Joseph Irwin Miller, 95, former Cummins chairman & CEO, died yesterday. He is remembered for building Cummins from a family business into a Fortune 500 company with more than 25,000 employees in 131 countries and more than $6 billion in annual sales.
During the 1940s and 1950s, the company's primary strategy was set forth by Miller. He was named president in 1945 and chairman of the board in 1951.
Under his direction, the company set a high priority on research that would come up with new diesel technology. Second, Cummins worked to reduce costs, while maintaining high product standards. Third, the company created a national network of independent distributors through which it could develop and maintain a close relationship with customers.
Using this blueprint, Cummins sales increased from $20 million in 1946 to more than $100 million in just a decade.
With degrees from Yale (1931) and Oxford (1933), and following a brief apprenticeship with a family-owned grocery chain in San Francisco, Miller went to work for Cummins in 1934 as the company's second general manager.
In 1942 Miller was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Navy Air Corps, where he served aboard the carrier Langley. He saw action in the Marshall Islands, Truk and New Guinea, but was called home to assume the role of executive vp of Cummins Engine.
In his youth, Miller also spent many hours in the workshop of Clessie Cummins, the diesel engine promoter who founded Cummins Engine Co. in 1919 and who had been the family chauffeur. The family invested heavily in the Cummins engine, with W. G. Miller, the uncle of J. Miller, serving as one of the principals and a member of the Board of the newly created manufacturing entity.
Miller realized that for his birthplace, Columbus, IN, to prosper it needed to offer an enhanced quality of life and cultural advantages. To that end, he directed the Cummins Engine Foundation, in the 1950s and again in the 1960s, to start paying the fees of promising young architects who were commissioned by Columbus to design public buildings, including schools.