He changed the world right here in Waterloo, his hometown.
In 1986, Van G. Miller, with the help of two old friends, embarked on a journey that would forever change the economic landscape of his hometown of Waterloo, Iowa.
Under Van’s leadership, the original VGM & Associates, a buying group for independent home medical equipment dealers, evolved into VGM Group, Inc., a diverse group of more than 25 companies.
Van was famous for many things: His uncanny business vision; his ability to surround himself with people who were experts in the many fields in which VGM was engaged; his risk-taking when the so-called “experts” told him something wouldn’t work; his determination to give a company time to succeed; the willingness to make the tough decisions when his management team couldn’t reach consensus; his unbelievable loyalty to his friends and employees; his generosity when it came to his community and friends; and the most obvious quality of all – he was one of the nicest people in the world.
He was beloved by associates, whom he called on birthdays and anniversaries, an act that took more and more time with the company’s growth. He passed out treats on Halloween wearing amazing costumes, delivered flowers on May Day and Christmas gifts in a Santa hat and with jingle bells on his tennis shoes. Van was an enthusiastic participant in VGM’s famous Food Days, staffed the grill when we cooked out, loved meeting members at Heartland and Medtrade, and enjoyed sales meetings, golf outings and Friday afternoons at the Lighthouse.
Van often described his business style as “management by walking around.” If he saw a meeting taking place, he would often grab a chair and sit in. On his way to wherever he was going in the VGM buildings, he’d speak to every associate he encountered.
He changed the world of HME.
Under his leadership, VGM grew to be the country’s largest and most powerful buying group for independent HMEs and then diversified to provide an array of services to 25,000 businesses.
Van believed community-based HME businesses played a critical role in the care continuum of patients. Van understood that for these businesses to truly capitalize on their ability to serve patients, they would need the advantages afforded to the large national providers.
This was the genesis of VGM & Associates’ buying group model: providing independent HMEs with a level playing field with access to key manufacturers and discounted product pricing.
Van, being a true entrepreneur and risk taker, then allowed the business to grow into new directions within the health care arena – complex rehab, home modifications, orthotics and prosthetics.
When the Medicare Modernization Act mandated competitive bidding, which is a nightmare for HME providers and their patients, VGM started a government relations department to rally the grassroots troops. That effort evolved into one of the most aggressive efforts in the industry, and it continues today, fighting the good fight against onerous government decisions that affect our members and their patients.
His abilities were recognized with a list of industry and business honors. His acceptance responses were simple and always went something like, “This is for the associates. They’re the ones who do the work.”
He changed our world when he made a momentous decision in 2005.
Van believed that forming an ESOP was the best succession plan. He wanted the employees, whom he credits with making the company successful, to own what they helped build. In 2005, a complex business transaction called the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) was under way, and in 2008 VGM became entirely owned by its associates, meaning 100 percent of the success of VGM ultimately reverts to its employees.
Van passed away in 2015, and thanks to his vision, an orderly management transition took place. The company didn’t miss a beat, although the employee-owners greatly miss Van.
In one of his last video interviews, he was asked how he wanted to be remembered. “As a good guy,” he said.
Van, you were.