Arjay Miller, longtime confidant of Henry Ford II, was one of two Whiz Kids to become president of Ford Motor Co. Miller's career contrasted sharply with that of the other Whiz Kid president, Robert S. McNamara.
McNamara left after a brief tenure to become President Kennedy's secretary of defense. But Miller had a long connection with Ford. Although he eventually left the company to become dean of Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, Miller was a company director until he retired at age 70. Even after that, he remained among the members of the inner circle of Henry Ford II.
Miller, 87, lives in Woodside, Calif. He spoke with Dave Guilford.
What makes Ford Motor Co. special?
Henry Ford II's personal dominance of the company gave it a different character, certainly different from other publicly owned companies in the automobile game. GM and Chrysler were not that way. You knew who the boss was. There were no palace politics with anyone trying to take over.
What was the most memorable event at Ford in which you played a part?
I probably had the most influence on the international side. In the early days of Ford, the overseas (administration) was separate from the U.S. It was run out of New York. It was duplication and very costly. I came up with the thought that we ought to get rid of the overseas staff and do everything through a single staff in Dearborn. That was really a big decision, but Henry Ford backed me up and we did that.
What is an achievement that people may not associate you with?
When the company was trying to act like a modern corporation, the other corporations all had annual reports. Ford had none. So I wrote the first annual report - the financial tables and the charts and the footnotes and a nice cover. I sent it out and had 100 copies made. When it was finished, I went proudly in to see Mr. Ford. He looked at it and said, "I like it. I need five more. My two brothers, my sister, my mother and my grandmother." I didn't tell him I had 94 copies left.
You had a long relationship with Henry Ford II. How was he different from his public image?
He was always the CEO when I was there, and he was a good one. He played so hard that people thought he was a playboy, but he worked hard, too. He took his work and his family obligation very seriously. The company was in a god-awful mess when he took it over. He thought it was a burden, in a way (current CEO) William Clay Ford feels an obligation to make a go of it for the family.
He was a good judge of people, and he would follow the advice of good people. He was not afraid to learn things. But he had great instincts. It's a big business, but essentially it's a simple business; success or failure depends on the cars you put out. All the cars we put out were personally approved by him. He was the ultimate decision-maker.