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With a No. 3 ranking on Forbes’ list of “Best States for Business” in 2017, it’s no secret that Utah’s business economy is booming, but what many people don’t appreciate is the key role women have played in the state's business growth.
In honor of Women’s History Month, here are four women who have played pivotal roles in shaping Utah business.
You can’t have a list of influential businesswomen without mentioning Gail Miller. As chairman of the board of directors of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies and owner of the Utah Jazz basketball team, Miller is one of the biggest names in Utah business.
Since starting out with one car dealership in 1979, the company Miller and her late husband Larry H. Miller began has grown to more than 10,000 employees in 46 states, according to the Larry H. Miller Group.
The business expanded from automotive sales to sports and entertainment, finance and insurance, real estate and philanthropy — with Miller choosing to focus particularly on the latter.
"We’re looked up to and we have a reputation for being honest and fair and doing things right, and for giving back to the community. We truly believe in returning the good that we get to the community through philanthropy and service."
In a recent article from Utah Business Magazine, Miller said, “We (as a company) have an important spot in this community. We’re looked up to and we have a reputation for being honest and fair and doing things right, and for giving back to the community. We truly believe in returning the good that we get to the community through philanthropy and service. Those were the things I found myself being drawn to, making sure those things didn’t get lost.”
For her business acumen and positive impact on the community, Miller was awarded the 2015 Giant in our City award from the Salt Lake Chamber and was inducted into the Utah Business Hall of Fame in 2018.
While serving as a counselor in the Relief Society general presidency for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sheri Dew made history in 2002 when she was named as the first female president and CEO of Deseret Book Company.
Under Dew’s leadership, Deseret Book grew to include two publishers, two retail chains, a magazine and a division for events, film, music and digital media, according to an article in the Deseret News. Such growth made it possible for the company to reach a broader audience than the LDS community alone.
"It's remarkable to consider what this organization has done. Its scope is much broader and more ubiquitous than anybody realizes," said Dew.
Dew also serves as executive vice president of the Deseret Management Corporation, which oversees several businesses owned by the LDS Church.
Though now retired, Rhoda Ramsey’s 36 years of expertise in the field of real estate earned her an induction to the Utah Business Hall of Fame in 2003. She was the first woman to receive the Board of Realtors Salesman of the Year award in 1968 as well as the Utah Realtor of the Year award in 1992.
Upon retiring in 2000, Ramsey told the Desert News the secret to her success was intuition and patience — a trait she believed to be especially prevalent in women realtors. Perhaps that is what led Ramsey to start her real estate firm in 1984, The Ramsey Group, with five other women: Georgia Ball, Jodie Bennion, Barbara Carrier, Sue Christensen and Norine Foot.
Following Ramsey’s lead, 13 female realtors banded together to form CREW Utah, which serves and promotes Utah women in real estate.
Karen and her husband Alan founded Thanksgiving Point in 1995 on some empty land at the north end of Utah Valley. In the ensuing years, the original museum, farm and shops expanded to include a golf course, additional museums, office buildings, theaters, residential subdivisions and more.
The couple can take much of the credit for starting the development that now covers the surrounding area and provides thousands of jobs.
“We wanted to create something for the people around us,” explained Ashton in an article for LDS.org. “We’ve been blessed financially and with a large family. We wanted to give something back to the community and the families in our area.”
Ashton is also the force behind the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival which began in her backyard and is now one of the largest storytelling festivals in the western U.S. An offshoot, the Timpanogos Storytelling Institute, promotes language and literacy in schools and the outreach program allows students to experience educational and cultural events.
Ashton served on the Utah Valley University Board of Trustees, the Primary Children’s Medical Board, the Shakespearean Festival Board of Governors, and the BYU Museum of Art and the BYU President’s Leadership Council. She also served on the Primary General Board and the Young Women General Board for the LDS Church.
To learn more about influential women in Utah business, visit slchamber.com.