Lee Iacocca

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Lee Iacocca
BornOctober 15, 1924 (1924-10-15) (age 96)
Allentown, Pennsylvania
former Chrysler CEO,
former Ford President

Lido Anthony "Lee" Iacocca (born October 15, 1924) is an American businessman most commonly known for his revival of the Chrysler Corporation in the 1980s,[1] serving as President and CEO from 1978 and additionally as chairman from 1979, until his retirement at the end of 1992. Among the most widely recognized businessmen in the world, he was a passionate advocate of U.S. business exports during the 1980s. He is the author or co-author of several books, including Iacocca: An Autobiography (with William Novak), and Where have all the Leaders Gone?

Early life

Iacocca was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania to Nicola Iacocca and Antonietta Perrotta, Italian immigrants (from San Marco dei Cavoti, Benevento) who had settled in Pennsylvania's steel making belt and operated the restaurant, Yocco's Hot Dogs.

Iacocca graduated from Allentown High School (now known as William Allen High School) in 1942, and Lehigh University in neighboring Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with a degree in industrial engineering. He is a member of Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society, and an alumnus of Theta Chi Fraternity.

After graduating from Lehigh, he won the Wallace Memorial Fellowship and went to Princeton University, where he took his electives in politics and plastics. He then began a career at Ford Motor Company as an engineer. Eventually becoming dissatisfied with that job, he switched career paths at Ford, entering the company's sales force. He was quite successful in sales, and he moved up through the ranks of Ford, moving ultimately to product development.

Iacocca was married to Mary McCleary in 1956. Mary Iacocca died in 1983 after a decades-long struggle with diabetes. Both before and after her death, Iacocca became a strong advocate for better medical treatment of diabetes patients, who frequently faced debilitating and fatal complications. Iacocca married his second wife Peggy Johnson on April 17, 1986 and they were divorced in 1987 - he had the marriage annulled after nineteen months. He married a third wife, Darrien Earle, in 1991. They were divorced three years later, in 1994.

Career at Ford

Iacocca joined Ford Motor Company in 1946 and after a brief stint on engineering, he quickly asked to be moved to sales and marketing, where his career flourished. While working in a local district for sales, Iacocca gained national recognition in 1956 with his "56 for 56" campaign, offering $56 monthly payment loans for 1956 model year cars. His campaign went national and Iacocca was called to Dearborn, where he quickly moved through the ranks to become President of the Ford Division on his 40th birthday, October 15, 1964.

Iacocca was involved with the design of several successful Ford automobiles, most notably the Ford Mustang. Also, he was responsible for the Lincoln Continental Mark III, the Ford Fiesta and the revival of the Mercury brand in the late 1960s, including the introduction of the Mercury Cougar and Mercury Marquis. He was also the "moving force," as one court put it, behind the notorious Ford Pinto.[2] He promoted other ideas which did not reach the marketplace as Ford products. These included cars ultimately introduced by Chrysler- the K car and the minivan. Eventually, he became the president of the Ford Motor Company, but he clashed with Henry Ford II and ultimately, in 1978, was fired by Ford, despite the company posting a $2 billion profit for the year.

Career at Chrysler

After being fired at Ford, Lee was aggressively courted by the Chrysler Corporation, which was on the verge of going out of business (at the time, the company was losing millions, largely due to recalls of the company's Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare, cars that Iacocca would later claim should never have been built). Iacocca joined Chrysler and began rebuilding the entire company from the ground up, laying off many workers, selling Chrysler's loss-making European division to Peugeot, and bringing in many former associates from his former company. Also from Ford, Iacocca brought to Chrysler the "Mini-Max" project which, in 1983, bore fruit in the wildly successful Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager. Interestingly, Henry Ford II had wanted nothing to do with the Mini-Max, which doomed the project at Ford. Hal Sperlich, the driving force behind the Mini-Max at Ford had been fired a few months before Iacocca and was waiting for him at Chrysler, where the two would make automotive history.

Iacocca arrived shortly after the introduction of the subcompact Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon. The front-wheel drive Omni and Horizon became instant hits, selling over 300,000 units each in their debut year, showing what was to come for Chrysler. Ironically, the Omni and Horizon had been designed alongside the Chrysler Horizon with much input from the European division of the company, which Iacocca axed in 1978.

Realizing that the company would go out of business if it did not receive a significant amount of money to turn the company around, Iacocca approached the United States Congress in 1979 and asked for a loan guarantee. While it is sometimes said that Congress lent Chrysler the money, it, in fact, only guaranteed the loans. Most thought this was an unprecedented move, but Iacocca pointed to the government bailouts of the airline and railroad industries, arguing that more jobs were at stake in Chrysler's possible demise. In the end, though the decision was controversial, Iacocca received the loan guarantee from the government.

After receiving this reprieve, Chrysler released the first of the K-Car line, the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant, in 1981. Like the minivan which would come later, these compact automobiles were based on design proposals that Ford had rejected during Iacocca's (and Sperlich's) tenure there. Coming right after the oil crisis of the 1970s, these small, efficient and inexpensive, front-wheel drive cars sold rapidly.

Chrysler introduced the minivan, which was by and large Sperlich's "baby," in the fall of 1983, which led the automobile industry in sales for twenty-five years[3] Because of the K-cars and minivans, along with the reforms Iacocca implemented, the company turned around quickly and was able to repay the government-backed loans seven years earlier than expected.

Iacocca was also responsible for Chrysler's acquisition of AMC in 1987, which brought the profitable Jeep division under Chrysler's corporate umbrella. It also created the short-lived Eagle division, formed from the remnants of AMC. By this time, AMC had already finished most of the work with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which Iacocca desperately wanted. The Grand Cherokee would not be released until 1992 for the 1993 model year, at which time Iacocca left Chrysler.

Throughout the 1980s, Iacocca appeared in a series of commercials for the company's vehicles, using the ad campaign "The pride is back" to denote the turnaround of the corporation, while also telling buyers a phrase that later became his trademark: "If you can find a better car, buy it."

Other work and activities

In May 1982, Ronald Reagan appointed Iacocca to head the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, which was created to raise funds for the renovation and preservation of the Statue of Liberty. He continues to serve on the board of the foundation.

In 1984, Iacocca co-authored (with William Novak) his autobiography, titled Iacocca: An Autobiography. It was a hugely successful book, proving to be the best selling non-fiction hardback book of 1984 and 1985. The proceeds of the book's sales benefitted diabetes research.

Iacocca appeared on an episode of Miami Vice, playing Park Commissioner Lido in episode #44 (titled Sons and Lovers) on May 9, 1986. The name of the character is a play on his birth name. Also, he was frequently quoted by Izzy Moreno, one of the show's regular characters.

In 1988, Iacocca co-authored (with Sonny Kleinfeld) Talking Straight,[4] a book meant as a counter-balance to Akio Morita's Made in Japan, a non-fiction book praising Japan's post-war hard-working culture. Talking Straight praised the innovation and creativity of Americans.[5]

Pennsylvania Governor Robert P. Casey considered appointing Iacocca to the U.S. Senate in 1991 after the death of Senator H. John Heinz III, but Iacocca declined.

In 1999, Iacocca became the head of EV Global Motors, a company formed to develop and market electric bikes with a top speed of 15 mph and a range of 20 miles between recharging at wall outlets.[6][dead link]

Politically, Iacocca supported the successful Republican candidate George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election. In the 2004 presidential election, however, he endorsed Bush's opponent, Democrat John Kerry.[7] Most recently, in Michigan's 2006 Gubernatorial race, Iacocca appeared in televised political ads endorsing Republican candidate Dick DeVos,[8] who lost. He has endorsed New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson for President in the 2008 Presidential Election.

Following the death of Iacocca's wife from diabetes, he has become an active supporter of research to find a cure for the disease, and has been one of the main patrons of the innovative diabetes research of Denise Faustman at Massachusetts General Hospital. In 2000, Iacocca founded Olivio Premium Products, which manufactures the Olivio line of food products made from olive oil. He donates all profits from the company to diabetes research. In 2004, Iacocca launched Join Lee Now,[9] a national grassroots campaign that will bring Faustman's research to human clinical trials in 2006.

Iacocca has been an advocate of "Nourish the Children", an initiative of Nu Skin Enterprises,[10] since its inception in 2002. He is currently its chairman. He takes an active interest in the initiative and helped to donate a generator for the Malawi, Africa VitaMeal plant.

On May 17, 2007, Simon & Schuster published Iacocca's new book, Where Have All the Leaders Gone?, co-written with Catherine Whitney.[11][12] An article with the same title, and same two co-authors, has recently appeared.[13] In the book, Iacocca writes:

Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, "Stay the course." Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I'll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!

On December 3, 2007, Iacocca launched a website intended to encourage open dialogue about the challenges of our time, such as what soaring health care costs are doing to America and why the U.S. lags so far behind in developing alternative energy sources and hybrid vehicles. The site also promotes Iacocca's book Where Have All the Leaders Gone and allows users to rate presidential candidates by the qualities Iacocca feels every true leader should possess: curiosity, creativity, communication, character, courage, conviction, charisma, competence and common sense.

University support

Iacocca led the funding campaign to expand Lehigh University into buildings formerly owned by Bethlehem Steel. Iacocca Hall on the Mountaintop Campus of Lehigh University houses the College of Education, the biology and chemical engineering departments, and The Iacocca Institute, which is focused on global competitiveness.

"Return" to Chrysler

Iacocca retired as President, CEO and Chairman of Chrysler at the end of 1992. In 1995, he assisted in billionaire Kirk Kerkorian's hostile takeover of Chrysler, which was ultimately unsuccessful. The next year, Kerkorian and Chrysler made a five-year agreement that includes a gag order preventing Iacocca from speaking publicly about Chrysler.[14]

In July 2005, Iacocca returned to the airwaves as Chrysler's pitchman,[1] along with stars such as Jason Alexander and Snoop Dogg, to promote Chrysler's "Employee Pricing Plus" program; the ads reprise the "If you can find a better car, buy it" line that was Iacocca's trademark in the 1980s. In return for his services, Iacocca and DaimlerChrysler agreed that his fees, plus a $1 donation per vehicle sold from July 1 through December 31, 2005, would be donated to the Iacocca Foundation for diabetes research. Iacocca appeared in a 2005 Iacocca/Chrysler commercial with an actress, not his actual granddaughter,[15] which many people think.

In popular culture

Iacocca's legacy can be noted by parodies and mentions in film and other media. In the 1987 movie, RoboCop, which takes place in future Detroit, one "Mediabreak" reports an incident that took place at fictitious "Lee Iacocca Elementary School." More recently, in the The Office episode "Cocktails", Michael Scott toasts with a glass of 20-year, single malt scotch, "To Mr. Iacocca and his failed experiment, the De Lorean." (Iacocca had nothing to do with the De Lorean car. John De Lorean, the automotive engineer, worked for Chrysler, but only briefly, making his name at Packard and GM.) B.J. Novak, a writer/producer/star on The Office, is the son of William Novak, co-author of Iacocca's autobiography.

Chrysler's loan guarantee controversy was parodied by folk singer Tom Paxton in his song "I'm Changing My Name to Chrysler" as a (not particularly serious) way for individuals to get out of their own financial problems. Part of the chorus of the song goes, "I will tell some power broker/What he did for Iacocca/Will be perfectly acceptable to me." Iacocca was further referenced in the long-time unreleased Neil Young song 'Ordinary People' refers to 'Lee Iacocca people'. It was released on the album Chrome Dreams II in October 2007.



Works by

  • Iacocca, Lee (2007). Where Have All the Leaders Gone. Scribner. ISBN 1416532471. 
  • Iacocca, Lee and Sonny Klenfield (1988) Talking Straight. Bantam. ISBN 0553052705
  • Iacocca, Lee and William Novak (1986 reissue). Iacocca: An Autobiography. Bantam. ISBN 0553251470

Works about

  • Vlasic, Bill and Bradley A. Stertz (2000). Taken for a Ride: How Daimler-Benz Drove off with Chrysler. William Morrow & Company. ISBN 0688173055. 

External links