NASHVILLE -- Marvin Runyon, the nation's postmaster general in the 1990s who stressed customer service, tight budgeting, and automation and other workplace changes, died yesterday of lung disease at his home. He was 79.
A onetime Ford assembly line worker, Mr. Runyon rose to be a top auto executive before entering government service. In a sometimes stormy tenure overseeing the nation's mail system from 1992 to 1998, Mr. Runyon trimmed management jobs by 23,000 while adding letter carriers and other employees to improve customer service.
The staffing moves and a new stress on computer automation kept the Postal Service's work force about the same even as the volume of mail grew by 11 percent. With more than 765,000 workers, it was the nation's largest civilian employer at the time.
"The customer is our focus. That's one of the things about government agencies, they don't focus on the customer," Mr. Runyon said at the time.
As a government agency, the Postal Service is designed to break even over time, losing money in some years and turning a profit in others. During Mr. Runyon's tenure, the Postal Service's budget was in the black for the first time since 1989.
The Postal Service adopted just one price increase for regular stamps, from 29 cents to 32 cents.
"He brought a new dimension to our industry," the current postmaster general, John E. Potter, said in statement. "An engineer by inclination and training, he had the foresight to see that technology would play a major role in automating America's letter and package mail streams."
Mr. Runyon continued his predecessors' effort to boost sales by introducing stamps honoring popular culture icons, including ones for Marilyn Monroe in 1995 and James Dean in 1996.
He also was credited with creating a training program for employees on ways to prevent workplace violence, which had been a key problem at the Postal Service since the 1986 slayings of 14 at an Edmond, Okla., post office.
In 1997, the Justice Department investigated Mr. Runyon for conflict-of-interest allegations that arose from a proposal to place
Before becoming postmaster general, Mr. Runyon held executive positions at Ford, Nissan, and the
He started his career on the assembly line at a Ford plant in Dallas, where his father worked, eventually becoming the company's vice president of assembly and operations.
After 37 years with Ford, Mr. Runyon took early retirement in 1980 and went to work for Nissan, becoming its first employee in the United States.
Under his stewardship, Nissan's factory in Smyrna, Tenn., became one of the country's most automated vehicle-assembly plants. Mr. Runyon would roam the plant floor dressed in the same blue uniform as his employees with "Marvin" stitched on the shirt.
President Reagan in 1988 named Mr. Runyon chairman of the TVA, a job he held until becoming postmaster general. While at the federal utility, he earned the nickname "Carvin' Marvin" for slashing the payroll by one-third.
Mr. Runyon was born in Fort Worth, Texas. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II.