Regional Report Western August 2011
Mixing blood and business
Steve Miller, 56, was a young employee at Biltmore House when brothers George and Bill Cecil Sr. split the Asheville estate their grandfather George Vanderbilt built at the end of the 19th century. During his 34 years with The Biltmore Co., the tourism business that Bill Cecil and his heirs built around the 250-room chateau, revenue increased from $3 million to the $140 million projected for 2011. As executive vice president, Miller was its top nonfamily executive until he left in July to start a family-business consulting firm.
What’s the biggest threat to an ongoing family business?
Family members lacking a common vision.
Like what happened between the Cecils.
Exactly. They were both great people. They just didn’t have a common vision. This generation, it really wants to stay together.
What difficulties did you face?
There were some glass ceilings. Plus, you make the best recommendations you can, but it’s the family owners’ final decision.
Give us an example.
I wanted a hotel on the estate. Mr. Cecil didn’t want to be in that business. The next generation was more interested. It’s been one of the most successful things we’ve ever done.
What are the positives?
You’re able to do things that take longer than two quarters to make money. Like the wine business. That took us three to four years to make profitable.
How does generation change affect the nonfamily exec’s role?
Bill Jr. wanted the position of CEO, but when he got it I think he was like, “Now what do I do?” He’s become very successful, but there were a couple of years when we had to learn to work together in a different way.