Helped re­vive Ford

ARJAY MILLER

Los Angeles Times - - CITY & STATE - By Steve Mar­ble steve.mar­ble@la­times.com Twit­ter: @stephen­mar­ble

Arjay Miller, one of the Ford Mo­tor Co. “Whiz Kids” who helped turn around a fail­ing au­tomaker with a push for greater safety and later cham­pi­oned in­clu­sion and so­cial jus­tice as dean of Stan­ford’s Grad­u­ate School of Busi­ness, has died at 101.

Miller was fresh from the Army Air Forces when he joined up with nine fel­low World War II vet­er­ans to of­fer them­selves up — as a team and a team only — to Ford, which was re­port­edly los­ing money at a rate of $1 mil­lion a day and hadn’t turned a profit in a decade and a half.

It was 1946 and Henry Ford II, the grand­son of the auto com­pany’s leg­endary founder, was new to the job and “search­ing for an­swers” to re­sus­ci­tate the firm he’d in­her­ited when he re­ceived a tele­gram from Charles B. “Tex” Thorn­ton, an am­bi­tious colonel who wrote that he and nine bud­dies were will­ing to help Ford get back on track.

With lit­tle left to lose, Ford hired all 10.

At first the brash new­com­ers were de­ri­sively known as the “Quiz Kids” for their in­ces­sant ques­tion­ing of com­pany prac­tices, ac­count­ing and di­rec­tion. But that la­bel was tossed aside as the com­pany’s for­tunes be­gan to turn around. Over the years, six of the Whiz Kids would go on to be pres­i­dents or vice pres­i­dents in the firm. One mem­ber, Robert McNa­mara, be­came U.S. sec­re­tary of De­fense af­ter his stint as pres­i­dent of Ford.

Miller, who be­came Ford’s pres­i­dent in 1963, was an early ad­vo­cate of in­creased safety for mo­torists, a point of view that was sharp­ened one evening when he was driv­ing home from work at the com­pany’s head­quar­ters in Dear­born, Mich. His Con­ti­nen­tal was hit from be­hind by an­other driver, spun out of con­trol and burst into flames on the high­way. He was able to scram­ble to safety.

“I still have burn­ing in my mind an image of that gas tank on fire,” he told a U.S. Se­nate sub­com­mit­tee months later when he tes­ti­fied about the press­ing need for im­proved safety fea­tures in Amer­ica’s f leet of au­to­mo­biles. He specif­i­cally pointed to the po­ten­tially fa­tal prob­lem of fuel-fed fires in cars that rolled over or were in­volved in crashes.

Miller also over­saw the ar­rival of one of the com­pany’s sig­na­ture ve­hi­cles — the Mus­tang. It was Ford’s most suc­cess­ful launch since the Model A.

In 1969, Miller was named dean of Stan­ford’s grad­u­ate school for busi­ness stu­dents in what turned out to be an era of re­mark­able growth. En­dow­ments in­creased, as did the num­ber of en­dowed chairs. The grad­u­ate school be­came more di­verse and the num­ber of women at­tend­ing the school in­creased, as Miller preached that busi­ness lead­ers should be­come more so­cially and civi­cally in­volved.

“Mak­ing money is the easy part — mak­ing the world a bet­ter place is the hard part,” he told stu­dents and fel­low aca­demics.

Born in tiny Shelby, Neb., Miller grew up in a farm­ing fam­ily and came west to at­tend UCLA, where he earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree. His grad­u­ate work at UC Berke­ley was in­ter­rupted by the war.

At the time of his death Nov. 3, he was liv­ing in Woodside, not far from the Stan­ford cam­pus.

He is sur­vived by a daugh­ter, Ann; a son, Ken; three grand­chil­dren and six great-grand­chil­dren. Frances, his wife of 70 years, died in 2010.

Stan­ford Grad­u­ate School of Busi­ness

EARLY AD­VO­CATE OF SAFETY Arjay Miller, left, with Henry Ford II, tes­ti­fied be­fore a Se­nate sub­com­mit­tee about the press­ing need for im­proved safety fea­tures in Amer­ica’s fleet of au­to­mo­biles just months af­ter he sur­vived a fiery crash.

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