Industry loses icon
WATERLOO, Iowa – Van G. Miller, CEO and founder of The VGM Group, died on Sunday at his home of an apparent heart attack, according to a statement from the company.
He was 67.
The statement reads as follows:
Miller was an icon in the home care industry, and the recipient of numerous awards for business achievement. He was also a generous philanthropist who focused his giving on local agencies and projects.
The father of three sons, his youngest, Christopher, was married Saturday. He also leaves behind Vance, Dax and five grandchildren, and Chris Livingston, his significant other of 24 years.
Miller founded VGM and Associates on Sept. 3, 1986, with the belief that quality home health care is best delivered by community-based, independent providers. The original buying group for independent home medical equipment providers grew to be a diverse company of business units. VGM is still best known for its leadership in the home medical equipment industry, where it provides services that include group purchasing, insurance, education, marketing, insurance contracting, advocacy and analysis.
VGM also has a significant business presence in management of post-acute health care, golf, restaurants, orthotics and prosthetics and physical therapy. VGM employs 850 people, the majority of whom work at its headquarters in Waterloo, Iowa, but with significant offices in Dade City, Florida, Atlanta, Kansas City, Phoenix and Toronto.
Known for his easy-going personality, Miller still made phone calls to his 850-plus associates on their birthdays and work anniversaries, delivered caramel apples to everyone at Halloween and was a prominent figure in the booth at VGM’s trade shows. Despite his success, he considered himself to be “one of the associates” and practiced an open door policy in the office.
“I try to stay out of everybody’s way,” he said recently. “I look for opportunities for growth, and help make sure communication is company-wide. My ultimate responsibility is to make a decision when there is no clear-cut consensus. The most important thing I do is make sure that the values and camaraderie with our associates stay intact—like they were in the beginning.”
Miller was born on July 23, 1948, to Blaine and Verda Bricker Miller. His parents were well-known Orange Township farmers. His first job was selling Watkins products to farm wives out of the trunk of his Ford Mustang, and later he sold pre-need cemetery lots and markets and combine insurance. He also did a tour of duty as an U.S. Army medic in Germany.
His vision often exceeded that of his bosses, and he always noted that he’d been fired three times before starting VGM.
He’s twice headed companies that made Inc. Magazine’s list of the 500 fastest growing U.S. companies, was named one of the HME industry’s Ten Most Influential Individuals by HME News, and received HomeCare Magazine’s HomeCaring Award. The American Association for Home Care recognized him as a Champion of Home Care.
In 2009, he was inducted into the Junior Achievement of Eastern Iowa Hall of Fame. In 2014, he was named one of the Upper Midwest EY (Ernst and Young) Entrepreneurs of the Year. This year, the Des Moines Register named VGM the Top Workplace in Iowa among large companies.
In recent years Miller had set in place accommodations for his succession. In 2008, Miller and minority shareholders James E. Walsh Jr., and John Deery Jr., sold 100 percent of the stock of the company to its employees through an Employee Stock Option Plan, or ESOP. The board of directors will meet today to affirm succession plans.
“Van thought of those who work for the company first, and his community second. His consummate skill in managing talent and making hard decisions was evident to all who know him,” said Walsh. “He frequently acknowledged that his associates are the ones who built the enterprise and that they should benefit from its success through the ESOP.”
Services are pending.