TOKYO - James Miller said he resigned as Mazda Motor Corp. president for health reasons. But many industry observers here wonder if there was more to it.
Miller, 53, said he spent 'a couple of weeks' in the Mazda Hospital in Hiroshima, Japan, last year for an unidentified ailment. His doctors advised him then to retire, he has said, but he ignored them.
'In recent weeks and months, it has become more obvious to me that I had no choice but to retire,' Miller said at a press conference shortly after the Mazda board named Mark Fields to replace him as president.
He said he would remain on the Ford Motor Co. payroll for the time being but did not expect to be reassigned.
He said the health issues were personal, and he asked reporters to respect that. His Japanese interpreters helped, subtly changing the wording of some Japanese reporters' questions about his future treatment into queries about his future plans for work.
The abruptness of the change, however, left some observers casting about for other reasons.
Miller's management style was known to have rankled some Japanese senior managers at Mazda. And it is known that Mazda union leaders traveled to Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., to complain about Miller to Henry Wallace, Mil-ler's predecessor as Mazda president.
Although Wallace will become Ford's CFO in January, he will retain direct responsibility for Mazda. Miller said Wallace suggested Fields as his successor.
If labor troubles haunted Miller, they won't go away for Fields. His work to consolidate back-office operations at Mazda-owned or affiliated dealerships in Japan directly has threatened jobs for members of Mazda's companywide union.
'We have a union whose objective is to save jobs,' Fields said. 'We have an industry that's brutally competitive, and some of that is at odds with the union's objective.'