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Rocky Mountain Leadership Conference: Transformation Key in Business, Life

Rachel Madison

June 23, 2014

When it comes to business, transformation is integral to companies, business professionals and entrepreneurs who want to remain successful. That was just one message conveyed during Utah Business’ and Hero Partners’ Rocky Mountain Leadership Conference, which brought in hundreds of business leaders and entrepreneurs to learn more about how to effectively lead, innovate, transform and win with their companies.

More than a dozen speakers, both locally and nationally known, spoke during the conference. They shared their secrets for success and the lessons they’ve learned. One portion of the conference focused on transformation.

Joseph Graziano, former executive vice president and CFO of Apple, used the example of the late Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple, as a model of transformation.

“Steve told me what his vision was,” he said. “He told me wanted to change the world. Needless to say, I couldn’t help but think he was delusional. Who could have guessed he was right? He was one of the most charismatic and motivational people in my life. We worked together for over three decades both at Apple and Pixar, and I watched him [transform] the world.”

Graziano said Jobs was ruthless, often setting impossible goals for people and then making sure those goals were met. When he took over Apple, the company was going out of business and even had to borrow money from Microsoft.

“Steve went on to turn Apple around and at the same time invented the iPod, iPhone and iPad, as well as totally renovating the Macintosh [computer],” Graziano said. “He transformed Apple from a $5 billion company to a $150 billion company. Today the company’s current value is $180 billion. He also transformed the music industry, computer industry and mobile phone business. Simultaneously, through Pixar, he transformed the animated film industry. He is one of the greatest stories of our time.”

Jobs’ life and career provides a great example for business leaders and entrepreneurs, Graziano said, because he believes that innovative things rarely come from established leaders in business.

“It’s the start ups, those with a new vision, who surprise us in creating the new world,” he said. “Don’t be shy and don’t be wary. Take risks. It has been done in the past and it’ll be done in the future. Innovative startups will topple established giants.”

Gail Miller, owner and chairman of the board of the Larry H. Miller Group, spoke about her own personal transformation from the wife of a prominent business leader, Larry Miller, to the owner of more than 70 companies just a few years ago. She also serves on numerous boards and has received several local and national awards.

“I never planned to be involved like this, so how did I get here?” she said.

Gail married Larry in 1965, and when he purchased his first dealership about a decade later, she began to learn about business simply by listening to her husband. He’d often ask for her advice and highly valued her opinion. He kept her in the loop with everything he did, and made sure she always knew what was going on with each company he purchased. During the last year and a half of his life, Larry spent time teaching his wife and sons all about his business, so that they’d know everything they needed to when he was no longer around.

“A lifetime of experience prepared me to be a businesswoman, even though I never actually expected to become one,” she said. “In 2008, Larry suffered a heart attack, and a year later he passed away. I became responsible for our $3.5 billion company that now employs 10,000 people. I’m a businesswoman today not because I chose to, but because I chose to continue the legacy that Larry and I started 35 years ago.”

Rob Ryan, founder of Ascend Communications and chairman of Hero Partners, spoke about a major goal he has: to transform America by creating millions of entrepreneurs.

“I’m on a mission to transform America,” he said. “We’re kind of in trouble. There’s a lot of unemployment and the politicians on either side don’t have any idea what they’re doing. That’s an audacious goal, but this is my war. As long as I continue to walk around and breathe, I will continue to build millions of entrepreneurs around the United States.”

Ryan grew his 1989 startup company, Ascend Communications, Inc., to more than $2 billion in sales. Ascend grew from zero sales in 1989 to more than $500 million in sales by 1995. When Lucent Technologies acquired Ascend in 1999 for approximately $24 billion, it was termed as the largest technology merger ever. His company’s transformation was essentially the beginning of Ryan’s mission.

“In [building entrepreneurs], some of those companies will turn into hero companies,” he said. “By that I mean they’ll grow large and transformative. They’ll become engines of entrepreneurship in their region and spin off other entrepreneurs and other jobs. If I had a magic wand, and could point to each and every state and create just one Ascend, what kind of impact would that have? That’s my transformational goal.”

Other speakers at the Rocky Mountain Leadership Conference included former basketball coach Bob Knight, best-selling author Harvey Mackay and former Sen. Bob Bennett.

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