Among our 25 Texas Consilium Business Excellence Award Finalists for 2020-21, Norm Miller stands out with the experience and wisdom gained over 59 years leading Interstate Batteries.

From traveling salesman to majority owner and Chairman of Interstate Batteries, to an interest in racing, to NFL coaching legend Joe Gibbs and NASCAR, Norm has a fascinating story of innovation and courage. Woven throughout this journey is his struggle with personal challenges, his understanding of love, and his personal relationship with God. It’s a fascinating story, and with moderator Jim Ratchford, Executive Director of Texas Consilium, we explored it all at our May 25, 2021 breakfast.

We are confident you will find insights and nuggets of wisdom that can help you and all business leaders who wish to improve your own journeys of excellence.

We invite you here to enjoy the discussion!


Jim Ratchford: Good morning. How is everyone? We’ve got a good group here at the Brookhaven Country Club and we’ve got a number of our participants online on Zoom as well. Welcome to all of you. This is our Award Nominee Board Room special session with Norm Miller, Chairman of Interstate Batteries and much more than just that. This is our May 2021 Monthly Breakfast. This is going to be a great meeting. Let me just get you through a few things here as we get started.

I want to first of all make a callout to our Naming Sponsor that supports what we do, Ryan. We just launched our 360 program with our first meeting and Ryan hosted us there. I’ll have a few pictures of that as I update you on what’s going on with Texas Consilium. Call out to our other partners who support what we do. We appreciate all of their working support. They really help us accomplish our mission.

For those of you who are on Zoom with us, this is a Zoom Meeting, not a Webinar. Add your name to Zoom so others can see who you are.  Use the chat box to ask questions any time. I’ll try to monitor that, and we’ll try to delve into questions as we have some time. Also, you can use that to introduce yourself to others on Zoom. Please keep yourself muted except when speaking. Enjoy your breakfast and our time together, and that applies to everyone. This meeting is being recorded.

Here’s our agenda for today. A welcome, which we’re doing now. I’m going to provide you with some updates for Texas Consilium and our Business Excellence Awards. While I’m going through that, that’ll give you those of you here at Brookhaven a chance to eat your breakfast and have your coffee. Then we’re going to launch right into our interview with Norm Miller. I think we’re going to find this to be an extremely interesting interview.

Over the past few months, as we have worked our way through our various Award Nominees, we have typically had two or three panelists on at a time. Norm has 59 years with Interstate Batteries. There are multiple chapters to his long story, so we decided that he really deserves an entire session to himself. There’s a lot of interesting things to work our way through here.

We will have audience questions. So as you’re listening to this today, make a note of your questions. We’re going to try to have some time at the end for you to ask those, those of you here at Brookhaven as well as on Zoom.

And then we’ll have, if we have time, any other business, introductions, and networking. I know you here at Brookhaven got here a little early and have been networking already. Make a note that our next breakfast is Tuesday, June 22nd. We meet on the fourth Tuesday of each month, so please join us whenever you can.

As we go through today, I ask you to find your role and make a difference. Texas Consilium is an economic development organization for the state of Texas. We are here to help Texas businesses achieve their true potential. A few of the things that you might consider helping with: we are looking for nominees for our 2022 awards program, so companies that you know of that exemplify excellence, our nominations are open. We’ll touch on that a little bit more. And then we need an evaluation team for our upcoming nominees. We had a great team that worked with our 2021s. Become a working partner with us. Help brand TEXCELLENCE, the Pursuit of Excellence in Texas, a trademarked term that we’re launching. Manage or work with interns that are serving our mission. That’s a new program that we’re launching. And then become a Texas Advocate for Texas businesses. All of those are possibilities for you, and there may be other things you might want to do with us as well. So feel free, reach out. Become involved. Make a difference.

We’ve got a few new folks with us. This will be a repeat for many of you, but just a little bit about Texas Consilium. If you go to our website, on the homepage it says “What if your business could achieve its true potential?” That really is what drives everything that we do. We are here to help Texas businesses and their team members as a result achieve their true potential. Under the About tab, there’ as sub-tab for frequently asked questions. If you have any questions about us, I invite you to check that out. Type in something like “What is.” It will bring up all sorts of questions and answers, like “What is Texas Consilium?” Not going to go into that in great depth, but just be aware that that’s a resource for you.

We have a video from Governor Abbott. We’re pretty proud of that and invite you to look at that. He praises Texas Consilium and went on to point out that by working together, we’ll continue to elevate the Texas economy to even greater heights. Delighted to have his support for what we do. Also under About, you’ll find a sub-tab for the Business Excellence Awards, and that’s what brings Norm with us and our other total of 25 nominee finalists.

Some pictures from our 2019 awards event, where we launched the award with an Award for Lifetime Achievement to Jerry Jones. That’s what we’re looking to do. We’ve been delayed by COVID. We’ve pushed it all the way out to May of 2022 now to try to get past that, so it’s going to hopefully be a much bigger and better event because we’ll be honoring not only our current slate of 25 nominees for 2020 and 2021, but we’ll have our 2022 awardees as well.

I want to make clear that everything we’re doing with that awards event, it’s not just about the event; it’s about the relationships we create and enhance because of the event that matter. The things that we’re doing, like these meetings with our Award Nominees, like the meeting today, like all of our project teams, they’re working together because of that event, and we’re developing a lot of great relationships, getting to know each other, making a difference. We’ll be continuing things like that after the event as well. The event is just a focal point that brings us together. It’s what we do before and after the event that really matters.

Note that on the website, the event has moved out to May 9th and 10th of 2022. The details are out there for that.

Also under About, there’s a sub-tab for 360 for Texas Peer Groups. This is a new program. We’ve been talking about this for some time. I’m delighted to announce that we have now launched it and held our first meeting just about 10 days ago. Many of you may be familiar with some of the CEO peer groups that exist like Vistage and C12 and EO and YPO and so on. We’ve worked with many of those, and we have found that while they’re all great programs and we’re big supporters of the CEO peer group program, there’s a problem with all of them in that the members come to those meetings and they share at those meetings what they know. They can only share what they know about their business. They can’t share the issues they don’t know, and it’s the unknown issues of their business that tend to create the biggest problems and need most to be addressed.

What Texas Consilium and our advisors are really good at is working inside companies to help identify issues that exist. So by combining that diagnostic ability, that discovery ability, and the ability to fix issues with the peer group program, we’ve really created, we believe, a peer group on steroids concept. So we’re delighted with that. Our initial group of CEOs in this peer group consists entirely of our Business Excellence Award Nominee Finalists, so this is a very elite peer group. Not all of them are participating, but we’ve got a good group of our pioneer founding members, and delighted to see where that can go.

Here are a few pictures of our meeting from last week. Delighted to have been hosted by Ryan. I tell you, their conference training room where we held it, I felt like I was at the NASA Space Center Command Control. They had these huge screens the size of billboards on the wall. These are some of the participants who were there with us for most of the day. Good pioneering group. We went through the score-boarding that we’re looking to develop metrics for a business improvement program, tracking companies’ success on an improvement journey. We had Kent Billingsley speak about revenue growth and the whole strategic process. He’s the author of a book on revenue growth endorsed by Mark Cuban, so delighted to have him as part of our first event.

This kind of ties in with our meeting today. You may see a picture up there of the pits at a NASCAR race. Something I have shared as an analogy for business for more than a decade is the pit crew. I think it’s very helpful – when, as a business, you’re looking at how you can improve, looking outside of your business, looking at something that gives you some perspective is a great way to do it. One way is looking at how other companies do it. That’s part of the whole awards program concept. Let’s find companies of excellence and showcase them, and let’s look at how they do things as a way that we might envision how we could do it.

The NASCAR pit crew has tremendous examples of continuous improvement, alignment of objectives, everybody working on the same team, the whole concept of continuous improvement. I’m not going to get into all the details here, but be aware that at our 2022 event for our awards program, we also have an Executive Summit that goes on all day with a series of workshops, one of which is a Pit Crew Challenge. We’re actually going to have a NASCAR car there, and our 360 team members are going to be split into two pit crews and they’re actually going to be tasked with changing the tires on the NASCAR car and then working on an improvement program to become the fastest.

It’s a story that I have told for many years, but we’re actually going to do it hands-on in May, so I’m looking forward to that. It ties in to what Norm’s going to talk about with racing, so he may have some insights there. [laughter] Found someone who knows what they’re doing.

By the way, on that point, I think Norm’s going to touch on this, but the 1993 NASCAR Winston Cup, there was a car sponsored by Interstate Batteries, and Dale Jarrett was the driver. We actually have a little video clip of that, which I think will be interesting. But notice the margin of victory: sixteen-hundredths of a second. So do you think the speed in a pit crew might make a difference? It’s not a matter of seconds counting; it’s a matter of hundredths of seconds counting. That’s part of the whole concept behind continuous improvement. Little differences can make a huge difference in the outcome. Much more on that later.

We do have our Award Nominees Gallery also on the website. These are our 25 Award Nominees. You’ll notice Interstate Batteries is among that list, and some others you certainly may recognize. Of those 25 Award Finalists, they have total revenues of $11.5 billion. The median is $169 million. Revenue range from $15 million up to $3.4 billion. They represent 38,000 employees, median about 563. That is the core of our 360 Peer Group program as well. So as we’re looking for nominees for 2022, keep in mind that anyone who wants to join our 360 program now, if their revenues are $10 million or above and they represent excellence, we encourage you to nominate them. That is a way to get into our 360 program at this point.

Criteria to be an Award Nominee. Minimum annual revenues of $10 million. There is no upper revenue limit. The awards are stratified based on company size. There’s a small company award for revenues between $10 million and $100 million, mid-sized from $100 million to $1 billion, and large company, $1 billion and above. The companies must be Texas-based or have significant Texas leadership. They can be in any industry, and they should exhibit a culture of excellence as defined by our published criteria. The nominations are open on our website. Also under About, there’s a Nomination tab. I invite you to go there and submit any companies that you think might qualify.

I’ll touch briefly here on our partner program. They’re Advocates for Economic Growth. We have a whole series of partner program options for those who want to become more involved with us and help Texas businesses and connect with our nominees and others. Take a look at that. We also have a media partner relationship with the Dallas Business Journal. We’ll be running some ads in the Dallas Business Journal. Combined with a lot of other emails and other impressions that we make, we can provide pretty good exposure for companies who want to get out there and meet and mix among business leaders.

Doug Taeckens is our Director of Partner Relations. Doug, anything you wish to add? Doug’s contact information is up on the screen there, and it’s also on the website.

We’re also picking up a program with University of Texas Dallas, and it looks like UT Austin may be working with us as well. It’s a student work program internships. We’re still working on how we make this really efficient and work well for everyone, but the basic concept is that there are a lot of students studying business, and they’re learning a lot of things in the classroom, but what we would like to be able to do is give them some real-world experience. Let’s get them out there where they can actually work with some of our coaches and mentors and advisors in real-world situations and take that back to the classroom. It’s a great way, I think, to help the students really master what it is they’re studying, get some more insights into it, and then it’s a great way to introduce businesses to some up-and-coming students that might be hires at some point as well. We’d love to be an intermediary or coordinator that helps make that happen and broadens that exposure.

If you’re interested in working on the intern program, reach out to me and we’ll get you plugged in. We’re just now putting the pieces together to see how it works.

At this point, do we have any questions about Texas Consilium or anything that I’ve addressed so far? Hearing nothing. Let’s go on. You done with breakfast and ready to speak? Yes, sir. That’s good.

Just a little intro here. We’re going to move into our interview here with Norm. Many of you may have heard the name Interstate Batteries. We’re going to run this interview here in three chapters. The first is let’s talk about Interstate Batteries the company. What is it that they do? Why do they exist? How are they different? All those sorts of things that make them a successful company. Then there’s another chapter we’re going to get into, which is the racing story of its own. It didn’t start with NASCAR. There’s some prelude to it. Pretty interesting, and we’ll touch on that. Then the third and final chapter is Norm’s personal journey – his leadership through the years, his finding of Christ, and his story of the ups and downs that we all tend to have as business leaders and as human beings. He does a great job of sharing that. That’s something I think is woven through all of the other chapters of the story. I think that’s going to be interesting.

In our Texcellence book where we profile our Award Finalists, you’ll see a page in there for Interstate Batteries. They’re a nominee in our large-sized category. We interviewed Norm. There’s a full interview on our website as well as a 30-second highlight of it and some quotes extracted from that that are in the book. I invite you to take a look at that. We have a digital version on our website. As we get started here by way of introduction…

[Video] But it’s far from who we are. Over 65 years ago, we built this company on a foundation of values… values that live on today. This makes us a part of something bigger than just selling batteries. You see it in the ways we go about our business, and the ways we impact our communities, and the respect with which we hold one another… for these things make us who we are… set us apart. Our culture is a unique and valuable asset to our company, and it’s important we never lose sight of this… that we always believe profits will never drive our success the way our purpose can. As we look to the future, we’re always seeking to bring together the best teammates possible, across our entire company. Our goal is to align these great minds and their great energy toward one powerful, purposeful direction. And it’s this one direction that will propel us to even greater success.

Jim Ratchford: There we go. Little intro to Interstate Batteries. With that, Norm, good morning.

Norm Miller: Good morning.

Jim Ratchford: Glad to have you with us.

Norm Miller: …at the point where it’s needed and that it’s fully charged up today, ready to go, and it’s at that spot at the time that the seller needs it to install it. So he developed this whole system of a route truck almost like you had bending machines or the different delivery operations at stores and places. He developed that for batteries.

The batteries transitioned about the time that Interstate got started, and they went from being a battery that was dry – in other words, there was no acid or water in it or anything, so when somebody sold one, they had to take the battery, they had to get acid out, pour acid in the battery, get it on their hands or shoes, whatever. We used to laugh because only the smart people that installed batteries had nylon underwear, because you didn’t get holes in them. That’s really the truth. You ended up with holes in your underwear. [laughter]

Anyway, when he started the business, it was transitioning from a dry battery like that that had to be filled, charged, and took effort and time to get it installed. We came out with – we didn’t manufacture it, but our manufacturer moved into wet charge batteries. So our batteries were wet, charged, ready to go on the site when they were needed. We had a rotation system to where if a battery sat for so long – this is like three months, not a long time – then we would swap them out and put in fresh batteries and keep them up and ready to go when they were needed. Basically that’s it. When a battery is needed, that it’s a good one, it’s ready to go and the installer or mechanic there can put it in and get you going.

Jim Ratchford: There are a lot of other places that sell batteries. What is it that makes Interstate different?

Norm Miller: Well, one thing, we’ve just got the 60 years or whatever of proven quality and the fact that we deal with a great number, if you will, of installers. These are the professionals. That’s where we built our business. That’s where we have a great part of our business. They understand and acknowledge the fact that we really are – I’m on television here or whatever, but we have the best battery going, and they’ve been selling them for years now. Actually, a lot of the smaller businesses are families, and we’ve been handed down along with them. So we’ve built a trade, if you will, following in the industry.

Jim Ratchford: What is it about Interstate that you would identify as a culture of excellence? Interstate is a Nominee Finalist for our Business Excellence Award. Tell us about that.

Norm Miller: Everything goes back to John Searcy. I started trying to think of his attributes yesterday, actually. John was what you would call a good man. He was honest, he was a hard worker, he was intelligent, but he was not pushy in any way, and he cared about the other person. He cared about the service that he professed, that he would deliver that, and passed it on to us as the whole really heart of Interstate. That was so fortunate, to be hooked up with a guy that was a generation ahead of me and able to pass that along to me and henceforth try to pass it on to the rest of the people that have followed with me and the other people through the years.

I would say that that’s basically it. We ended up with a “do unto others” attitude because in reality, what do we all want? We all want to be treated properly. We want to get delivered what people promise us. We want people to stand behind it if there’s a problem. We want it to be at a fair price. That’s basically how we’ve tried to build Interstate and relate to one another as we’ve progressed in the years.

Jim Ratchford: You mentioned getting hooked up with sponsors. John’s the entrepreneur. He started the business, started selling batteries out of the back of his Studebaker pickup, as the story goes. Started Interstate Batteries as a company in 1952. Your dad had a service station in Galveston, where you grew up. Tell us that journey. How did you get from the service station in Galveston to Interstate Batteries in Dallas?

Norm Miller: Highway 75. [laughter] I have to think here a minute. My dad had the service station and garage, so I grew up in it. I didn’t really like to actually do all the labor and messing with cars and all that, but I had to. I was an assistant, if you will, in the shop. He had not only a service station garage, but by the end he had a three-car garage off the alley there. I worked in there a lot. They couldn’t let me deliver because if I had to deliver a battery from the station to some place, I would always head to the beach first. I’d drive down to the beach. So he wouldn’t let me do that. I had to sweep and stay at the shop.

But anyway, just followed along in that business. But he was in the service business, so I saw him meeting people’s needs and taking care of their cars and working. So from there, I ended up at North Texas. I went to University of North Texas, which was North Texas State then, back in ’62. ’60. I’m losing time. But anyway, I went to North Texas, and I was an excellent student if you go by tenure. [laughter] I did a four year plan in five and a half years. Because I saw what was next, so I tried to stay in college as long as I could. Finally Dad said, “No, it’s over. You’re going to hit the road here.”

So I got out, and he had sold the service station. He went to a Shriners convention in Lubbock. No, it was Amarillo. He ran into a guy and he said something about he’d heard about this battery thing going on, and Dad, of course, was familiar with selling batteries and installing them and all that. So he said, “This guy’s got this thing going, a distributorship.” This was before franchises were actually spoken about. He said he had a distributorship. So Dad came from Amarillo to Dallas, met with Mr. Searcy – I got a great job out of college. I was selling encyclopedias door to door down in Galveston. [laughs] So he called me and said, “This thing looks pretty interesting. Why don’t you come up?”

So I came up to Dallas and met with my dad and John. Push came to shove, we took the distributorship for the Mid-South out of Memphis, Tennessee, running primarily in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi. I started driving a battery truck in ’62. Man, you’re getting me back in a lot of memories here. I drove the battery truck down into – July 5th, I remember that. 1962, July 5th, I got in a truck and started down Highway 61 toward Mississippi, selling batteries door to door. When I say door to door, wherever there was a business that sold batteries, I went in and called on them and presented the Interstate proposition. So that’s how we got going.

I did that with my dad, and my brother Jimmy joined us that summer, I think, the next summer. And Tommy, my brother who’s here, he followed along after going through a couple years of college. I ended up back over here, and John hired me in ’65. He asked my dad if I could come to work over here for him, and I started – I was the fifth employee. We had John, an accountant, a marketing guy, the secretary, and I was the fifth guy down the line. I started traveling America and selling batteries, trying to set up distributors. I’d set up distributors and then go start them and get them going. I’d hit the street, start selling.

I like to say this because it makes me feel good. I was going to speak one time and I sold batteries going down the street in 43 states. That’s fun. That was really fun, too, because I would go for a week – not just me, but people we hired along. But we’d go for a week, so if I went to St. Louis, I would be in St. Louis for a week. I would get to know the people, know around the whole place. So I got to experience that throughout most of America. Not just fly in and fly out or drive in and drive out, but I’d be there for a while.

Jim Ratchford: You were working for your dad’s distributorship in Memphis, and I guess something caught John Searcy’s eye about you that said, “Hey, join me at the headquarters here.”

Norm Miller: Looking back, I worked cheap. [laughter] No, I’m kidding.

Jim Ratchford: By the way, back at your dad’s gas station growing up in Galveston, your brother Tommy, who’s here – little brother Tommy –

Norm Miller: I can’t lie, see, because he’s here. [laughter]

Jim Ratchford: The microphone’s on if he wants to shout anything. Was he any help?

Norm Miller: I’m sorry?

Jim Ratchford: Was he any help?

Norm Miller: Oh yeah, when he grew up. He was a little young coming out of there. No, he did good. We were really fortunate. We were taught really good principles to relate with people in business by John Searcy. He set the example.

Jim Ratchford: When did Tommy come to work at Interstate?

Norm Miller: Let me see, ’69? Yeah, 1969, he joined us. By then – I don’t even remember. I’m sorry, I can’t remember how many. We had maybe six or eight people. More? He doesn’t remember either.

Jim Ratchford: You were saying when you came to the Interstate headquarters to work with John directly, there were five employees?

Norm Miller: Five employees at the national company, but we also had the Dallas distributorship. John owned it separately. He was a distributor, and he was also the owner of Interstate Battery System of America. I worked primarily in Interstate Battery System of America. But I was thinking this morning – looking around here, I swear, I think I installed golf cart batteries here back in the day. [laughter] I’m pretty sure it was Carrollton, and there can’t be that many country clubs and golf clubs around Carrollton maybe other than this one through the years.

Jim Ratchford: When you came to the Dallas headquarters, you were what, 24 years old?

Norm Miller: Let’s see, ’65. When was I born? Yeah, 25, 26.

Jim Ratchford: When you joined the headquarters, what did you see at Interstate that worked and what did you see that really needed to change or could change, ought to change?

Norm Miller: What was interesting is looking back – because I had friends who graduated from college same time I did, and they were doing this and doing that. I had several friends over selling ladies’ clothes on the road. They were peddlers on the road, and they had new cars. So I looked at that. I thought, “No, I’m going to do this battery thing after I get back here and associate with them.” I thought, “Maybe I want to do something else.” I actually looked at some other things.

But this is what really got me. I remember thinking, “This deal works. They need these batteries. They want the service. It’s proven. We’ve got a whole nation out here. So I’m going to stay here and do this.” I haven’t really thought about this in a long time, so it’s kind of moving for me. What’s interesting was that it was “just do it.”

John Searcy developed a system, and I want to be sure to make a point, too – the distributorships we set up were families. Primarily families. That’s what he liked. He liked the fact that this could be a business that a family could run and operate and grow in and be profitable and have a nice life. That was all part of the deal. When we advertised for distributors or whatever, we were always trying to get the best we could, but we ended up mostly where it was a family proposition. So that was a fun thing about it all. As we went in, we were trying to do with them what he did in the way he saw how it ought to be done and how it gravitated to what he called the Interstate Battery System.

I had a guy once – we sold a deal in I think it was New Jersey, so he was going, and he had a parts house. So I went up to see him after we’d been going about two months or something. He was doing everything different. He was saying, “I don’t like this and this.” I remember saying, “You need to get out of the business. This is not what we do.” And he did. We resold the business and all. But we didn’t know how to do it any other way. We just knew, do it this way, and it works. So we had a whole distributor book and a whole methodology of how to do it.

What I learned, the thing that was really the greatest thing about me at Interstate was when we realized that it wasn’t some flamboyant deal that we were going to run ads in the Wall Street Journal and all of this. It was fullback up the middle, get three yards. You get four plays, you get a first down, you get a touchdown. We looked out and we saw there was, at the time, 220,000 service stations in the United States of America. Now think of that today. To get gasoline. 220,000, and there’s today how many? I don’t even know. But we set out and we said, “We’re going to ask every one of them.” That included the garages. So we started out and that’s what it was. Fullback up the middle.

I would go out of town, Tommy would go out of town. Like I said, we’d go to St. Louis and we’d go down the street – we didn’t have a map. Well, we had a map, but we didn’t have any breakdown of where the business was or who owned it or what they did. We just looked for service stations down the street. Go in, “Hey, we want to pitch our deal,” explain what we had. We’d make 90-100 calls a week. No appointments. You would go in and get them to stop doing what they were doing. But we would set up 25-30 accounts a week. It started out with another fella and me, and then we added another one and then we added another one. At one time we had 40 people flying out of Dallas every other week; 20 would go out, 20 the next week, 20 going out. And we set up thousands. We actually sent the batteries n thousands of places ourselves.

But we looked at a distributor and we said, “What can’t we do that he’s doing? And what can we do the best that we can do it?” So we were sellers. Everything was hit the street and sell the deal, hand it off to the servicemen. He’s trained in the system. It was go get ’em.

Jim Ratchford: Those first 10+ years you’re working for John Searcy, fullback up the middle, you’re the fullback?

Norm Miller: Fullback up the middle.

Jim Ratchford: Thinking over that period of time, what were the successes that you encountered as well as challenges? Were there changes to the playbook that you needed to make?

Norm Miller: Not really. It was just expanded – what, Tommy? Yeah, you had to get past the history of the way that “Delco” did it. Our two big hits were Delco and Sears. That was the two people that we had to – of course, all the old companies at the time – not all of them, but 90% of them had their own battery. So you had to go in and sell that. We set up a dealer. I didn’t tell you this. We sent the batteries in a consignment so they didn’t have to pay anything. We said, “You only pay us when you sell something.” We put in a rack of batteries and we’d come back in two weeks. We ran two week routes. We’d come back, and if the battery was gone, we’d put in a new one and he’d pay us. If he didn’t sell anything, he didn’t pay us anything. If he didn’t want to keep them any longer, he’d kick us out.

That was a real strong point to the pitch, but back in the days of service station brands – Gulf, Exxon, whatever – they all had their own batteries. The companies didn’t want our batteries in there, and I would actually set batteries – I remember taking batteries and putting them in a service station backroom and cutting the back out of a carton of oil filters or something and hiding the batteries underneath it so the rep, when he’d come back from Exxon or Gulf or whatever, he wouldn’t see our batteries in the business.

So we were fighting that on one hand, and we had a good deal for them on the other hand. There were some people trying to tackle us, I’ll say that, the fullback up the middle there.

Jim Ratchford: If you didn’t sell the batteries over a certain period of time, you’d pick it back up, right?

Norm Miller: Yeah, we had a rotation system. All the batteries were dated. It was common sense. We’d put a fresh battery in there. We knew how long it could sit without dropping any amount at all. And then if it didn’t sell, we would replace it with the fresh one. We’d put our oldest batteries at our best dealers, rotating inventory.

Another thing that was really significant – because when we set these distributors up and you start putting out all this inventory on consignment, you haven’t sold anything, you haven’t made any profit. So the front money was pretty big front money to get going. One of the greatest things that John did, and we negotiated, is with our supplier, we negotiated 90-day terms. We had terms where we would buy a battery and didn’t have to pay for it until 90 days later. When we got our rotation system sales going, we based everything on 60 days. So we were able to use the 30-day free money as a catalyst to keep us going to get to the next distributor. So we would put up an investment that was our the terms, we’d get the batteries and go and then we got them flowing.

It’s fun to brag. Right now we’re pushing right at 20 million. Twenty million batteries a year.

Jim Ratchford: You had this program where you’d pick up batteries. They aged or you needed to move them somewhere else, or I guess the trade-ins. When someone got a new battery, they left the old one, so there was a recycling process.

Norm Miller: That was another point that John Searcy did. He negotiated prices. John was real talented and everything, but he was a good numbers guy. Matter of fact, his study and everything – he didn’t graduate. I think he lacked six hours or something out at A&M, but his was accounting. The thing that he did is we did this rotation system with the batteries. We dealt with the oil – I’m sorry, I’m getting confused. On the manufacturers, we had pricing based on the price of lead. Batteries are 50% lead, so therefore lead’s a commodity. Commodity has a valuation. What am I trying to say? Help me. Yeah, fluctuating values. So John negotiated price based on the lead market.

If lead went up, battery prices went up, but the junk went up. It wasn’t perfect. We’d lose a little on it, but we didn’t have to change prices every time the lead went up and down. Everybody else that sold batteries that did not get the exchange junk and get it back to a smelter and have a deal to get the best price of lead, then they would have to change their prices all the time. Sometimes lead fluctuated so much in a month, and then maybe two months it’d come back down. We just stayed steady. So when lead went way up, our jump went way up and we had a contract with the smelters that we would sell the junk inventory back to the smelters.

In the contract, what was great – we negotiated the contract with the manufacturer so when he brought us the new batteries, he took back the old batteries, dropped them off at the smelter. It was a whole circle system working between the three of us – the manufacturer, us, and the seller.

Jim Ratchford: I believe I read that you actually recycle more batteries now than you sell?

Norm Miller: Oh yeah, we’ve done that for years. We try to – I’m losing words, but to help the nation. We rotate lead and get lead going, keep it out, keep it from being out and damaging the environment.

Jim Ratchford: In 1978, John Searcy retires and he leaves Interstate Batteries under your leadership as president and chairman. So you’re just turning 40 years old.

Norm Miller: Really? [laughter]

Jim Ratchford: Yeah. How ’bout that? So where’s Interstate Batteries at this point where you take charge and what’s your vision for its future?

Norm Miller: Oh golly. Going back, I can’t remember. I will tell you that we never – this is a really interesting story. John Searcy got distributors together at a manufacturing plant for a meeting. We were going to have a meeting of distributors in an area outside of Chicago. So he got the distributors together for the first time in that area, and they went out and partied the night before, got drunk, had a wreck, and he said, “We’re not ever getting together again.” [laughter] When I came, he said, “No, we’re not getting together again.” But they do. So that was the funniest thing.

For a long time, we didn’t get them together. We had our first convention, though – I don’t remember the year. 80-something. But we had our first convention where we were going to get all the distributors together and we were going to celebrate, we were going to get the families. We were going to celebrate five million batteries in one year. Well, when you have a convention you have to book the rooms ahead of time and pay and everything. So we got to our five million battery convention and we’d sold 4.6 million batteries. We didn’t even make the five million. It took about three months later before we broke the five million.

Tommy Miller: [Inaudible] [laughter]

Norm Miller: Yeah, the Hawaii 5-0 convention. But we didn’t make our…

Tommy Miller: [Inaudible]

Norm Miller: No, it wasn’t that long. But anyway.

Jim Ratchford: Did you have your own vision as the leader that was going in the same direction or a different direction?

Norm Miller: Than Searcy?

Jim Ratchford: Just thinking back to when you took over.

Norm Miller: The only thing that I had different than he had was advertising. His position was – I can’t remember what it was. It was a product that sold without advertising. He used that as an example. So whenever I would try to bring it up, he would say, “We don’t need to do that.” I think it was Hershey’s. It may have been M&Ms or something. I can’t even remember. So when he left, we were selling batteries all over the United States. The oil companies knew that we were. They were after us. So I felt that advertising promotion would be a benefit.

So we started advertising back – oh, I remember now what happened. This prompted us. Paul Harvey was on a radio show. He was the number one radio guy in America and was on twice a day, and he comes on with the story about – if you’ve ever been to Milwaukee, Milwaukee has a lot of lakes. They’re just right off the road. Some car had driven off the road in a rainstorm and had gone down into a lake. So they pulled it out the next day with a wrecker, and the windshield wipers were going. This guy told Paul Harvey about it and Paul said, “Wow, must be some strong battery.” That was it. Well, he got so many calls that he contacted us the next day. He said, “People want to know.” That battery was an Interstate 24 something.

I thought, man, we’ve got to do this. Because he did exclusive products. If he took you on as a product, then he didn’t advertise any other brand. So we started advertising with Paul Harvey, which was great because it gave us the – we do and did a lot of business out in the country. When I went down to Mississippi, I’d go drive down the major highways, circle back through Arkansas. So with that Paul Harvey thing, it really got us going.

Then the next thing we did was because of television, we went with Good Morning America. We felt it was a name brand show, so we could put on our batteries, advertise to our dealers. We’d go to our dealers with brochures and promotional items, advertise on Paul Harvey and Good Morning America. So immediately we had a pretty good basis there for people to see us as a solid and substantial company.

Jim Ratchford: So you started with Paul Harvey in 1982. I understand he continued to promote you for 10 years?

Norm Miller: Yeah.

Jim Ratchford: It was about a year after you started with Paul Harvey that you got into racing with the Great American Race. I guess that was an extension of the advertising and promotion and trying to create a national image for Interstate?

Norm Miller: Yeah.

Jim Ratchford: By the way, I’ve got a video clip from that as well. I can either let you talk first –

Norm Miller: Show it to help me remember, man. [laughter] You can tell here, I’ve been busy. This thing was more fun.

[Video] Time stepped aside recently, and the most elite group of antique and classic car owners in the world gathered to participate in an event never before attempted. Over 70 pre-World War II cars were driven off the museum floors and onto the road where they belonged. Coming from all over the United States and England, they arrived in Buena Park, California. Packards, Cords, Duesenbergs, Mercedes, Cadillacs – they were all well represented.

Never before had these cars participated in a 2,800 mile time, speed, distance rally that will take them across the country in seven days. With only hours left before an extensive inspection, the owners, mechanics, and drivers washed, waxed, polished, greased, and tested their automobiles. Last-minute valve jobs, oil changes, and carbureto overhauls were common. No one was going to miss a thing. Many drivers have been working seven days a week for months to prepare for this amazing rally.

In less than 24 hours, the drivers, navigators, mechanics, and car owners will be ready to compete in the Great American Race. $235,000 in prize money await the winners, with $100,000 going to the team that averages closest to 50 miles per hour for 2,800 miles across the country. They’ll be stopping in Phoenix, El Paso, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, St. Louis, and finally finishing up in Indianapolis, Indiana. With the entrance fee of $5,000, serious competitive rally was to be expected.

Morgan Britney, co-star of the television series Dallas, was on hand to officially start the race. Tony Curtis, who starred with Jack Lemon in the movie The Great Race, was also there. Along with television actor Jim Hampton was two-time motorcycle speedway champion and co-star of the television series CHiPs, Bruce Penhall. Bruce was also an official entrant in the race.

So the cars started on the first leg of the seven-day race. The cars crossing over the starting ramp are older than over half of the spectators. The history attached to the cars added to the prestige and grandeur of this first time ever event.

So the stage is set for lots of fun and excitement. Hi, everyone. I’m Dan Kleckner. Join me as we travel over the next seven days 2,800 miles from Buena Park to Indianapolis as we become a part of the Great American Race. [Theme song plays]

Jim Ratchford: There we go. Bring back memories?

Norm Miller: By gosh. You can’t imagine. I mean, we’ve got stories of that thing. I’m going to tell one that’s interesting. We had a guy come out of India, and he brought an old Rolls Royce. We ran from California to the East Coast somewhere. He came back the second year and we started in LA and went to Phoenix. So I’m over in Phoenix late that night in the motel room, and our partner, Tom McRae, who was the founder, called me and he said – I can’t remember the guy’s name in India now, but anyway, he called me and said, “Norm, if so-and-so calls you, do not answer his call. He has not paid his entrance fee. It took us forever to get it last year, so just don’t take that call. If he doesn’t pay us today, I’m going to fight it out and we’re going to tell him he’s out of the race.”

So this guy brought a Rolls Royce from India and McRae’s going to cancel him out of the race. He hadn’t paid his entry fee. Sure enough, it all happens. McRae cancels him out. He’s out of the race. Six months later, we get a picture from the New Delhi newspaper from the year before. When you saw the starting thing, he was coming out in his Rolls Royce a year later, and it says he won the Great American Race. The New Delhi newspaper.

Events like that. We had one guy that I saw him in the hotel room and he was about half-crying. I said, “What’s up?” He said, “My motor blew out.” This guy was 40-something years old. “My motor blew out and my mama won’t let me fly an engine in from St. Louis.” [laughter] It’s true. He’s in the hallway. But we had stuff like that.

The Indianapolis 500 winner twice was in the Great American Race, and you had a driver and a navigator. All they had was a stopwatch and something else. I can’t remember. Anyway, you had a navigator and a driver, and the issue was to be perfect. We had people standing on the side of the road clocking at different spots. The issue was to start here, end there, zero seconds one way or the other.

Anyway, this guy, the Indianapolis 500 winner twice – I can’t think of his name, but he was navigating. Something happened to the car so they couldn’t let it slow down or stop. Anyway, whenever something happened, he said, “You’ve got to crawl out on the fender. You can reach your hand in there.” The guy gets out on the front fender of the car and an animal runs out or something. The guy hits the brakes and the Indianapolis 500 guy goes flying down the highway. He didn’t get hurt bad. But I saw him and he said, “I’m home, man. I’m going back to St. Louis.” [laughter] There should be a monster book about that.

Jim Ratchford: I read that when you were trying to pull together this first Great American Race, you had contacted Tony Curtis because of the movie he was in with a similar name, and no dice, he wasn’t going to do it. You contacted Indianapolis to run on the race track and no, they weren’t interested. All sorts of failures and no’s, and yet here it is. All of that comes to be. Don’t the cars take a lap on the racetrack in Indy?

Norm Miller: Yeah, the whole thing was purely amazing.

Jim Ratchford: This is turning no’s into yeses.

Norm Miller: Number one, Tony Curtis. We contact him and he’s in Europe. They couldn’t find him. Because see, he was the star of the movie The Great Race. McRae’s daughter had a roommate that knew somebody that knew Tony Curtis and found him in Europe, and he agrees to do the race. He’s broke. He agrees to do the race for $5,000 maybe. Yeah, $5,000 bucks. We find him and he agrees, gets a contract. So he comes over, starts the race in California, and then he meets us again in St. Louis, and he’s to go to Indianapolis. He’s going to ride to Indianapolis, goes into the final around the square they have and all that.

The funny thing is, we had a friend of ours from Dallas who drove him and his girlfriend from St. Louis, and he had a convertible. Tony and the gal sat in the back, so they’re driving from St. Louis and Tony says to the driver, our friend, “Hey, you’re the captain of the ship?” He said, “What?” He said, “Well, you’re the driver. This your ship? This your car?” He said, “Yeah.” “You the captain?” He said, “Well, yeah.” He said, “Then you can marry people, can’t you?” [laughter] He said, “Well, yeah.” He said, “Okay. I want you to marry us.” So they stand up in the back seat of the convertible and this guy says “I declare you man and wife” or whatever. They came over to Indianapolis and the awards banquet, and he gets up to speak to the awards banquet – he was tooted up somehow. Anyway, he talked with his hands and he’d do like that, and he had on a cufflink shirt with no cufflinks. The thing would fly out like that and he’s stuff it back over here like that, and then he’d do it over here. It was like birds flying out. I’m sitting there looking at him.

Later, he said, “Norm, you got any money? I need some money. I haven’t got any money. Y’all haven’t paid me anything.” I said, “We’ve been selling t-shirts and everything. Let me get a hold of McRae and we’ll see if we’ve got some money. How much you need?” He said, “$1,500 bucks. I can’t even buy my girl a gift.” I remember this was beside the podium. He hollers at me down here. I’m standing here talking. So I tell McRae, “You got any cash? Tony hasn’t got any money. He’s finished. We’ve got to pay him.” He said, “Let me see. Let me talk to the vendor guys.” Sure enough, he comes back. So we give Tony $1,500 bucks, and he says, “All right, you owe me” – I think it was $2,000. We gave him $2,000 bucks. He said, “You owe me $3,000, but if my agent calls you, do not give him my money. Don’t send him any money. Don’t do anything until I call you.” I said, “Okay.”

The next morning we circled the Indianapolis 500 track and did the 500 deal and all that, and then he’s gone. Three months later, I’m sitting in the office and I get a phone call. The assistant tells me, “Norm, it’s Tony Curtis.” I said, “Oh, really? Hey, Tony. How you doing? What’s happening?” He said, “Hey man, I’m doing great. I’ve been over to Europe. I made some extra movies over here. Everything’s going wonderful. You can go ahead and send that $3,000 to my agent.” [laughter]

Those kinds of things – it was daily. It was just bizarre. And we did that thing for 16 years or something. I crossed the United States myself, on the ground, six or seven times. Coast to coast. One guy brought a two-man helicopter one time because he thought with the money of the cars that maybe people would buy these little super helicopters. So I rode a half a day in the helicopter. I don’t know how y’all are having a good time, but I’m having a good time. [laughter]

Jim Ratchford: If you’re having a good time, we’re having a good time. So you’ve got Paul Harvey going on, you’ve got the Great American Race started a year later and it’s going on, and you’ve got some other forays into racing. Tell us a little bit about that, and then you get this call from Joe Gibbs, I understand. Tell us about that journey.

Norm Miller: We found out that our dealers – I don’t remember how many we had by then, but 100,000 or something dealers that sold our batteries. They liked cars. You saw that. We did a survey, and they said of all the things that they liked to watch on television, they liked to watch NFL football and they liked to watch NASCAR racing. So we thought, wow, we ought to consider that thing. Well, this deal came along – Stanley Smith was an independent guy out of Alabama and he was running in the – there was actually two levels at the time, and he was running the second level of NASCAR. So he cold speared us on a phone call. I got to talk to him, and we’d done the survey, so we thought, well, maybe we’ll get our feet wet. We’ll go with him on this second level and see how everything goes.

So we went into the second level of NASCAR at the time – they didn’t have trucks back then; they just had two-car – and got to go in with him, and we found out that everybody really liked it and everything. A company came to him and said, “We want you to run four races in the upper level.” This guy asked me, “You want to participate?” I thought, we’ll go ahead and try that. I’m probably talking too much on this stuff, but we went to Alabama. We ran the – what’s the race over there? We ran Talladega. A car ran into our car going into the pit. Knocked three drivers in the air. I thought they were dead. I’m not kidding you. But anyway, that was Stanley Smith in that deal.

We ended up with Joe Gibbs – he didn’t know that we had been in NASCAR at all, but we’d already been in it long enough to know that we needed to be here. Our people really liked it. Distributors, employees, and the distributor base all liked it. So we hooked up – I get a blind call. I told my assistant, “I don’t think that’s Joe Gibbs, but anyway, I’ll talk to him.” So he came on, and one thing came to another. He was wanting to get started. He was still coaching.

As a matter of fact, I’ll tell you how God blessed us. We signed a deal with Joe Gibbs to run the Daytona 500 and we were going with Joe Gibbs, and he wins a Super Bowl two weeks before we go to the race for the first time. The media in Daytona was twice as big as it ever was because he brought in all the football people and they wanted to go to Florida in the winter. So that all started, and Joe took off. Then a year later, we won the 500. The first race we ever won was the Daytona 500, and that was with Joe Gibbs and Dale Jarrett. So we were, as they say, off to the races. That’s been how many years now, Tommy? I can’t even remember.

Jim Ratchford: That was 1993, so almost 30 years ago.

Norm Miller: Yeah, 30 years.

Jim Ratchford: I’ve got a video clip of that. Here we go. This is Joe Gibbs the coach in his younger days, and here he is after winning three Super Bowls. I think he still holds the record for winning three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks, right?

Norm Miller: Another thing, too. He’s the only human that I’m aware of that is in the Hall of Fame of two major sports. Nobody ever mentions it, but he’s the only guy I know that’s in two different major sports’ Hall of Fame.

Jim Ratchford: I think I read that when he called you to ask if you would sponsor him, you asked, “Do you have a car?”

Norm Miller: Oh yeah, that was a big thing. “Do you have a driver?” “No.” “You have a car?” “No.” “You have a warehouse?” “No.” He said, “Norm, this is a dream on paper.” I said, “Okay, we’ll take it.” [laughter]

Jim Ratchford: Here’s Norm with Joe on the Interstate Batteries racing team. And here’s a clip of the last two minutes of the 1993 Daytona 500. In the end, I think you’ll see Interstate Batteries –

[Video] Jarrett came from the outside as Gordon went to the inside. Jarrett on the move. He’s going to be okay there. She’s good looking now. Down to the finish. A couple to go. Again, Earnhardt looking unstable coming up the corner. You can see the tail switch and he just gathers it up like the master he is. Jarrett wants to push him hard into this turn. If he’s getting loose, he wants to loosen it up even more. The closer he can get the bumper to the back of Dale Earnhardt’s car, the looser Dale will get. Looks like he’s driving up under him. [Unclear] the racetrack. [Unclear] and they touch. They come back to the line.

White flag. White flag and one lap to go. Earnhardt coming back on the outside. Bodine gets into it, Strickland gets into it. This is the finish. Did we say [unclear]? Get ready, because it’s coming to the wire. There’s Jarrett in front. Jarrett pulling back in front. Bodine comes down to the inside. Geoff Bodine, the ’86 champion, trying to find some room. Come on, Dale. Go, baby, go. All right, come on. I know he’s [unclear] can’t do any more. Take him on the inside. Don’t let him get on the inside of you coming around this turn. Here he comes. Earnhardt. It’s Dale and Dale coming up to turn four. You know who I’m pulling for. It’s Dale Jarrett. Bring her to the inside, Dale. Don’t let him get down there.

Dale Jarrett’s going to win the Daytona 500. All right. Look at mom. Oh, can you believe it? Way to go. Oh, man. [Unclear]. Happy Valentine’s Day, Mrs. Jarrett. How many people get to participate in two Super Bowls? There he goes, he’s won the Super Bowl of stock car racing, Joe Gibbs. 36-year-old Dale Jarrett [unclear] 1991, she wasn’t there in his second Winston Cup Race, winning the biggest race of the year, winning the Great American Race. Dale Jarrett from Hickory, North Carolina. That is the victory lane, where you will meet him in a moment. Joe Gibbs walking the victory lane at Daytona.

Norm Miller: The announcer was Dale Jarrett’s father, and he wasn’t supposed to pick out any racer, and the guy in charge of the TV production told Ned, “Go ahead, Ned. Take it. That’s your son.” So he got to call the race.

Jim Ratchford: And the lady was Dale Jarrett’s mother.

Norm Miller: That was Dale Jarrett’s mother sitting in the car. She wouldn’t even get in the stands. She sat in the car where she could see him come by. That was really touching. Interesting, too. The guy he beat was Dale Earnhardt, who had never won the Daytona 500. He didn’t win it for 15 years later or 10 years or some number later, before he ever won it himself. That was a big deal. Unbelievable, really. I forget all this stuff. I’m going to hang around you a lot. [laughter]

Jim Ratchford: Well, come on. We’ve got a monthly meeting of our 360 group. [laughs] That had to be an exciting time. You had just gotten into racing, second year in NASCAR. Wow. What was going through your head? You’re right there in the pits with Joe Gibbs and the whole pit crew.

Norm Miller: I just was going along with what was happening. Something we were going to talk about – I don’t know how much time we’ve got, but I want to be sure –

Jim Ratchford: I’m watching. We’re good.

Norm Miller: Okay, good. He’s in charge, Norm. [laughter] Looking back, we really have had a wonderful, rewarding, fun, exciting, good time. One of the key things that Searcy implanted in us was “do unto others.” His attitude was treat people the way you want to be treated, honor your word, be honest about what you’re doing, admit things if you make a mistake. Everybody, when it came down from him, and then it came down from him to me, and then me to Tommy and the rest – we have followed through with that through all the years, and that’s been a big reason that we’ve kept employees for a long time.

Tommy Miller: [Inaudible].

Jim Ratchford: Let’s go back in time now. Let’s go back to your childhood. Tommy was your little brother. You’re growing up in Galveston. Dad’s got the service station. Tell us about your childhood growing up, some of those early life lessons, good or bad.

Norm Miller: I was a pretty crazy young guy. Growing up in Galveston was unusual. Most people don’t have any idea, but Galveston never honored the prohibition. They had liquor by the drink 24/7 forever, open gambling, open prostitution. As a young guy, that’s where I grew up. My daddy’s service station, I remember one time we delivered a car that we washed down to a gal on Post Office Street. She was a hooker down at the – that’s where all the houses were on Post Office Street. But I grew up in that thing.

Also, you had this whole upbringing – a lot of people that had a lot of money were the gamblers, the people who bought the clothes, everything. You just kind of – at least I did, anyway, and the friends I associated with and all – I started drinking early. I started drinking at 15. I was having blackouts actually by the time I was even in high school and getting out of high school. My dad had been an alcoholic, and he actually ended up in AA. Matter of fact, he ended up even owning the house where the AA people met. I told you about the garage on the alley. The front of it was the AA house. So I grew up around that, but also grew up around all this drinking and partying. My dad had quit drinking because he went to AA and all that at the time.

Anyway, just partying all the time, through into college. Matter of fact, Galveston was so different for a young guy – I mean, think of this. I would sometimes not go out until 2:00 at night. Because things weren’t happening. Things would happen from 10:00 to 2:00 or 3:00 or whatever. My next door neighbor was the maître d’ of the nicest, fanciest nightclub restaurant in America, anywhere from the West Coast to Vegas. All illegal, and he was the maître d’. I went to work for him at age 16 as his assistant. I would seat people at the tables and all that. I’d get off of work 2:00 in the morning and go to joints with all the people that worked in the joints. When they got off, they’d go to the joints where they wanted to go. So I would end up doing things like that. Drinking a lot. I drank a lot. Just caroused, crazy, all over the place.

Went on to North Texas – as a matter of fact, North Texas, I got up to college up here and I thought, “What are we doing? We go to Dallas on Friday night and they close at 12:00 midnight?” Plus I had to be in the dorm at 11:00 or something. So we just would go and stay in Dallas and hit parties around the apartments and stuff afterhours.

I finally graduated and met my wife – who happened to be from Galveston, by the way. Isn’t that funny? She’s from Galveston, but I met her in college. She’s four years my junior, so I didn’t know her in high school. But met her, and then I got into the battery thing, so I’m off to Memphis. She became a stewardess. She flew for American for a year. While I’m starting in batteries, I’m not dating anybody up there, but I was drinking and partying all the time. I got DWIs after I got back here. I got a DWI and then I got another one, almost back to back. But I got a lawyer, I got a good deal, and I got out of it. Paid my way out. But I did go to jail for three days. That was interesting to have to go to jail. I left my house, going down, checking in, “Hey, I’m Norm. I’m here.” I got sentenced for three days. So I went in at 11:00 one night, all the next day, got out at 1:00 the next morning. I served 26 hours, but it was a three-day offense.

Anyway, when all that came down, I got totally out of myself and one day I just blurted, “God help me, I can’t handle it.” I had gone to a church – it was really funny because it was a real liberal church – with my wife. We had a gal teaching Sunday School. I’ll never forget it. She was teaching Sunday School and she was smoking, teaching Sunday School, some book. But I remember – I think I forgot this and left it out of my book, but anyway, I’m at this Sunday School class and she’s going through this book and she said God loved me. I remember that just clicked. I said, “What? How could God love me?”

But anyway, then I started going to AA and all. I went to Alcoholics Anonymous and they talk about a Supreme Power. So between those two – I had a friend asking me to come to this Bible study type thing. Actually, it’s thoughts of God, just talk about God in an open forum kind of thing. So I went to that. Then my wife and I had another thing we did on that same night, so we couldn’t go for a while, and it finished. I wanted to come to this Bible study that followed up this group, so I said, “Okay, let’s go to that.”

One night I said, “Come on, let’s go to that Bible study thing,” and my wife said, “I don’t want to go.” I said, “I’m going.” So I went by myself to this Bible study thing and the guy leading it and all, and after it was over, he said, “Anybody got any questions?” I thought, “I’ve got some questions.” So I sat there, I talked to him for a while. He asked me if I wanted to – he said, “To have God come in your life, you have to receive Christ. Christ is His Son, and He died on the cross, paid for your sins. If you receive Him, you receive the gift of forgiveness.” I thought about that, and I thought, “I’m certainly a sinner.” Any way you want to start writing down the questions, I’m in there.

I prayed with the guy that night, Miles Lorenzo, who’s passed away now. But anyway, I prayed with him. I’ll never forget it. I’m driving down LBJ – it was brand new. It was way out there, and I’ve kept this guy till midnight, asking these questions. I’m driving down there and I’m thinking, “What have you done? Are you nuts?” I felt like I was in a movie. But I got home and I didn’t want to wake up Anne. In the back bedroom – we had an empty bedroom off the kitchen. So I said I’m going to go in there. We had a swimming pool, and I had a light out on the pool, and it was shining through this half-window deal in this room off the kitchen. I went in there and I looked at that light. We had these strip things over the window. It wasn’t curtains, but it was just hanging down with a piece of wood underneath it.

I started to get in bed and I saw the door, and those things had made a cross on the door. The light shining on those things. I just went, “Wow. I guess this is the real deal.” So I’ve followed Christ ever since. Studied the Bible, got into – I didn’t think…. Excuse me. [laughter]

Jim Ratchford: We’ll let them read your book.

Norm Miller: [laughter] It changed my entire life. I started trying to honor God, and those principles that we put into the business, do unto others, treat them the way you want to, be honest. All that came through from scriptures. The guy that led me to Christ started discipling me. I met an hour a week, one on one, with a guy and another guy for two years, one on three, three of us, for three years. I moved to a Bible-teaching church where they taught the Bible, Sunday School and church. So in five years, I added it up one time and I had more hours in learning, training, than I did in college. In college I was a year and a half long. [laughter] Anyway, I just want you to know that the blessings have been predicated by fulfilled promises that I’ve had in my life.

Jim Ratchford: Everyone who’s here is getting a copy of your book so they can read it, and one of the things they’ll learn by reading it, certainly, is that your faith drives everything you do. It’s your passion. You shared a little bit about what that means to you, but you’ve imparted that through I think everything you’re doing at Interstate, and it’s affected the culture of the company. Share that with us.

Norm Miller: I want to tell you one thing that’s significant about what’s already been said. When Joe Gibbs and I and Tommy sat that night and made the deal that we were going to go together and go into this thing, Joe and I agreed that at our age – he’s a couple years younger than me – I wasn’t going to do anything that I couldn’t forefront Christ first at this juncture of my life, at 52 or whatever it was, and Joe was 50. He said, “Agreed.” So everything that we’ve done, we’ve tried to – not lord anything over anybody, but acknowledge our reality mentally and having lived these years that Christ is God’s Son and it’s a real deal.

So that’s been the foundation of our relationship. And not only – also, it’s really funny. Our wives got along and everything too, so we’ve been able to be friends, which is pretty wild.

Jim Ratchford: I know that in this somewhat secular world that we live in, promoting Christian beliefs in a business can have some negative pushback. Tell us about the good, the bad, and the lessons learned that might help other business leaders.

Norm Miller: Well, not really. I don’t think I’ve really been confronted. I remember one time I had one of the people we were doing business with had an opportunity to take advantage of our distributors. Was in a position to pretty much pressure with me. I remember telling him, “No way. Not doing it.” A way that we could both profit against the distributor. But things like that. We’ve had that type of “as we go, so go they” and vice versa, “as they go, so go us.” We’ve tried to always honor the position between us and our customers. I don’t remember being ostracized.

We have board meetings, and in the past our manufacturing board member, which was an officer in a really large world corporation, we would open in prayer, and we still do. We open in prayer in Christ’s name, ask Him to bless us, thank Him for safety for the people coming here, get them home safe, please, and help us to do right by you and do good.

Jim Ratchford: Very good.

Tommy Miller: [Inaudible] “Who told you that?” [laughter]

Norm Miller: Totally separate. He came to Christ –

Tommy Miller: [Inaudible] [laughter]

Norm Miller: He and his wife and me came to Christ totally separate, but all within six months. I know it may sound weird, but it’s just been a God deal all the way. Exactly like he says.

Jim Ratchford: Very good. You and your wife, Anne, have been married now for 58 years, and your son Scott is now the president and CEO of Interstate Batteries, so this is very much a family business. You’re still the majority shareholder?

Norm Miller: Yes.

Jim Ratchford: So you’re going through this family transition. You have some grandkids in the business.

Norm Miller: Have two grandkids in the business, yeah. Two grandsons. It’s funny; to us it’s just been things as usual. But they’re both doing good, the two boys are doing good. The daughter’s just finished her Master’s in the counseling deal, and my daughter has a separate life. She’s happy with it and all.

When Scott became president, which was six, seven years ago – I can’t remember exactly – he never worked for me. When he joined the company on a full-time basis, Tommy was president and then Carlos Sepulveda was president. He had all these different jobs, and when it came time for him to be president, he was the most qualified. It was really great. I didn’t do it, but he had more different varying training within the business than anybody we could’ve hired. He had 20-something years’ experience. It’s just been a blessing, and he follows right in line with godly thinking, trying to do right and be right and treat people right. Praise God, is all I can say.

Jim Ratchford: I know that family transition is pretty tricky in a lot of companies. Robert works in succession planning, and it’s a challenge to go from one generation to the next. Sounds like you’re maneuvering that pretty well.

Norm Miller: I’ve been out of the picture – Tommy wouldn’t let me do anything. [laughter]

Tommy Miller: Every time he’d get involved, I had to clean up behind him. [laughter]

Jim Ratchford: So you’ve been married 58 years. We’re seeing in the news that Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, a lot of successful business leaders aren’t keeping their marriages together, but you and Anne have. I read an update that’s not in the book, but it’s your finding of love, and it involves a motorhome trip with Anne? You want to share a little bit about that?

Norm Miller: Sure. We decided – I think I did, actually. No, that’s right, she wanted to go work at a national park. She came up with the idea to go and work with a national park. You could do six-month deals when they opened. I thought, whoa, wait a minute, working six months in a national park? But she got me going and thinking about national parks. I started looking and everything. I came up with the idea, why don’t we rent a motorhome and go to Alaska? I watered down the deal about three times and she finally agreed.

Let me tell you something. If you have a mate and you get in a vehicle and you’re in it 24 hours a day for weeks on end, be careful. [laughter] Talk about decisions. You have to make when you’re going to leave – first, when you’re going to get up in the morning, and you’re in the same room, and then when are you leaving, where are you going, where are you going to stop, where are we going to eat, what are we going to buy for supper, what are we going to do tonight, where are we going to get the wood, where are we going to park it? We’d drive through – “Oh, I don’t like that place.” “How about this?” “No.” I said, “I’m going to park here.” “I don’t like that.” It was amazing. If we could’ve called an airplane out of Alaska, one of us would’ve left. [laughter] But we were in the boondocks. So after a while, we worked things out. It was crazy, but it was also –

Tommy Miller: [Inaudible] [laughter]

Norm Miller: But I’ll tell you what, it was wonderful overall, after everything settled out. Joe Gibbs met us somewhere up there, and Joan Pat, and went with us for about four or five days. Joe told me later, “I want to tell you something. You’re my hero. I don’t know how you ever made that thing.” [laughter] But we did. We ended up having a really good time, and Anne wrote a book on it for the family with pictures and stuff. We were two months. We flew up to south of Anchorage and rented a motorhome.

Jim Ratchford: Very good. The book that all of you here at Brookhaven are getting was written I believe 25 years ago, 1996. What have you learned since then that might appear in your sequel if you were to write one?

Norm Miller: I would tell about that first meeting with the gal smoking in the Bible study at church. I would’ve included that. Gosh, I haven’t really thought about trying to tell people something about how to go forward. Basically I would say check out God and Christ. I had a verse this morning that came to me – I was actually still in bed. It said, “Christ in me the hope of glory.” It made me think, what does that mean? The hope of glory. I’ve thought about it since then, and I thought, we’re going to get to see glory. Whatever that is. It’s exceedingly abundantly beyond all we can – this is what I thought. It has to be, because I can’t define it. Can you define it? But then the scripture does talk about the glory of the Lord, and I’m thinking, wow. There is a scripture that says “Now to humans they will do exceedingly abundantly beyond all you can ask or think.”

So if I had a closing word, I would say if you want the very best life possible, then I would urge you to take a good look at the promises of Christ. Based on what He said, there’s no one can top it. Or they’re actually not in the ballgame. At least, that’s what I’ve discovered going both ways. I’ve been both ways, and I learned one thing. It’s really funny. I learned one thing when I got into that whole trouble. I said, “One thing about it I know now. I’m not trusting me anymore. Look where I got me.” [laughter]

Jim Ratchford: Very good. That’s a pretty good closing word. Is there anything that we haven’t covered this morning that you’d like to touch on before we go to audience questions?

Norm Miller: I’m kind of overwhelmed with it all.

Tommy Miller: [Inaudible] [laughter]

Norm Miller: Yeah, the author picked out the picture. It was my sister.

Q: What has been the impact of COVID on your business?

Norm Miller: It’s just that it’s been difficult. We’re back now to 60. How many do we have in the offices? Like 250 or something? So we’ve allowed people to come back who want to come back. We’ve not made anybody come back that didn’t want to come back yet, and we’ve done pretty dadgum good. We’ve had the best year we’ve ever had. But the key thing, we’ve managed everything. But the people, a lot of them are ready to come back.

Q: What’s your strategy for imparting faith in your business?

Norm Miller: Gosh, it’s been so long that I don’t really have any kind of strategy. I just try to lift up Christ, but not cram anything in anybody’s face. The one thing we did way back is that we hired a chaplain. We set up a chaplain in Interstate way back, and it was primarily to help employees that wanted to be helped. We also had a lot of people that were believers. Oftentimes when you’re in a church or associated with a community, you have problems and sometimes you don’t want to share them within that circle. So we counsel within one another. They know they can come and speak, and you have problems, as we all have. A guy can be a deacon in a church and if he’s having a marriage problem or something, then he’s got somebody he can talk to that’s not connected there and have the privacy.

The one thing I want to tell you, and I’m not exactly sure what they do now – I should because my son – I just haven’t gone directly. But when Tommy and I became believers, we met every morning at 9:00. We started thinking, “What do we want out of this? And what do we think God wants?” We made a list, and we had like 15 items, which included we wanted multiple return for our investment in advertising. We asked for peace among all the employees, to give us divine discernment that we’d know who to put in what place and what employees to keep and what employees we shouldn’t keep, and that we would honor you and you’d lead us to lead them all. I had people we fired that said, “How can you be a Christian and fire me?” and they came back later and thanked me. But it just happened. But we prayed about all that beforehand.

We made this list and we had like 15 items. First it was Tommy, just you and I, right? Then Gene Woolridge. They came in. We’d come in 9:00 in the morning. Whoever was in town, we came into this little room and we had the list of 15. So we had copies and I said, “You take 1 through 5, I’ll take 5 through 10, you take 10 through 15.” We just would pray. Then 10 minutes, we’re out of there. We did that for years. So we made a list for the convention. That first convention we had, we made a list and we prayed for these things, and we went to the convention and people made some comments that were exactly some of the things that we had prayed for.

On Sunday morning, we had a Sunday morning Christ celebration thing with nice breakfast with entertainment and the whole deal. We had them actually tell us the words. I know, Tommy, y’all pray at least weekly, right? It kind of gravitated to a longer time and on a weekly basis rather than once in the morning like that. The prayers were answered verbatim. We had one guy come up and his wife was at the convention, and he came up and said, “I go to conventions with my wife. I’ve seen a lot of it. I’ve never seen anything like this. This is like a party. I’ve never seen people so happy.”

Q: Why did you choose green for the Interstate Battery color?

Norm Miller: That’s interesting. Searcy and I decided when we were redesigning the battery – I’m sorry, no, I think we were just doing some promotional work or whatever. We were going to choose a color because of the name Interstate. He said, “Norm, I think we ought to be red, white, and blue because the interstate signs at Interstate 75” – isn’t it red, white, and blue? Yeah.

Jim Ratchford: He named that for the interstate highway system that Eisenhower was just starting, right?

Norm Miller: Exactly. I think I said red, white, and blue, and then he said green because the signs were green directing you on the highways. So we decided to sleep on it. The next morning we came back in and I changed. We both changed. So we said, “Well, we’ll just make it green.” I wanted red, white, and blue and he wanted it green and then vice versa. So we ended up just doing it green.

Q: How will the transition to electric vehicles affect Interstate?

Norm Miller: I thought of that and I thought, “That’s Scott’s problem.” [laughter] I’ll be leaving.

Jim Ratchford: For those on Zoom who might not have been able to hear that from Tommy, they’re distributors, so ultimately they expect they can transition to distribute whatever the market needs, and they’ll need lithium batteries as well. Other questions? We’ve got just a few minutes left.

Well, hearing nothing here and seeing nothing further on Zoom. Thank you, Norm, very much for sharing this.

Norm Miller: Thank you. It’s an honor to be here.

Jim Ratchford: Thank you to Diana and Jeff and Tommy for joining us from Interstate. Really appreciate your support for us and for getting Norm here and taking care of everything. Just in wrapping up, just a few more thoughts here. Those of you at Brookhaven, you’re certainly welcome to stick around and do a little networking afterwards. Those of you on Zoom, you’re welcome to stay on Zoom as well. I’ll leave it open just a bit. We’ve had our questions.

Just a reminder, reach out to us, find your role. This works for you and it works for everybody if you get involved. Let’s all work together. As Governor Abbott said, let’s work together, let’s make a difference, and let’s help promote Texas and help Texas businesses achieve their true potential. I think in many respects, that’s what Norm tries to do with his faith and with his culture and with his company: help his team members, employees, and distributors find their true potential. Treat them as he’d want to be treated. Let’s find ways to work together.

Again, appreciate all of you coming to Brookhaven. Appreciate all of you on Zoom. At this point, unless there’s any other business – anything? Then we are adjourned. Go forth and prosper.

Norm Miller: Thank you very much. Thank you. Appreciate it.

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