Q&A: Mr. Fix-It

Chrysler, Morrison Knudsen, Bethlehem Steel—in crisis, all called Steve Miller. In The Turnaround Kid, out February 5, the Delphi chairman writes about working for Lee Iacocca and saving some of the old economy's oldest companies.

You've worked mostly at old-economy firms, yet you're on the board of the software firm Symantec. That's a different world.
Silicon Valley thinks differently—a quarter is a long time there, but in the car business, five years seems too fast. Old-economy companies need to learn that decision making is getting faster.

What should new-economy folks learn from the old?
The younger generation, they're often job hoppers and don't share a sense of loyalty to employers. Career portability is good, but needs to be balanced. So long as you're with an employer, you have to do everything to help that enterprise succeed.

At Chrysler, you worked with Bob Lutz, who now heads GM.
I'm astonished at his immortality. I remember when he'd sit at the lunch table, doodling car designs on his napkin. He thinks as youthfully as ever, but GM is still choking on a cost problem.

In your book, you're frank about Iacocca's imperial style.
I'd call what I wrote "candid and balanced."

Would Iacocca agree?
I saw him recently, and said, "I'm writing a book. You're going to like parts of it, and you're not going to like other parts." He said, "I left you out of my last book, so we're even."

Let's say I'm an aspiring CEO. What's one piece of advice for me?
Do what sounds fun. If you don't, that will slow you down.

Delphi is set to exit bankruptcy this quarter. How's that going?
Everyone has performed magnificently, and the moment our bankruptcy is done, I'll ride into the sunset.

Are you looking for another turnaround?
The phone is ringing with opportunities. As I write in the book, I lost my wife of 40 years and got remarried a few months ago. My new wife is just 50. She's full of piss and vinegar. And I don't think I'm a put-up-my feet-and-drink-Martinis kind of guy.

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