Remembering Gary Miles

By Chuck McCoy

I met Gary Miles for the very first time on the day we began our employment with Rogers Broadcasting.  The year was 1989 and from that day forward, and right up until his retirement in 2007, the two of us worked side by side in Vancouver for a time and then later in Toronto. Gary was the Radio CEO, I was one of his station managers and for nearly 20 years I was fortunate enough to learn my trade “at the feet of the Master.”

I was blessed that in all our time working together our offices were physically right next to each other with a convenient door at the back of each office allowing me to poke my head into his office literally at will, to exploit his vast experience and receive advice, input and motivation.

Gary Miles taught all of us that winning is hard work.  Gary had a work ethic that was unmatched and he would regularly be in his office before 6 am. Gary was always punctual.  When he scheduled his weekly call with a manager, that phone would ring no more than 30 seconds before or after the scheduled time. You could literally set your watch by it.

We often traveled together stopping by the different Rogers stations across the country. I remember the first time we visited a station together and I suggested that in the morning we might meet in the lobby  of the hotel around 8:30 then head over to the stations for our Company meetings.  Gary would have none of it. He said, “No, we’ll leave at 8, that way we can stop and visit with the on-air morning teams at the stations.” Gary was the CEO of the entire radio division, and yet he always held in high regard all the people on the “floor”

A testament to his enormous influence on those he worked with was more than evident from the hundreds of comments posted on Facebook. The often repeated phrase on social media was; “Great in business and loved people”   Gary was always at his best when he was developing people.

Gary was shrewd, hardworking, and a true leader of people in his illustrious Hall of Fame business career. But the other side of Gary was his capacity for kindness and compassion to those who were experiencing some of the real challenges of life. Gary was always there to help, guide and advise those who sought him out for advice on how to deal with personal problems such as financial struggles, marital difficulties, or perhaps the loss of a job along with other assorted difficult life issues.   As many can verify, Gary was also particularly adept at helping people with substance abuse problems. He took on that task very seriously and effectively.   Now Gary did a lot of this very quietly, but at the same time very consistently. Gary Miles will always be remembered as a brilliant business leader, but rest assured there are many who will remember him most for his sincere caring and compassionate ways.

Gary was loved by all those he touched in his career and in his life outside of broadcasting as well. I will remember Gary as a man who helped me to develop my skills as a broadcaster and also included me and my wife as his friends in so many wonderful times outside of work.

I will forever remember our last conversation barely 48 hours before his passing, when we spent time recalling so many events in our lives together and all the wonderful people that we had been privileged to know and work with. He closed our call by saying, “You know Chuck we were pretty lucky.”

Everyone leaves this earth with a legacy. Gary Miles thoughtfully left his wife Taanta with his legacy in something he printed out in his final days and then left it for her to find and read. Taanta has agreed to share Gary’s words with all of us.

Gary chose a quote from the words of Pericles –

“What we leave behind is not what’s engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others”

Reg Johns, President, Mass 2 One Interactive:
Forty-five years ago, I was working at CFAR Flin Flon doing the top 40-night shift. Unbeknownst to me, Gary was up north on a duck hunting trip. For some reason, he turned on the radio at night and heard me on-air. I don’t know what he heard, because I certainly didn’t have much content, nor any funny jokes, nor a deep voice, but I did say the call letters with energy and I ran a tight board playing the hits. I’m sure he said to himself; “Now there’s a DJ we could probably hire for next to nothing”.

As General manager of CKRC Winnipeg, Gary opened the door for me and turned on the green light brighter and brighter. He quickly became my life coach and mentor – and it stayed this way throughout my career.

As many will attest, Gary never bragged about himself or his accomplishments. As a true mentor, he was always more interested in your growth and was always there for you with objective guidance and help no matter what obstacle you faced at work or in life.

I was blessed to have spent the last nine years with Gary working on radio projects that took us around the world. We spoke every Monday morning at 9 a.m. sharp (you could set your clock to his call). FYC (for our consideration) was his approach to guidance. With the amount of reading he did, and his natural inquisitiveness on business and life, Gary always stayed current. A great person to throw new ideas at. He’d listen and could often find a piece missing, or a nuance of some kind (Typically: “where’s the money?”). If you were feeling the blues, he’d often advise: “Just hold your nose, take the steps – you’ll get through it”. I gathered new insight on each call. Strong, observant, philosophical, considerate, supportive, with humour to the very end.

Elmer Hildebrand, CEO, Golden West Broadcasting:
Gary was punctual and an early riser, as am I, so we were often on the phone in the morning before anyone was in the office. For more than 30 years, he and I would talk on the phone Christmas Eve – early in the morning – to catch up on our families, health and the industry.

Gary was also very caring. After he quit drinking completely many decades ago, he would work with friends and acquaintances to help them with their alcohol dependency. He did this quietly, almost anonymously. Many people had no idea he was spending evenings and weekends helping others in this way.

When he was working in Winnipeg radio – he wanted desperately to get to Toronto where the major broadcast head offices were located. I helped him get the job as President of the Radio Marketing Bureau in Toronto. He worked very hard at this job, while at the same time cultivating broadcast executives in the big city so that he would be positioned to land a real broadcast job there when his term as RMB president finished. He did just that and had great career in the industry.

Pat Bohn, President, Bohn & Associates Media Inc:
I woke on Feb. 25, a Saturday, leisurely having a coffee and preparing myself for the gym. On the way out, I dropped by my office to pick up my phone. Strange. Voicemail from Gary Miles. The message was as courageous as it was clear. “Pat, this is Gary. As you know I have been having tests. They are back and not good…” For the next three minutes my heart broke and a flood of memories reaching back 30 years flashed in front of me.

We had a long, wonderful relationship. Bohn & Associates consulted for Rogers for 25 years as Gary’s position moved from VP, to President, and then CEO. Gary often introduced Bohn & Associates not as his consultant, but as a division of Rogers, smiling as he poked playfully at me. And then came the twist. Gary retired and at his party he winked at me, “I’ll call Monday.” Gary did call, putting on his best pitch, suggesting he come aboard as a consultant with SparkNet. What an interesting juxtaposition. For 25 years, I got a paycheque from him. For the next five years, he got a paycheque from me!

Gary touched many of us. Julie Adam (SVP, Rogers Radio) wrote to the employees of Rogers: “As the CEO of radio, Gary built Rogers Radio into a world-class business with an incredibly strong portfolio, and an even stronger workforce in both programming and sales. The list of his contributions to our business and our people is endless.” And to that end, what I hold dear in my heart, Gary’s words: Dream big. Take a chance. Fail fast. Have fun.

Lannie Sibian, President and Executive VP Sales, CTN
Gary Miles was the epitome of generosity, authenticity and caring, with a work ethic like no other. In addition to the enormous success he brought to companies he worked for and boards he sat on, one of Gary’s greatest legacies is the number of people he has mentored. He wanted people to be the best they could be and he took the time required to make that happen. He had the unique ability to make everybody in his presence feel like they are the most important person in the room. It didn’t matter who you were or what you did, everybody mattered. I had the incredible honour to work with Gary closely over the past five years and I learned more from Gary over that time than I have in my entire 30-year career. Gary was my friend, mentor, role model and hero. He was a force of nature and will be sorely missed by many.

Mike Henry, Paragon Media Strategies:
I met Gary when I was 30 and he was 52. For the next 26 years, he was the closest thing I had to a father as an adult. Despite our age gap, we became fast friends. At our first meeting, which was in Denver where I took him to a wild game restaurant with dead animals all over the walls only to find out he was vegetarian, he said “our next meeting will be on the ski hill.” He wasn’t kidding. The next winter, he was at my house to meet my wife, two daughters and my one month old son on our way to the slopes.

Gary didn’t pull punches. He was outspoken and opinionated. He was the blunt force of life I needed to keep me straight in so many ways. He was quick to call bullshit, but also quick to say “great job.” He could kiss you and slap you at the same time, like no one else. I would hang on a compliment from Gary for years, because it meant so much to me. He challenged me to be a better person and father, and I tried very hard to please him. Even in our last conversation about death, he was stronger than me as I bawled away and he consoled me. I love you, Gary, and I always will.

Geoff Poulton, President, Vista Radio:
In late 1999 I was both mortified and elated when Gary Miles told me I was being promoted to General Manager of NewsTalk 570 in Kitchener. Elated because it was a great move for my career, mortified because he told me I would now report direct to him. Gary was a taskmaster and was known for keeping his direct reports on their toes at all times. Let’s be honest. He scared the crap out of most of us. This was a slight change for me after reporting in to Chuck McCoy (Chuck once gave me my performance review while standing at the photocopier).

So one day, Gary came to Winnipeg for the annual mid-year reviews. I was now running 92 CITI FM and 102 Clear FM and he laid into me. It was brutal. I didn’t know my numbers well enough, the station wasn’t clean enough and WHAT WAS THAT GOD-AWFUL SONG CITI PLAYED YESTERDAY AT 2:17 PM! It was one of those meetings where I wondered if I’d have a job much longer. But in typical Gary fashion, later in the day as I walked him to his cab, my head held low, he turned to me just as he was opening the cab door and said “I am really damned proud of you, you’re doing a great job.”

Gary had this incredible ability to drive you, to make you uncomfortable, to stretch you and yet there wasn’t a single person I knew that wouldn’t walk through walls for him. Me included.

Jean-Marie Heimrath, founder and partner, Clear Channel Group:
Although Gary was a fierce competitor of mine, he always remained a gentleman. We had our differences, however, he was respectful of an opposing position and that is what made him a senior statesman in the broadcast industry.

When Gary and I did get together, it was like picking up our conversation without missing a beat. He was such a delight to be around. His sense of humour and his council when we briefly worked together was something I truly looked forward to.

I will miss his laughter and his presence, but will never forget what he did for the industry and me.