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Memoirs of a 'Turnaround Kid'

Allan Sloan is a senior editor-at-large at Fortune

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Lisa Napoli: Steve Miller has had a hand in some of America's biggest corporations at their worst time of need: Chrysler, Bethlehem Steel, Waste Management among them. Now, he's written a book about his adventures in corporate America. It's called "The Turnaround Kid."

Fortune Magazine's Allan Sloan says the Steve Miller book is a great read -- partly because his book isn't just about business:

Allan Sloan: Well, if it had not been for the first chapter, I probably would have thrown the entire book away. Because it describes Miller rushing to the hospital in suburban Detroit, where his wife is lying terminal, and how she dies before he gets there because his plane was late.

Napoli: Oooh.

Sloan: And you say, "Whoa! Who would write this?" So suddenly, I'm sitting up and I'm paying attention, because you don't see things like this, Lisa, ever.

Napoli: He's far more confessional than a guy in a suit usually is, especially in his memoir, when they're usually congratulating themselves for all their fantastic accomplishments.

Sloan: Yeah, I mean so you have this whole confessional tone that trickles in through it with amazing sort of interesting stories -- at least, I find them amazing. And the business is stuff is usually, you know, six ways to turn around a company, 27 reasons I'm a genius -- I mean, you know what these things are like.

Napoli: Oh yeah.

Sloan: And the business stuff. I mean, obviously some of it is self-serving, but a lot of it is really interesting, because it's written very simply. And he doesn't pretend he succeeded in everything. You can make a case -- at least, I do -- that if it weren't for Miller and his company, Delphi, this parts maker that's still trying to get out of bankruptcy, if he had not taken that thing into bankruptcy, I think in the end all of the Detroit Three auto companies would absolutely have had to go Chapter 11. Some of them may have to go Chapter 11 anyway, but at least now they have a fighting chance.

Napoli: One of the interesting things you write about is Miller's interaction with Lee Iacocca.

Sloan: He was in the hierarchy of Chrysler, under Iacocca. It did very well, but he writes that in his opinion, Iacocca got to think of himself as a king, everybody kissed various parts of Iacocca's anatomy, and that the company was starting to slip back into the bad habits that it had before Iacocca parachuted in and tried to save it. And somehow or other, he ends up writing a letter about Iacocca's failings and handing it to Iacocca. And in fact, I think you can argue that that's what launched Miller as a freelance corporate turnaround guy -- 'cause anyone handed me a letter like that, I probably wouldn't want him around either.

Napoli: That's Fortune Magazine's Allan Sloan talking about the new book by Steve Miller. It's called, "The Turnaround Kid."

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