For years Norman Miller kept his life quite simple. He sold batteries for Interstate and he drank whenever he could. One morning in 1974, however, Norman woke up from a hangover with a frightful realization. He was an alcoholic and he had lost control of his life. Right then Norman blurted out in desperation, “God help me I can’t handle it.” Today Norman thanks God for giving him the power to change his ruined life. It also changed the way he approaches business. As chairman of the board for Interstate Batteries since 1978, Norman and the management team have maintained a commitment to help their employees develop both professionally and spiritually. Please welcome Mr. Norman Miller as he shares with us how he found the power to live a new life:Most of you have never heard of me and most of you may have not heard of Interstate Batteries. I usually begin by explaining a little bit about who Interstate is. I do it for two reasons. One, most people never know anything about us and two, my public relations director said that if I’m going to come out here on company time I’m going to talk about the company a little bit.
Interstate was founded in the spring of 1961 as a private battery company with a distribution intent to develop a national sales and a system of distribution for Interstate branded batteries across the United States. This was to be done through privately owned and operated distributorships. This was to find trade areas. There would be so many cars in an area that we’d make a distributorship, or a lot of people call them franchise areas. This was primarily to the retail trade like service trade, car dealers, marinas, and places like that. Mostly your smaller retail businesses. The package was to put out a premium quality battery on a consignment basis and at extremely competitive prices and back it all up with a liberal warranty package and service that was unmatched. This was the basis for our business when our founder founded the company a number of years ago and it still primarily is the basic thing that we do in business.
In 1965 I went to work for the national company and it was three steps forward and two steps back. We added some men along the way and in 1961 we sold a half a million batteries. We added some more sales people and in 1976 we had our first million battery year. So we sold a million batteries in 1976. We backed that right up and in 1978 we sold two million batteries and in 1980 we sold three million batteries and in 1984 we sold four million. At this time, we have 350 distributors throughout the United States and Canada and our sales exceeded eight million seven hundred thousand batteries with an established account base of two hundred and five thousand retail accounts in the United States and Canada. That really is a tremendous accomplishment for us and it’s been a joy to be a part of all that. We passed Delco several years ago and in January of 1990 we passed the Sears and the Diehard and since then it’s been a pretty good fight. They just don’t roll over and play dead. That gives you a little run down on Interstate and the basis that I come to you from on a business standpoint.
I’d like to take a minute now and tell you my personal story. I’m a good old southern boy. I was born right here in Memphis, Tennessee, 1938. My family ended up going back to Texas about a year later. I didn’t know many people so I went with them! That’s just to be sure you’re with me here now! We moved to Galveston, Texas, which is an island in the Gulf of Mexico on the coast. It’s about fifty miles south of Houston. We moved there when I was five years old in 1943, right in the middle of World War II.
Now Galveston for those of you that don’t know it was a bustling, bawdy, war town and port with ninety-five thousand people then. It has sixty-five thousand today. Ninety-five thousand people and my father owned a service station and garage right in the middle of the island. Galveston had a heritage of wine, women, song, and gambling, most of which was illegal and prostitution. It went all the way back to the Pirate named John Lafayette. Back in the 1800’s this whole island and bay back in the gulf there had a lot of pirates operating out of there because they could they could go back up in there and hide after being out in the open seas. This was the heritage if Galveston, Texas. It had it’s own Mafia type family. It wasn’t connected with the Chicago bunch but it was a people that had a Mafia type lifestyle. They were rum smugglers from Mexico and Puerto Rico during the prohibition. This is the kind of place that I grew up in.
Being that we had a service station we ended up in the battery business. I inherited something else from my dad, drinking. On Saturday afternoons about 2 o’clock, he and others at the station would set up a bar in the back room and all the regular customers would go back there and pay there bill for the week and have a drink. I remember hearing him say, “Hey, I just want to have a little fun.” Often at about 8 o’clock at night some of the men would have to carry him home and put him to bed. Not all the time but quite often. I followed in his footsteps. I started drinking at fourteen. I can’t remember, if I look back, not having fun and drinking as my major game plan. I gravitated around people that drank a lot and partied a lot. That was easy to do back in Galveston.
Fun by drinking and partying became my goal throughout high school, college. And after finishing college—who knows how, grace of God— I added to my goal list business success. I wanted to have an ideal house and wife and family and a good job and a title. I wanted to make good money. I wanted to have a pretty wife and kids, one of each kind. I wanted the whole shot. I wanted a magazine cover and I wanted to have money to party and travel. The old American dream.
I ended up here in Memphis, Tennessee again back in 1962. I was selling batteries and operating a route truck and working a distributorship with my dad and brothers. Two and half years later I went to work directly for Interstate back in Dallas. I returned to Texas, the home office. That meant I was on the road a lot. I traveled across the country working with distributorships like the one I’d come from. Helping to establish them and sell for them and trying to get them growing on a larger basis. It freed me up to just keep life simple. The first year I was gone eight months out of eleven months. All I did was sell batteries and drink and party. That was about the extent of my life.
After several years of this, my wife had decided sooner or later she was going to leave me. She hadn’t made her mind up when and her father was an alcoholic and he was from Galveston, Texas, also, so she figured, evidently this is the way the waves flow. There wasn’t any big rush to get out there because there wasn’t probably any decent men out there anyway.
By thirty-five years old I really had reached all these goals. They weren’t really very big but they were mine and I reached them ahead of time, in fact, and yet there was no payoff. I had no fulfillment in my life. I remember coming home one Friday night and I’d been out on the road traveling and I’d been drinking on the plane and I was half loaded up. I was converting the garage into a Cabana room and building a swimming pool and I remember standing out there with a drink in my hand and I remember looking through the studs and checking out the work for the week that had happened since I’d been gone.
I looked over toward the bedroom and I thought, “I could knock that wall out and put in some french doors and I could do this.” Then my mind said, “Norm, what are you talking about? Here you are already changing things and yet you haven’t even finished or enjoyed this project.” I remember asking myself, “Where’s the payoff? Is this all there is to life”? I remember the country western song that says, “stop the world and let me off.” I remember thinking that.