The Turnaround Kid by Steve Miller isn’t the kind of book I typically read, but I loved it.
Normally, you’ll find me with my nose buried in a novel: James Lee Burke, Alan Furst, Cormac McCarthy. Occasionally, I’ll detour into nonfiction, usually recent American history or religion.
I suppose The Turnaround Kid fits into the category of recent American history. But it’s also part business book and a tiny bit memoir. For all that, it reads like a novel.
It’s the story of Steve Miller (full disclosure here: Steve was a grade school and high school classmate of mine), a sort of corporate Ghostbuster, racing from one financially haunted corporation to another, attempting to save them from total disintegration. (Feel free to sing along with Ray Parker, Jr., as you read this.)
Miller, early in his career as assistant controller of Chrysler, was a key figure in the automotive giant’s 1980 financial bailout. Later, as CFO, he was touted as a prime candidate to succeed Lee Iacocca as the corporation’s CEO. But Miller probably was too outspoken for his own good and didn’t get the job.
He left Chrysler and found his true calling: rescuing multi-billion companies from their monetary morasses. He loved the action; he reveled in the challenges. He also discovered that overseeing the day-to-day business of big corporations bored him.
So it was that he built a storied career as an itinerate CEO of companies in distress. In the process, he acquired a broad background in American business, dealing with everything from health care to big steel to waste management. Along the way he rubbed elbows with high fliers the rest of us only read about: Paul Volker, Carl Ichan, and Senator John Kerry, just to name a few.
Miller wasn’t a slash-and-burn “rescuer,” however. He didn’t go in and just dismantle companies and allow the vultures to pick the meat from their bones. He carried out surgical strikes, trying to salvage as much of a corporation as possible, sensitive to the fact that the lives of people and communities were at stake.
Miller was one of the CEO good guys. He once took an annual salary of $1 at Delphi, knowing it wouldn’t look good to do otherwise when he was asking hourly wage earners to sacrifice. My old friend Steve would never have fit in at AIG.
The Turnaround Kid is a fascinating read. If nothing else, you’ll understand why America’s automotive industry is in so much trouble.
But I warn you, the first 15 pages or so of the book are gut wrenching. Miller recounts the death of his first wife, Maggie. Maggie was his alter ego and soulmate of almost 40 years before brain cancer claimed her. Miller himself later battled prostate cancer.
Thus it is that his book presents the human side of big business.
Photo: The Turnaround Kid by Steve Miller
Not the kind of book I typically read, but I loved it.