Since Sarah Starkey joined Larry H. Miller Dealerships eight years ago, the company has acquired and opened 35 dealerships – with Starkey providing the general counsel legal services encompassing mergers and acquisitions.
“I think it’s unique that I fully execute these transactions internally. These types of matters are typically handled by a large outside firm and simply managed in-house, rather than entirely executed by in-house counsel,” she says.
Starkey thoroughly enjoys each transaction and the opportunity to participate on the acquisitions team; and though you would think that keeps her busy enough, it’s just one aspect of her position as vice president and general counsel for the dealerships. As the corporate attorney, Starkey oversees all legal matters for Larry H. Miller Dealerships, which now includes more than 60 dealerships in seven western states.
In addition to acquisitions, Starkey handles risk management, state and federal sales and service compliance, development of standardized forms with strict regulatory compliance, development and maintenance of employment policies, manufacturer contracts, litigation, advertising and contract review, and employment and government relations. Additionally, she is recognized as an expert in governmental relations as related to franchise laws in the seven states in which the company holds an interest.
“I also oversee several non-legal departments. For example, I oversee the corporate customer relations department and assist with customers who have had a grievance with a dealership. By addressing and resolving customer concerns early and proactively we reduce the risk of consumer litigation. Our Customer Service Specialist works with customers to ensure we’ve addressed their experience, and they feel confident about doing business with us. Our vision is to be the best place in town to do business, and we hold ourselves to a high standard of customer excellence” she says.
Starkey began with the company as a staff attorney, moving into the role of general counsel three years ago. She was promoted to vice president in 2017.
“I like the diversity of matters my role provides in any given day – or even hour,” she says. “I have the opportunity to engage in a wide variety of legal and business issues. I’m always challenged; there’s never been a day in the past eight years that’s been mundane. There’s always something new to learn, which is the type of environment I thrive in,” she explains.
In addition to always keeping up with new laws and regulations, Starkey enjoys learning about the automotive industry.
“For example, I might have to learn about the installation and functionality of a rear differential so that I can provide legal advice and assist to resolve an issue or mitigate risk,” she explains.
LANDING IN THE AUTOMOTIVE FIELD
Although Starkey shares that she did not set out to work in the automotive field, it’s become a perfect fit.
She was always a motivated high-achiever, completing both college and law school in a scant four-and-a-half years. She graduated from the University of Utah in two-and-a-half years, and then attended the SCALE program, an accelerated legal program at Southwestern Law School in California, graduating summa cum laude.
She stayed in California after graduating, practicing law there for a number of years. When she was ready to move back to Utah, she saw Larry H. Miller Dealership’s job posting.
“I had no background in automotive at all,” she admits. “It was a new challenge, but one of the things that I think makes me successful is that I’m a quick study and I’m not afraid to ask questions. I’m a constant student. I thrive on that.”
“I really enjoy working at Larry H Miller Dealerships,” she continues. “It’s a family-owned business that grew from one store and it’s operated with the core values that Larry and Gail Miller established the company with – hard work, integrity, service and stewardship. Having all of those things is important to me, so finding it all in one place is ideal.”
As much as Sarah thrives at deftly handling multiple areas of the law, she also thrives on giving back to the community that has given her so much. She’s the immediate past president for Women Lawyers of Utah; is on the board of trustees for The Road Home; the board of trustees for the Girl Scouts of Utah, a board member for the College of Social and Behavioral Science at the University of Utah; past committee member for the National Automobile Dealers Association; and chair of the Gail Miller Women’s Leadership Group, which she helped to establish in 2015.
“My mother instilled the importance of service when I was a child, so giving back is part of who I am. Thankfully, it is also a part of ‘Who We Are’ at Larry H. Miller Dealerships. I am always identifying opportunities to serve and for ways to make and use connections with organizations and business leaders to create positive experiences for underprivileged members in the community. It is very gratifying to lead projects and initiatives that affect positive change in my community and help individuals in need.
HOME SWEET HOME
When she’s not working or giving back in the community, Starkey spends time with her partner, Steven, 10-year-old Canyon Lynn, and their two giant schnauzers, affectionately referred to as The Muppet Twins. She enjoys cooking, spending time with friends and hosting parties. Her favorite pastime? Hiking.
“Utah is one of the most beautiful places on earth and it’s right in our backyard,” she says.