the nature of life in many of our eco systems,” he said. “You have helped us look to the night skies with a better understanding of our universe and you have taught us to quiet our minds and appreciate the expression of human spirit through music, art, and to appreciate the sensitivity and intensity of social relationships.

“You have reminded us of the ethics essential to our daily business through debate, through creative writing, and indeed through your suspension of disbelief in our theatrical productions. You have used mathematics in new ways to explore the physics of the quark. You have spotlighted that our climate is indeed changing. You have reminded us to appreciate our history while re-inventing our future.”