Robert S. Miller Jr., who helped Chrysler Corp. overcome its financial difficulties in the 1980s, sees parallels between the automaker's troubles and those he'll face as the new chairman of Morrison Knud-sen Corp.
Miller, a former vice chairman at Chrysler, was named Sunday to the top job at foundering Morrison Knudsen, the Boise, Idaho-based engineering and construction company that once played a role in the building of landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam.As chairman, Miller will help fill a leadership vacuum created by the forced resignation of chairman and chief executive William J. Agee.
Beset by heavy losses and management turmoil, Morrison Knud-sen will rely on Miller for some of the expertise he developed as Chrysler's principal negotiator during its financial turnaround. He served as chief financial officer from 1981 to 1990 and first joined the automaker in 1979.
"Basically, it's `Been there, done that,' " Miller, 53, said in a telephone interview from his home near Bend, Ore.
Chrysler faced huge losses and a loss of confidence from lenders in the early 1980s. Eventually the company, with Miller playing a central role, negotiated a U.S. government bailout and went on to restructure its operations and return to profitability.
Central to Morrison Knudsen's survival will be calming the 28 banks that have been the company's primary lenders and securing financing to keep it solvent while it digs out from a projected $310 million loss for 1994.
Analysts last month estimated Morrison Knudsen needs to restructure $235 million in debt and secure $125 million in new credit.
Miller had little to say on the topic of Agee, who resigned under pressure in February after criticism of his tenure as chairman and chief executive became too much to ignore.
"In brief, it was great vision and lousy execution," he said.
But even with Agee gone, the turmoil in Morrison Knudsen's top ranks continued.
In just two days last month, the company saw its acting chairman, former Reagan cabinet member William Clark, and board member Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former Carter administration national security adviser, resign after 1994 loss projections doubled.