How a pesky counselor pushed Delphi CEO into the auto business
O’Neal: Work-study option was a big factor.
Delphi CEO Rodney O'Neal keeps a fairly low profile, so it was surprising when he offered a first-person glimpse of his life and career in "The Boss," a popular Sunday business feature in the New York Times.
In the Times' Jan. 6 issue, the 59-year-old Dayton, Ohio, native explained how he wound up in the auto industry.
"When I was a senior in high school, the General Motors Institute, now Kettering University, was diversifying. My counselor recommended that I attend G.M.I., but I told her I was interested in studying computer science at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. My counselor went so far as to fill out a G.M.I. application and slip it into my locker. I signed it and sent it in just to have her leave me alone.
"Soon after, G.M.I. sent me an acceptance letter. Attending G.M.I. worked out well because I didn't know how I would pay for Miami, and the institute had a cooperative program in which I attended classes for six weeks, then worked for six weeks."
After graduating in 1976, O'Neal worked as a production engineer at GM. In 1997 he was appointed head of interior and safety systems at Delphi, then the company's in-house parts maker. Two years later GM spun off Delphi.
"When my colleagues and I were contemplating whether to move to the new company, I said, "Let's go for it." I've always loved a good journey."
O'Neal was promoted to president and COO in 2005, the same year Delphi filed for Chapter 11. In 2007 he was named CEO. The company emerged from bankruptcy in 2009.
"Even though I've been at GM and Delphi my entire career, it feels as if I've been at several companies because I've worked in so many areas," he wrote. "My career is an example of taking advantage of opportunities when they come along."