"Imagine the impossible; imagine the improbable. It can come true for you. And above all, please remember that to get anywhere in life, you have to do it yourself, but you can’t do it alone."
Rodney O’Neal had business sense from a very early age. During his teenage years, he was a successful newspaper deliverer for the Dayton Daily News out of Dayton, Ohio, assuming the role of “a salesman, a customer relations specialist and his own bookkeeper.” These talents served him well in the automotive industry and were invaluable as he rebuilt Delphi Corporation into a profitable company.
O’Neal started his career in 1971 when he attended the General Motors Institute in Flint, Michigan (which later became Kettering University in 1998). He then continued his education at Stanford University for his master’s degree as a Sloan Fellow. Over the years, he was a strong proponent of education, advocating for educational opportunities for African American youth during speaking engagements at the Detroit Economic Club and the Dayton Urban League.
In 1976, O’Neal joined General Motors and rose quickly through the ranks. By 1997, he became GM’s fourth African American vice president and the general manager of Delphi Interior and Lighting Systems, an in-house manufacturer of automotive lights. By late 1990s, GM sold several of its Delphi part manufacturing facilities. O’Neal, as the general manager, worked with communities surrounding Delphi plants to help transition employees to other positions in the GM company or in other fields.
In 1998, when GM sold Delphi Lighting Systems as a spin-off company, O’Neal stayed on as vice president. The company diversified and catered to several automotive companies, selling several parts, including vehicular chassis, electronics, and air conditioning systems. Over the years, his influence in the industry grew. In the early 2000s, he became the liaison to the Ford Motor Company and was elected to the Board of Goodyear.
Delphi Corporation, despite its prominence as the world’s largest automotive supplier, struggled financially. In 2005, it filed for bankruptcy. From 2005 to 2015, O’Neal led the charge to help it emerge out of financial crisis. He and his management team devised the North and South Star plans, aptly named for their cardinal navigation directions. The North Star strategy and management team focused on turning around profits and leading the company forward. The South Star strategy team extracted and discarded businesses within Delphi that didn’t provide for the bottom line. In the end, the plan was to design competitive labor agreements, rebuild the product line-up with new technologies, reduce salaried workforce, resolve underfunded pensions, and work with GM to support Delphi benefits and reduction of plant facilities. To keep Delphi on the right track, O’Neal personally took a 20 percent pay cut in 2006 as President and Chief Operating Officer. On January 1, 2007, O’Neal assumed the role of President and Chief Executive Officer. After two years of assuming his new role, Delphi became, in O’Neal’s own words, a “more agile, nimble and resilient” company. By 2010, Delphi eliminated 17 business units, two divisions, and cut its catalog of products to from over 100 to 38. It became a profitable, focused company, manufacturing products to target “safety, green technology, and connectivity.”
In 2010, O’Neal was honored with the Distinguished Service Citation and five years later in 2015 he was honored as the Industry Leader of the Year. After more than four decades working in the automotive industry, O’Neal retired in 2015.
Born in Dayton, Ohio
Begins work as a newspaper salesman
Attends General Motors Institute
Hired at General Motors
Promoted to General Director of Warehousing and Distribution, Service Parts Operations at GM
Promoted to Vice President and General Manager at GM’s Delphi Interior and Lighting Systems
Promoted to President of Safety, Thermal and Electrical Architecture sector, and Corporate Executive Vice President and liaison with Ford Motor Co.
Delphi Corporation becomes a separate business entity from GM. O’Neal stayed on as an executive.
Elected to the Board of Directors at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company
Becomes President and Chief Operating Officer at Delphi Corporation
Becomes President and Chief Executive Officer at Delphi Corporation
Retires from Delphi Corporation