When former Mustang basketball standout David B. Miller ’72, ’73 and his wife, Carolyn, made the largest single alumni gift in SMU history, the Hilltop milestone made headlines in Dallas. Longtime business columnist Cheryl Hall ’73, who earned her journalism degree from the University, wrote about the publicity-shy couple for The Dallas Morning News. In this excerpt of the newspaper profile, their generous spirit and their love for family, community and SMU shine through.
BY CHERYL HALL ’73
How does a guy who went to Southern Methodist University on a basketball scholarship strike it so rich that he can give his alma mater more than $100 million?
He parlays the finance education that he earned at its Edwin L. Cox School of Business into co-founding one of the world’s largest private equity firms.
And just how David B. Miller came to do that is one of those under-the-radar success tales that Dallas is so famous for.
Miller and his wife, Carolyn, pictured at right, made headlines in October 2019 when they gave SMU $50 million — the biggest individual donation in the University’s 108-year history.
The Millers’ moment in the spotlight was unusual for this Highland Park couple who have quietly given tens of millions of philanthropic dollars since 2006.
The couple’s latest donation is intended to keep the Cox School competitive by modernizing and building facilities, hiring additional endowed faculty and expanding undergraduate and graduate scholarships to increase student diversity.
But frankly, a lot of people outside the SMU community don’t know who Carolyn and David are.
David was a three-year varsity standout center from 1968-72 and earned his undergraduate degree and M.B.A. in finance at Cox in the early 1970s.
Today Miller is a co-founder and managing partner of global private equity firm EnCap Investments LP, which completed its 21st fund last year with 350 institutional partners. That brought the total amount of funds under its management to nearly $40 billion since its inception in 1988.
Carolyn, a former elementary school teacher in Garland and social worker, closely guards her privacy while rolling up her sleeves to work for social causes such as aiding seniors, protecting battered women and sheltering the homeless.
But $50 million is hard to keep under wraps, especially when one intent of the Millers’ huge gift was to lead others to SMU’s next major fundraising campaign.
The Millers sat down for the first time ever as a couple to share how they came to spread such enormous largesse.
David Miller keeps a scrapbook close at hand in his home office. Its title: “A Dream Come True.”
“That dream was to play basketball at SMU,” he says, flipping through the worn pages of newsclips and mementos assembled by his mother.
As Miller was about to graduate from Richland High School, the team’s star center had nearly a dozen scholarship offers but not the one that really mattered to him – SMU.
“There was just nothing bigger in the southwestern part of the country than SMU basketball,” he recalls. “Doc Hayes was their legendary coach. My senior year, SMU beat Louisville, the No. 2 team in the country, in the NCAA regional tournament. I was a passionate fan.”
Two days after National Signing Day, the first day high school players can commit to a college, David told his mother at breakfast that he’d reconciled himself to becoming a Red Raider at Texas Tech University. But Fay Ann Miller, now a 92-year-old SMU alum, urged her son to hold out for one more day.
Celebrating the naming of Moody Coliseum’s David B. Miller Court in 2018.
“It was magical,” he recalls. “I show up at the high school the next day, and there is the legendary coach Doc Hayes and his replacement, Bob Prewitt, who was actually my coach, and they offer me a scholarship. And the rest is history. My dream came true.”
Miller earned his undergraduate degree on a basketball scholarship and his M.B.A. in finance on a teaching fellowship, so he never paid a dime in tuition. He says that as he crossed the stage to receive his M.B.A. diploma, he promised himself that he would give back if he ever could.
His first donation was a $25 gift to the Mustang Club and a $100 pledge to SMU’s general operational fund in 1979.
Little did he know just how much he’d be able to pay it forward.
He started his career in energy lending for Dallas’ Republic National Bank, which was one of the largest financial institutions in the Southwest.
In 1980, the 30-year-old and his buddy, Bob Zorich, left Republic to form an oil and gas company in Denver. Seven years later, when energy boom times went bust, the partners sold out and moved back to Texas.
That same year, Miller — backed by the late, legendary oilman L. Frank Pitts and his son-in-law, Bill Custard — formed PMC for Pitts, Miller and Custard, scraping together energy properties viewed as worthless by most investors.
“The major oil companies had all decided that domestic onshore opportunities wouldn’t move the needle,” Miller recalls. “So they had moved to the deep waters in the Gulf of Mexico and international exploration and were selling their domestic properties. There was a wealth of opportunity to buy. You just had to find the money.”
PATH TO BIG RICH
PMC’s first fund raised $20 million with three institutional investors: Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a huge medical foundation in Washington, D.C., and two major insurance companies.
PMC eventually became part of EnCap (short for Energy Capital) Investments — co-founded by Miller, Zorich and three other friends from Republic Bank. Frank Pitts considered Miller his adopted son, says Linda Pitts Custard, Pitts’ daughter and wife of Bill.
“Daddy was a wildcatter, as you know, and he appreciated David’s entrepreneurship and his ethical approach to business,” she says. “David is a very personable, warm, affable man. None of his success has gone to his head. He remains just as down-to-earth as he was when I met him 30 years ago.
“The business partnership separated, but the deep friendship remained.”
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
David’s son, Kyle Miller, made headlines of his own three years ago.
In 2012, Kyle started Silver Hill Energy Partners LLC, an independent oil and gas company, with $12 million in seed money. He sold it four years later for $2.4 billion to Dallas-based RSP Permian Inc., a publicly held Permian producer. The Oil & Gas Journal called it the “2016 M&A Deal of the Year.”
Kyle says his father taught him and his sister, Meredith Miller Bebee, that their most valuable assets were their word and integrity.
“He treats people with dignity and respect regardless of what their lot in life is. He’s a believer in collective thinking from smart minds,” says the 40-year-old founder of Silver Hill Energy Holdings LLC, which he founded last year.
David and Carolyn married 19 years ago — the second marriage for each.
“I have massive respect for her and what she thinks,” David says, looking over at Carolyn on the couch. “And while I may not agree with some of her political leanings, I respect them. Frankly, if you think about the discord that’s going on in the country, that’s probably the solution.
“She’s softened me.”
Carolyn grew up in Magnolia, Arkansas, a town of about 12,000, before earning her degree in elementary education at Hendrix College in 1974. She also holds master’s degrees in elementary education and in gerontology.