Marvin T. Runyon

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Marvin T. Runyon (September 16 1924May 3 2004) was an United States business executive.

After a long career as a manufacturing executive at Ford Motor Company, he retired, then was the U.S. head of Nissan for several years. He later served as chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and as United States Postmaster General.

He was a forceful and charismatic figure who picked up the nicknames "Marvelous Marv" and "Carvin' Marvin".


Ford years

He was born in Fort Worth, Texas and started working for Ford at the now-closed Dallas Assembly Plant in 1943, where his father was also employed. He served in the United States Army Air Forces later during 1943 to 1945 and returned to Ford. After graduation from Texas A&M University in 1948 he began to climb in management, making the rounds through Ford assembly plants in Atlanta, Georgia and Lorain, Ohio during the 1950s.

He was a plant manager during the 1960s .

He became an executive at the assembly operations headquarters in 1969 and became assembly division general manager in 1972. From 1973 to 1977 he was vice-president in charge of powertrain and chassis operations, then became vice president in charge of vehicle assembly and body stamping operations in 1978. When he retired at the end of 1980 it was widely rumored that he was going to head all Nissan operations in the United States, but that announcement did not come until several days after he had actually retired.

Nissan years

In 1981 Runyon became the chief executive of Nissan North America and supervised the construction of its assembly and engine plants in Smyrna, Tennessee. These plants became among the most productive in the auto industry.

He was replaced by another former Ford plant manager, Jerry Benefield, when he moved on to TVA.

TVA years

In 1988 Runyon was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to head the Tennessee Valley Authority. TVA, America's largest electric power producer, was struggling with enormous debts from its failing nuclear power program. A creation of the New Deal era, TVA had also been the Congressional dumping ground for a multitude of unrelated Federal programs and projects. TVA managed not only nuclear plants, but ran recreation facilities, tested electric cars, produced fertilizer, and even owned a herd of buffalo—in all, more than 186 separate business units. TVA's electric rates had skyrocketed in past years to pay for uncompleted nuclear plants, and high electric rates were threatening the region's economy.

Runyon, a serious-minded technical manager, believed that TVA's management had too many distractions from TVA's wide-ranging activities, so he ordered non-essential business units closed. Runyon's aggressive cost cutting began with a promise to residential and commercial customers that TVA would not increase rates under his watch. This pledge forced TVA management to reduce costs in order to keep electric rates stable.

Although popular with homeowners and the business community, Runyon's cost cutting included massive layoffs—more than 7,000 employees were let go on one day alone. The staff reductions earned him the sobriquet "Carvin Marvin" which inspired a satirical song played on local radio stations.

On the other hand, the TVA Runyon left behind was much leaner, more focused, and had begun paying down its massive debt load. Many experts believe TVA would not have survived without the restructuring Runyon accomplished.

Postmaster General

Runyon was appointed United States Postmaster General in 1992, at a time when the postal service was struggling with high costs and a poor reputation for service.

Runyon's first goal was to treat the United States Postal Service as a business geared toward making money and pleasing customers. He was a cost control expert and instituted cost measurement systems copied from his years with Ford -- he even sent senior post office officials to Ford to review their systems. He eliminated 23,000 management jobs, hired more letter carriers and counter employees and emphasized automation to speed mail delivery.

Runyon, during his time at the U.S.P.S., often decided to distance himself from management when he traveled. He normally made it a high priority to visit Postal Service craft employees (letter carriers, window clerks, mailhandlers, etc.) in their work areas. It was not uncommon for him to sit alone in the coach section of an airplane, reading fiction.

He stepped down in 1998, and began an independent consulting business in Tennessee, which he operated until his death. He also taught business at Middle Tennessee State University.


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Government offices
Preceded by
Anthony M. Frank
United States Postmaster General
1992 – 1998
Succeeded by
William J. Henderson
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