In 2019, we lost one of the great pioneers of the auto industry. On July 2, 2019, Lee Iacocca passed away at the age of 94 at his home in Bel Air, California.
Let’s look back over the life and accomplishments of this auto industry great.
Iacocca’s emergence at Ford
Lee Iacocca came from humble beginnings.
On October 15, 1924, he was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania. His parents were Italian immigrants who gave him the name Lido Anthony Iacocca.
So where did the name “Lee” come from?
lacocca said that after having his name misspelled and mispronounced so many times, he felt that Lee would be easier for everyone.
Iacocca began working at Ford Motor Company in 1946. He worked his way up and began making a name for himself. In 1970, he was made president of Ford Motor Company.
Part of making a name for himself included leading the team that birthed the first Ford Mustang.
Iacocca held his post as president, until he was fired in 1978 by Henry Ford. It’s safe to say these 2 didn’t get along.
In his autobiography, Iacocca was quoted as saying: “If a guy is over 25 percent jerk, he’s in trouble. And Henry was 95 percent.”
Iacocca’s contribution to Chrysler
Iacocca wasted no time securing his next position. He started at Chrysler Corp. in 1978 and became the CEO within a year.
He worked to successfully pull Chrysler out of bankruptcy by employing a few controversial tactics. For starters, he closed a few manufacturing plants and slimmed down the number of employees. He also lowered wages, which included slashing his own wage to $1 per year.
Iacocca was also able to persuade the federal government to give Chrysler a $1.2 billion loan, which he was able to pay back 7 years sooner than expected.
Iacocca’s hand in coming up with the first minivan, as well as the fuel-efficient K-cars, helped guide Chrysler out of its slump and back on solid ground. In the end, Lee was able to save Chrysler to the tune of $20 million dollars in profit.
In addition to his “behind the scenes” tactics to rescue the company from bankruptcy, Iacocca also put himself in the spotlight by appearing in some of Chrysler’s TV commercials. You may remember his catchy tagline where he famously said, “If you can find a better car, buy it.”
As his popularity grew in the 80s, he released a couple of books and also made an appearance on the hit TV show Miami Vice.
Iacocca’s impact on the auto industry
Iacocca left his stamp on the auto industry as a successful leader who was willing to do whatever it took to succeed.
Ford Motor Company’s executive chairman Bill Ford commented that Iacocca was “truly bigger than life and he left an indelible mark on Ford.”
Fiat Chrysler issued a statement after Iacocca’s death, saying:
“He was one of the great leaders of our company and the auto industry as a whole. He also played a profound and tireless role on the national stage as a business statesman and philanthropist.”
Bob Lutz, an executive who worked with Iacocca at both Ford and Chrysler, said that he owes the second half of his career to the auto industry giant. “He was my mentor, my teacher and role model. When he was on, he was fabulous. I will miss him.”
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