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Iacocca, Lee

Lee Iacocca

Born: October 15, 1924
Allentown, Pennsylvania
Business executive and former CEO,
Chrysler Corporation

Lee Iacocca obviously paid close attention to his parents and he certainly made something happen on more than one occasion. After a 32-year career with Ford Motor, including helping to design the Mustang sports car, Iacocca engineered one of history's greatest corporate comebacks at Chrysler. His success, coupled with appearances in television commercials and his best-selling books, made him one of the nation's most well-known and admired businessmen. While head of Chrysler, there was speculation that Iacocca might run for political office, even president of the United States, but he remained in the private sector even after retiring from Chrysler in 1993.

"People say to me, 'You were a roaring success. How did you do it?' I go back to what my parents taught me. Apply yourself. Get all the education you can, but then, by God, do something. Don't just stand there. Make something happen."

Learns Finances from His Father

Lido "Lee" Anthony Iacocca was born October 15, 1924, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the son of Italian immigrants Nicola and Antoinette. He grew up in comfortable surroundings learning the nuts and bolts of business from his father. Nicola Iacocca was an entrepreneur who taught his son about the responsibilities of borrowing money and the need for a hard- driving vision in order to build a thriving business. Over the years the elder Iacocca worked as a cobbler, and owned a hot dog restaurant and a theater. He also ran one of the first car rental agencies in the country and passed on his love of the automobile to his son. When he was ten years old, Lee Iacocca worked as a freelance delivery person outside the local grocery store. He worked long hours in a fruit market at the age of sixteen.

When he graduated from high school, the United States was in the throes of World War II (1939-45). Iacocca was not required to join the military because he had rheumatic fever as a child, which left him in somewhat poor health. Instead he earned his bachelor's of science degree in industrial engineering from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Upon graduation, he secured a coveted engineering trainee job at Ford, but delayed his start until he completed his master's degree at Princeton.

As one of a group of young engineers being groomed by Ford for a career in design and production, Iacocca quickly grew restless and became interested in the more dynamic worlds of sales and marketing. He was assigned to fleet sales in Ford's Chester, Pennsylvania, office, and over the next few years he honed his communications skills and ability to predict consumer trends. Confident and ambitious, Iacocca skyrocketed through the ranks of Ford's sales divisions.

Even as a teenager, Lee Iacocca decided that he was going to be an auto company executive and focused his studies in that direction. He first studied mechanical engineering and then, because of bad grades in physics, switched to industrial engineering, picking up several business and psychology courses along the way.

Hitting the Corporate Bull's-eye

It was the 1964 Mustang that secured Iacocca's position in automotive history. Recognizing that Ford needed a domestic winner, he set about looking for a market that had not been tapped by automakers. He landed on America's youth, a wealthy generation with car-buying potential. In his 1984 autobiography, Iacocca wrote: "Any car that would appeal to these young customers had to have three features: great styling, strong performance, and a low price. Developing a new model with all three would not be easy. But if it could be done, we had a shot at a major success." The shot hit the bull's-eye. Bolstered by an ambitious advertising campaign and favorable press coveragethe car was put on the cover of Newsweek and Time in the same week419,000 Mustangs were sold over the next twelve months, a record for a first-year model.

Dieter Zetsche: German Engineer Takes Charge

In 2000, Dieter Zetsche took over as head of DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group, bringing his strong German presence and conservative financial philosophy to the newly formed company's American division. He instantly made waves when one of his fist cost-cutting acts was to lay off twenty-six thousand workers and close six plants.

Zetsche was born on May 5, 1953, in Istanbul, Turkey, where his father was working as an engineer for a construction firm. He grew up, however, in the German city of Frankfurt. One of his first jobs was driving a beverage truck. In 1976 Zetsche earned his master's degree in electrical engineering from Germany's University of Karlsruhe. He began at Daimler-Benz that same year, working in its research division. Five years later he became assitant to the chief engineer of the commercial vehicle division. In 1982, Zetsche received a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the Univeristy of Paderborn in Paderborn, Germany. The company named him chief engineer of Mercedes-Benz Brazil in 1987; two years later he was made president of Mercedes-Benz Argentina.

Zetsche's first experience in the American workplace came when Daimler-Benz transferred him to Portland, Oregon, in 1991 to serve as president of its troubled Freightliner Corporation, a commercial truck subsidiary. A year later, he returned to Germany and moved up in the company ranks. When a merger with U.S. automaker Chrysler was announced in 1998, Zetsche was moved to a DaimlerChrysler board position responsible for the commercial vehicle business. He took over as head of the Chrysler Group in 2000.

"Zetsche deserves respect," editor-in-chief Lindsay Brooke wrote in the December 2000 issue of Automotive Industries magazine. "He approaches challenges like the astute manager and engineer that he is. That's a valuable attribute, because Chrysler has lost so much that it must now recover with his leadership."

Iacocca served as president of Ford between 1970 and 1978, cutting costs, streamlining operations, and forcing managers to turn unprofitable divisions around during a rocky time in automotive history. The U.S. auto industry was facing intense competition from foreign companies and gasoline prices were rising dramatically, causing a temporary halt on new car purchases. Ironically, the managerial talent and marketing genius that had pushed Iacocca into the corporate limelight and given the company renewed success also brought him into conflict with Henry Ford II (1917-1987), the chairman and grandson of the company's founder. The differences gradually increased during the 1970s and culminated in 1978 when Ford fired Iacocca.

Five months after his firing, Iacocca was named president of Chrysler. He became chairman of its board of directors in 1979 and CEO in 1980. In a few years, he transformed the number-three automaker from a company near bankruptcy into a highly profitable enterprise. Iacocca turned Chrysler around by reducing expenses, winning approval of $1.5 billion in federal loan guarantees, selling off unprofitable units such as the military tank division, and introducing timely products. In 1984, the company posted profits of $2.4 billion, a total higher than it had made in the previous sixty years combined.

Because of the company turnaround and the quick payback of Chryler's loan guarantees, Iacocca became a star and a symbol of success. President Ronald Reagan (1911-) appointed him to oversee the restoration of the Statue of Liberty. He also became the television pitchman for Chrysler, a friendly face reassuring Americans that the country's great automotive history would remain strong. He was so popular that a 1985 opinion poll had him beating Vice President George Bush (1924-) in the 1988 presidential race, despite Iacocca's claim that he was not interested in the job.

Business Giant Stumbles

But the late 1980s and early 1990s were not as kind to the automotive giant. In the eyes of some, the famed business judgment that had catapulted Iacocca to stardom began to falter. Instead of reinvesting Chrysler's profits to produce new cars that would rival those of Japanese companies, Iacocca urged the company to expand. Among Chrysler's acquisitions were corporate jet-maker Gulfstream Aerospace, purchased for $637 million, and American Motors Corporation, bought for $757 million. The purchases seriously strained the company's financial resources.

Iacocca's popularity, like the company's earnings, began to fall off. His salary also became an issue. At one time he publicly announced that he was accepting a salary of only one dollar a year from Chrysler. That changed, however, and in 1987, Iacocca was taking home $18 million per year. In 1992, he called it quits and resigned from Chrysler. He remained as a consultant to the company, with a $500,000 a year salary and use of the company jet, until the end of 1994.

Lee Iacocca and Mary McCleary were married in 1956 and had two daughters, Kathi and Lia. Mary died of complications related to diabetes in 1983, and in her memory, all the profits from Iacocca's book sales go to help diabetes research.

In 1995, Iacocca announced that he was suing Chrysler, claiming that it unlawfully blocked him from exercising $42 million in share options that he had earned while he was the chairman. Before the lawsuit went to trial, Chrysler settled out of court, paying the former CEO $21 million. As he moved into the twenty-first century, Iacocca was still involved in the auto industry, investigating the market for electric cars in California. He even tried to rejoin Chrysler, but after several years of discussion, was turned down by DaimlerChrysler CEO Juergen Schrempp in 2002.

For More Information

Books

Dammann, George H. Seventy Years of Chrysler. Sarasota, FL: Crestline Publishing, 1974.

Iacocca, Lee. I Gotta Tell You: Speeches of Lee Iacocca. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1994.

. Iacocca: An Autobiography. New York: Bantam Books, 1984.

Levin, Doron P. Behind the Wheel at Chrysler. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995.

Yates, Brock W. The Critical Path. New York: Little, Brown & Company, 1996.

Periodicals

Brooke, Lindsay. "Dieter Takes Charge." Automotive Industries (December 2000): p. 7.

Burt, Tim. "Zetsche Outlines Plans to Increase Sales." The Financial Times (April 29, 2002): p. 26.

Connelly, Mary. "Slowing Minivan Sales Worry Struggling DCX." Automotive News (March 12, 2001): p. 3.

"Cutting Back at Chrysler." The Economist (February 3, 2001): p. 5.

"Iacocca Says No Room for Him at Chrysler." New York Times (March 18, 2002): p. C4.

Meredith, Robyn. "Batman and Robin." Forbes (March 5, 2001): p. 66.

"Putting a New Spin on DaimlerChrysler Corp." Ward's Auto World (March 1, 2001): p. 61.

Sheppard, Robert. "Chrysler's Crisis." Maclean's (February 12,2001): p. 38.

Taylor, Alexander L., III. "Iacocca's Tightrope Act." Time (March 21,1983): pp. 50-59.

Web Sites

Chrysler. [On-line] http://www.chrysler.com (accessed on August 15, 2002).

DaimlerChrysler AG. [On-line] www.daimlerchrysler.com (accessed on August 15, 2002).

Dodge. [On-line] http://www.dodge.com (accessed on August 15, 2002).

Jeep. [On-line] http://www.jeep.com (accessed on August 15, 2002).

Mercedes-Benz. [On-line] http://www.mercedesbenz.com (accessed on August 15, 2002).

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Lido (Lee) Anthony Iacocca

Lido (Lee) Anthony Iacocca

After a 32-year career with Ford Motor Company, including eight years as president, Lido (Lee) Anthony Iacocca (born 1924) engineered one of business history's greatest comebacks at Chrysler Corporation. His success, coupled with appearances in television commercials and his best-selling book, made him one of the nation's best-known and most admired businessmen.

Lido (Lee) Anthony Iacocca was born October 15, 1924 in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the son of Italian immigrants Nicola and Antionette. Iacocca grew up in comfortable surroundings learning the nuts and bolts of business from his father. Nicola was an entrepreneur who taught his son about the responsibilities of borrowing money and the need for a hard-driving vision in order to build a thriving business. Nicola Iacocca worked as a cobbler, hot-dog restaurant and theater owner. He also ran one of the first car rental agencies in the country and passed on his love of the automobile to his son. Iaccoca was deferred during World War II because of having had rheumatic fever as a child. He earned his BS and MS degrees in engineering from Lehigh University and Princeton University, respectively. Even as a teenager, Iacocca decided that he was going to be an auto company executive and focused his studies in that direction. His degrees are in industrial engineering. He secured a coveted engineering trainee job at Ford in 1946, but deferred his start until he completed his masters degree at Princeton.

Joining Ford Motor Company as an engineering trainee in 1946, Iacocca soon entered the fast lane of sales. With the force of a muscle car and the maneuverability of a racing vehicle, in 1960, at age 36, he sped into the vice-presidency and general managership of the company's most important unit, Ford Division. In 1964, with others on his staff, he launched the Mustang, which, thanks to brilliant styling and marketing, introduced a new wave of sports cars, set a first-year sales record for any model, gave its name to a generation, and landed its creator's picture on the covers of TIME and Newsweek simultaneously.

In 1960 Iacocca was named Ford's vice-president, car and truck group; in 1967, executive vice-president; and in 1970, president. Pocketing an annual salary and bonus of $977,000, the flamboyant executive also earned a reputation as one of the greatest salesmen in U.S. history. Of Iacocca, it has been said that he was always selling, whether products, ideas—or himself.

From Ford to Chrysler

Iacocca was discharged from Ford Motor Company in June 1978 by Chairman Henry Ford II for reasons Ford never disclosed, but obviously relating to the chairman's distaste for having Iacocca succeed him. Though bitter at being dismissed from Ford, Iacocca was not out of the car business for long. Five months after his firing, Iacocca was named president of Chrysler (becoming chairman in 1979) and began transforming the number three automaker from corporate history's number one deficits manufacturer into a highly-profitable enterprise.

How was Chrysler turned around? By downsizing expenses to a much lower break-even point, by winning approval of $1.5 billion in federal loan guarantees, by selling off profitable units such as the tank division, and by introducing timely products. In addition, Chrysler welcomed, for the first time in U.S. corporate history, a union president to a board of directors. In 1984 the company posted profits of $2.4 billion (higher than in the previous 60 years combined), and in 1985 it bought Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation for $637 million and E. F. Hutton Credit Corporation for $125 million.

In the early 1980's Chrysler issued the K-car and what would later become its meal ticket—the minivan. Just as the Mustang re-established the sports car for Ford, the minivan would be loved by the young family in need of room and efficiency and revitalize Chrysler. In 1983, Chrysler paid the government back its loans and Iacocca became a star, a symbol of success and the achievement of the American Dream.

Along with spearheading Chrysler's resurgence, Iacocca assumed various civic responsibilities, most notably the chairmanship of the President's Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Centennial Commission, set up to raise funds for and to oversee restoration of the two monuments. If Iacocca attained prominence through business stewardship, television commercials, and identification with the Statue of Liberty, he gained much additional exposure through his 1984 autobiography. Iacocca: An Autobiography, the best-selling nonfiction hard cover book in history, had two million copies in print by July 1985. Most readers seemed to accept the volume as near-gospel, while others ventured that Iacocca's achievements had lost nothing in the telling and that the author was overly vindictive toward Henry Ford II.

Folk Hero

By the mid-1980s Iacocca had achieved folk-hero status. Typically, the Saturday Evening Post described him as "the sex symbol of America" the Reader's Digest as "the living embodiment of the American dream" and TIME as "a corporate capitalist with populist appeal, an 'eminence terrible' admired by working class and ruling class alike." Talk of Iacocca-for-President became increasingly widespread, and a 1985 poll of 1988 presidential preferences showed that the cocky industrialist trailed Vice-President George Bush by only three percentage points (41 to 38 points).

The late 1980s and early nineties were not as kind to Iacocca. His public image, like Chrysler's earnings, began to fall off. At a time when the American people, in the grip of a recession, renounced the huge paychecks of executives whose companies were ailing, Iacocca who had once achieved a publicity coup when, for a time, he only accepted one dollar a year from Chrysler, was paid a 1987 salary of $18 million. In addition, Iacocca, lambasted Japanese trading practices, blaming them for the ills that American car manufacturers had suffered. Critics cited that the American public believed that Japanese cars were superior and instead of criticizing the Japanese, Iacocca's car company should have been emulating them. At the end of 1992, Iacocca was forced to retire after he had bettered the position of the company for a merger or takeover. He remained a consultant to Chrysler (with a $500,000 a year salary and use of the company jet) until the end of 1994.

In 1995, Iacocca announced that he was suing Chrysler, claiming that it unlawfully blocked him from exercising $42 million in share options that he had earned while he was the chairman. Chrysler claimed that Iacocca's role as an adviser to Kirk Kerkorian, the investor who wanted to purchase the company, violated the share option plan agreement. Although Kerkorian's bid failed to materialize because he was unable to raise the financing, Chrysler agreed to pay Iaccoca $21 million to settle the lawsuit. Iacocca continued to work as Kerkorian's consultant.

Iacocca and Mary McCleary were married in 1956 and had two daughters, Kathi and Lia. Mary died of diabetes in 1983, and in her memory, Iacocca donated his book earnings to diabetes research. In 1986 Iacocca married Peggy Johnson (born 1950), an advertising executive from whom he was divorced in 1996.

Further Reading

The primary source of information about Iacocca is the executive's best-selling Iacocca: An Autobiography (1984), although critics say it was written mostly to stroke Iacocca's ego and to vilify Henry Ford II. David Abodaher's Iacocca (1982), written by an employee of Chrysler's advertising agency, ceaselessly praises the automaker while providing interesting anecdotal material. Perhaps the best of the numerous magazine and newspaper stories on the magnate are New Republic's "What's So Great About Lee Iacocca?," July 16 and 23, 1984; Newsweek's "Behind the Wheels," October 8, 1984; the New York Times's "The Importance of Being Iacocca," December 23, 1984; and Time's "A Spunky Tycoon Turned Superstar," April 1, 1985. Detroit News, "Retirement has been a rough ride for Iacocca," June 1996; Automotive News, June 1996. □

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Iacocca, Lee

Lee Iacocca

Born: October 15, 1924
Allentown, Pennsylvania

American businessman and auto industry executive

After a thirty-two year career with Ford Motor Company, including eight years as president, Lee Iacocca engineered one of business history's greatest comebacks at Chrysler Corporation. His success, coupled with appearances in television commercials and his best-selling book, made him one of the nation's most known and admired businessmen.

Early life

Lido Anthony Iacocca was born October 15, 1924, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the son of Italian immigrants Nicola and Antoinette. Iacocca grew up in comfortable surroundings learning the nuts and bolts of business from his father who worked as a cobbler, hot dog restaurant owner and a theater owner. Nicola was a businessman who taught his son about the responsibilities of money and the need for a strong drive and a great vision in order to build a thriving business. Nicola also ran one of the first car rental agencies in the country and passed on his love of the automobile to his son.

Iaccoca's enlistment in the military during World War II (1913945) was denied because of his childhood battle with rheumatic fever, a terrible disease that can cause permanent damage to the heart. He earned an undergraduate degree in engineering from Lehigh University and later earned a master's degree from Princeton University. Even as a teenager, Iacocca decided that he was going to be an automobile company executive and focused his studies in that direction. He secured a much sought-after engineering trainee job at Ford Motor Company in 1946, but put off his start until he completed his master's degree at Princeton.

At Ford Motor Company

Joining Ford as an engineering trainee in 1946, Iacocca soon entered the fast pace of sales. In 1960, at age thirty-six, he sped into the vice presidency and general managership of the company's most important unit, Ford Division. In 1964, with others on his staff, he launched the Ford Mustang, which, thanks to brilliant styling and marketing, introduced a new wave of sports cars, set a first-year sales record for any model, gave its name to a generation, and landed its creator's picture on the covers of Time and Newsweek.

In 1960 Iacocca was named Ford's vice president of the car and truck group; in 1967, executive vice president; and in 1970, president. Pocketing an annual salary and bonus of $977,000, the flashy executive also earned a reputation as one of the greatest salesmen in U.S. history. Of Iacocca, it has been said that he was always selling, whether products, ideasor himself.

From Ford to Chrysler

Iacocca was let go from Ford Motor Company in June 1978 by Chairman Henry Ford II for reasons Ford never revealed. Though bitter at being dismissed from Ford, Iacocca was not out of the car business for long. Five months after his dismissal, Iacocca was named president of Chrysler (becoming chairman in 1979) and began transforming the number three automaker from a sluggish moneymaker into a highly profitable business.

How was Chrysler turned around? By downsizing (to make smaller) expenses to a much lower break-even point; by winning approval of $1.5 billion in federal loan guarantees; by selling off profitable units such as the tank division; and by introducing timely products. In addition, Chrysler welcomed, for the first time in U.S. corporate history, a union president to a board of directors. In 1984 the company posted profits of $2.4 billion (higher than in the previous sixty years combined), and in 1985 it bought Gulf-stream Aerospace Corporation for $637 million and E. F. Hutton Credit Corporation for $125 million.

In the early 1980s Chrysler issued the K-car and what would later become its best sellerthe minivan. Just as the Mustang reestablished the sports car for Ford, the minivan would be loved by the young family in need of room and efficiency and revitalize Chrysler. In 1983 Chrysler paid the government back its loans and Iacocca became a star, a symbol of success and the achievement of the American dream.

Along with spearheading Chrysler's rise, Iacocca took leadership roles in many noteworthy causes, most notably the chairmanship of the President's Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Centennial Commission, which was set up to raise funds for and to oversee restoration of the two monuments in New York City. While Iacocca gained a worldwide reputation through business leadership, television commercials, and association with the Statue of Liberty, he gained much additional exposure through his 1984 autobiography (a book written by someone about their life). Iacocca: An Autobiography, the best-selling nonfiction hardcover book in history, had two million copies in print by July 1985.

Folk hero

By the mid-1980s Iacocca had achieved folk-hero status. The Saturday Evening Post described him as "the sex symbol of America" and Reader's Digest as "the living embodiment of the American dream." Talk of Iacocca-for-president became increasingly widespread, and a 1985 poll of 1988 presidential preferences showed that the cocky industrialist trailed Vice President George Bush (1924) by only three percentage points (41 to 38 points).

The late 1980s and early 1990s were not as kind to Iacocca. His public image, like Chrysler's earnings, began to fall. At a time when the American people, in the grip of a recession (a temporary slowing of the economy), criticized the huge paychecks of executives whose companies were hurting, Iacocca who had once achieved a publicity coup (takeover) when, for a time, he only accepted one dollar a year from Chrysler, was paid a 1987 salary of $18 million. In addition, Iacocca, criticized Japanese trading practices, blaming them for the ills that American car manufacturers had suffered. Critics stated that the American public believed that Japanese cars were superior and instead of criticizing the Japanese, Iacocca's car company should have competed with them. At the end of 1992, Iacocca retired. He remained a consultant to Chrysler, with a $500,000 thousand a year salary and use of the company jet, until the end of 1994.

In 1995 Iacocca announced that he was taking Chrysler to court, claiming that it unlawfully blocked him from exercising $42 million in share options that he had earned while he was the chairman. Chrysler claimed that Iacocca's role as an adviser to Kirk Kerkorian, the investor who wanted to purchase the company, violated the share option plan agreement. Although Kerkorian's bid failed to materialize because he was unable to raise the financial backing, Chrysler agreed to pay Iaccoca $21 million to settle the lawsuit. Iacocca continued to work as Kerkorian's consultant.

Iacocca and Mary McCleary were married in 1956 and had two daughters, Kathi and Lia. Mary died of diabetes (a blood disorder) in 1983, and in her memory, Iacocca donated his book earnings to diabetes research. Two later marriages, to advertising executive Peggy Johnson (1986) and restaurateur Darrien Earle (1990), ended in divorce. In 1999 Iacocca announced his latest venture, E-bikes. Iacocca believes these electronically motorized bikes will take the place of mopeds and other loud and polluting vehicles in crowded urban areas. Only time will tell if Iacocca's latest work will be as popular as his previous successes.

For More Information

Abodaher, David. Iacocca. New York: Macmillan, 1982.

Haddock, Patricia. Standing Up for America: A Biography of Lee Iacocca. Minneapolis: Dillon Press, 1987.

Iacocca, Lee. Iacocca: An Autobiography. New York: Bantam Books, 1984.

Iacocca, Lee A. Talking Straight. New York: Bantam, 1988.

Levin, Doron P. Behind the Wheel at Chrysler: The Iacocca Legacy. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1995.

Wyden, Peter. The Unknown Iacocca. New York: Morrow, 1987.

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Iacocca, Lido Anthony

IACOCCA, LIDO ANTHONY


Lee Iacocca (1924) retired as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Chrysler Corporation in 1992. He had joined the corporation fourteen years earlier when Chrysler was on the edge of bankruptcy. The company was at the time one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world, employing thousands of people. Upon entering the company Iacocca convinced everyone involved, including the United States government, to underwrite $1.2 billion in loans to rebuild the company. To obtain this critical support, Iacocca used the legendary salesmanship and public relations skills he had honed while president of the Ford Motor Company. Seemingly by sheer willpower, Iacocca saved Chrysler and its employees from financial ruin.

Lido Anthony Iacocca was born in 1924 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He was the son of Italian immigrants. Lee, as he preferred to be called, learned about business from his father, Nicola, who was a businessman with many interests. Nicola was a cobbler, the owner of a hot dog restaurant, a theater owner, and the owner of one of the first car rental agencies in the country. Iacocca credits his father with passing on to him a love for the automobile.

Iacocca earned his Bachelor's degree from Lehigh University. He later earned a Master's in mechanical engineering, with a specialty in industrial engineering, from Princeton University. He decided early on to become an auto company executive. After graduating from Princeton in 1946 he joined the Ford Motor Company as an engineering trainee. Within a year he realized that he was far better at selling automobiles than at making them. Iacocca entered the fast-track of sales. In 1960, at age thirty-six, he sped into the vice presidency and general management of the company's most important unit, the Ford division.

In 1964 Lee launched the Mustang automobile. Its attractive styling and successful marketing introduced a new wave of sports cars to the Ford operation. The Mustang earned Iacocca instant fame as an industrial innovator. In 1964 his face was on the cover of both Time and Newsweek magazines. By 1967 he was the executive vice president of Ford Motor Company. In 1970 he became president of the company. His only superior was Henry Ford II (19171987), chairman of the board of Ford Motor Co. For reasons that were never made clear, Chairman Henry Ford II discharged Lee Iacocca in June 1978. It was a shock to many people who saw Iacocca as a natural heir at Ford.

Five months later Iacocca was named president of the rival Chrysler Corporation. He became chairman in 1979 and began turning around the failing corporation. At the time Chrysler was headed for bankruptcy. Iacocca took the number three automaker, deep in debt, and transformed it into a highly profitable enterprise. He began managing expenses by winning approval of over $1 billion in federal loan guarantees. He then sold off profitable units like the tank manufacturing division and introduced new products to the marketplace. He also brought the president of the United Auto Workers onto the company's board of directors.

Within six years Chrysler paid off its debts and posted a profit of $2.4 billion. In 1985 Chrysler bought the Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation for $637 million and the E.F. Hutton Credit Corporation for $125 million.

Under Iacocca's leadership the company put out innovative new vehicles and eventually bought out competitor American Motors Corporation. As Chrysler bounced back to life in the 1980s, Iacocca became an extraordinary business and corporate celebrity. Some of his detractors felt he was a self-obsessed egomaniac, but many analysts of his career regard him as an important U.S. industrial hero of the late twentieth century.

A key product to the resurgence of the Chrysler Corporation was Iacocca's promotion of the K-car "minivan." It was a vehicle loved by the young family in need of room and efficiency. The mini-van largely helped revitalize Chrysler and its public image. It clearly set the trend for the enormous popularity of the sports utility vehicle that claimed much of the auto industry's market in the late twentieth century.

Iacocca continued to be the successful and charismatic CEO of the Chrysler Corporation until his controversial retirement in 1992, during a period when Japanese auto competition was once again hurting Chrysler's profits. He moved into retirement reluctantly after spending much of the previous thirty years of his life as an automobile industry corporate legend. Iacocca remained a major stockholder in Chrysler and in 1995 he became involved in a battle to gain control of the company. In the unsuccessful attempt for control, Iacocca sided with Las Vegas financier Kirk Kerkorian and was strongly criticized.

Iacocca's impact on the auto industry was controversial, but undeniable. He saved the Chrysler Corporation and turned it into a profitable business. In 1998, even in retirement, Iacocca was still involved in the auto industry, investigating the market for electric cars in California.

See also: Automobile Industry, Chrysler Corporation


FURTHER READING

Gordon, Maynard M. The Iacocca Management Technique. New York: Dodd Mead, 1985.

Iacocca, Lee A., and William Novak. Iacocca: An Autobiography. Toronto; New York: Bantam Books, 1984.

Jefferys, Steve. Management and Managed: Fifty Years of Crisis at Chrysler. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Levin, Doron P. Behind the Wheel at Chrysler: The Iacocca Legacy. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1995.

Wyden, Peter. The Unknown Iacocca. New York: Morrow, 1987.

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Iacocca, Lee

Lee Iacocca (Lido Anthony Iacocca) (ī´əkō´kə), 1924–, American business executive, b. Allentown, Pa. In 1946 he joined the Ford Motor Company, where he rose to president (1970–78). He left the company after a dispute with Henry Ford II and became president (1978) and then chairman (1979) of the Chrysler Corp., restoring it through shrewd financial policies, a $1.2 billion loan guarantee, and tax concessions granted by Congress. In the 1980s, he also served as chairman of the Statue of LibertyEllis Island Foundation and engineered Chrysler's $1.5 billion acquisition of American Motors. Iacocca retired at the end of 1992, but in 1995 he aided billionaire Kirk Kerkorian in his unsuccessful attempt to win control of Chrysler.

See his autobiography, written with W. Novak (1984); P. Wyden, The Unknown Iacocca (1987); D. P. Levin, Behind the Wheel at Chrysler (1995).

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Iacocca, Lido Anthony

Iacocca, Lido Anthony

(1924-)
Chrysler Corporation

Overview

Lee Iacocca was one of the best-known personalities in corporate America during the 1980s. The onetime top executive with the Chrysler Corporation enjoyed a long list of auto-related achievements before his rise to celebrity, and his impact on the industry was widespread. Easy financing, the Ford Mustang, the minivan, the sportutility craze, and even the 1998 Chrysler merger with German carmaker Daimler-Benz can all be traced to Iacocca's vision. The author of two best-selling autobiographies, Iacocca has been described as brash, profane, headstrong, and a genius.

Personal Life

Lido Anthony Iacocca was born on October 25, 1924 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. His parents, Nicola and Antoinette, were both Italian immigrants. His father, who had only an elementary-school education, ran a hot dog stand called the Orpheum Wiener House, but later sold real estate and ran one of first rental-car agencies in the country. Nicola's son was equally enterprising: 10-year-old Lido worked as a freelance delivery person outside the local grocery store, and then began working long hours in a fruit market at the age of 16.

Iacocca and his family, like many others of their generation, were tremendously impacted by the Great Depression and the bleak economic prospects of the 1930s. This experience focused his outlook on life and fueled in him a desire to succeed. He wanted to be one of the men who made the decisions, not one of the workers laid off by them. His family instilled in him a desire to rise above Allentown's blue-collar world. He was sometimes teased by other children, and was friendly with a few classmates of Jewish faith who suffered similar ostracism; many years later, Iacocca would name the automotive industry's first Jewish vice-president.

A bout with rheumatic fever as a child made Iacocca ineligible for military service during World War II, which was a difficult position for a young and apparently fit man at the time. His father's increasing prosperity paid for college at Lehigh University, and he graduated with an engineering degree in 1945. Iacocca was then offered a coveted spot in the Ford Motor Company's engineer-trainee program, but declined so that he might earn a graduate degree from Princeton University, for which he had won a fellowship.

In 1956 Iacocca married Mary McCleary, with whom he had two daughters. Unlike other top-level auto industry executives, he did not go into the office on weekends and rarely brought work home. Mary Iacocca died of diabetes in 1983, which devastated him. He married former flight attendant Peggy Johnson in 1986; they were divorced a year later. Iacocca later married Los Angeles restaurateur Darrien Earle, but that marriage also ended in divorce. Iacocca remains close to his two daughters, Lia Nagy and Kathy Hentz, and enjoys homes in Italy, New York City, Palm Springs, and Colorado.

Career Details

Iacocca began his career at Ford in 1946 in Dearborn, Michigan, but quickly realized that engineering was not his forte. He was forced to almost beg for a job in the sales division, since the corporate climate at the Big Three automakers (Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors) discouraged moves between divisions. Finally, Iacocca managed to get a job on the sales and marketing staff of Ford's Eastern United States district, headquartered outside Philadelphia. It was also around this time that he changed his name to "Lee."

Iacocca first came to the attention of upper management in the mid-1950s, when he created a financing plan that vaulted the Philadelphia district from last place in Ford sales in the country to number one. His "56 for 56" sales promotion put keys in the hands of new-car buyers who qualified for financing with just a $56 down-payment. The promotion was soon implemented nationwide, and Iacocca was promoted to district sales manager of the Washington, D.C. area. By 1960, he had been promoted to vehicle marketing manager.

That same year, Iacocca was promoted to vice-president, making him one of the youngest top-level executives in the history of the automotive industry. The company's new president, Robert McNamara (who later left Ford to become U.S. Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War), chose Iacocca to succeed him as vice-president and general manager of the Ford Cars and Trucks Division. Iacocca was just 36 and still a relative newcomer at the company's world headquarters; with the new post, he assumed control of 11,000 employees. He gained considerable attention, but also faced some very thinly veiled resentment.

Iacocca soon proved himself ready and able for the job. In one of his many pioneering moves, he created the Fairlane Committee to study future car-buying trends and to develop a vehicle in response. Iacocca pushed for a sportier redesign of the reliable Ford Falcon, and in 1964 introduced the Mustang. It was a huge success, and made Iacocca a household name: both he and the car appeared on the covers of Time and Newsweek. "The Mustang mirrored the youth and vitality of the early 1960s," wrote Doron P. Levin in Behind the Wheel at Chrysler: The Iacocca Legacy. It also brought in $1.1 billion in revenues during its first two years in production.

Such success initially made Iacocca a favorite of Henry Ford II, grandson of the company founder. Iacocca became executive vice-president of the company's North American automotive operations in 1967, and was named president in 1970. But Henry Ford II reportedly came to resent Iacocca, who was reputed to be brash, opinionated, and sometimes difficult to work with, and Ford soon began to fear that Iacocca would succeed him when he died. According to Iacocca, the heir attempted to undermine Iacocca and his plans, rejecting, for instance, Iacocca's idea to design and market a small passenger van. In addition to the tension between Iacocca and Ford, Iacocca's tenure as president also had some notable setbacks. For example, his small, fuel-efficient Pinto initially a popular seller, was found to have fuel tanks that ignited if the Pinto was involved in certain types of collisions. A government safety investigation and massive recall killed the car, as well as some of the company's credibility.

Henry Ford II fired Iacocca personally in July 1978, reportedly saying, "I just don't like you." The deposed president was given a transition office in a parts warehouse, a stinging insult. But just a few months later, Iacocca was hired by the Chrysler Corporation as president and chief operating officer. His appointment was confirmed by the Chrysler board on the same day the company announced its worst quarterly loss ever: a staggering $159 million. By his own accounts Iacocca didn't realize just how badly Chrysler was faltering when he agreed to take the job.

By the time Iacocca was named chair of Chrysler in 1979, he had put in place a massive reorganization. He fired some executives, hired others away from Ford (such as Gerald Greenwald, the first vice-president of Jewish heritage in the auto industry) and shut down the 5,000-worker main Dodge plant. An old, decrepit facility, the plant had helped several generations of Detroit residents to achieve prosperity over the years, and its closing alarmed many, not just its displaced workers. Chrysler was still near bankruptcy, and Iacocca went to Washington and petitioned Congress for $1.2 billion in loan guarantees. He spoke before hostile senators, and even brought in the mayor of Detroit to testify. But many remained opposed: such financial assistance to save a near-bankrupt company was almost unheard of in American business history. Iacocca was a compelling advocate for his company, however. Finally, recognizing that President Carter needed Detroit votes in his 1980 reelection bid, and that the loans would help Chrysler to meet newly-imposed federal fuel and safety standards, Congress eventually approved the loans.

During the early 1980s, Iacocca helped to engineer a turnaround for the company. After making massive layoffs, he managed to win major concessions from the powerful United Auto Workers union in wages and benefits. To show solidarity, he paid himself only $1.00 a year. The K Car and several new models turned the company's fortunes, and on July 13, 1983 (five years to the day after Iacocca's dismissal from Ford), Chrysler paid back its government loans in full, seven years ahead of schedule.

Chronology: Lido Anthony Iacocca

1924: Born.

1945: Received engineering degree.

1946: Hired by Ford Motor Company.

1960: Became one of the youngest vice-presidents in automotive industry history.

1964: Oversaw launch of the Ford Mustang.

1970: Named president of Ford.

1978: Fired by Henry Ford II.

1979: Named chair of Chrysler.

1984: Chrysler introduces minivan.

1992: Retired from Chrysler.

1995: Involved in failed attempt to gain control of Chrysler.

Chrysler's success continued with the introduction of the Dodge Caravan minivan in 1984, which again illustrated Iacocca's savvy interpretation of demographics. Baby boomers were reproducing in record numbers, and the fuel-efficient, sliding-door vehicle catered to a generation of suburban mothers and their grocery parcels and unwieldy child-safety seats. In 1986, Chrysler bought American Motors, the last surviving U.S. automaker outside of the Big Three, and with it received an unusual subsidiary named Jeep. First designed for military use during World War II, Jeeps were rugged vehicles; Chrysler retooled the basic design of a popular "sport-utility" model, launching the Jeep Grand Cherokee in 1992. Again, Chrysler had another huge hit with the American buying public, and a minivan-vs.-sport-utility debate raged among consumers well into the decade. Soon after, Iacocca retired from Chrysler, but not before pushing for a new car program (the L/H series, which produced such popular models as the Intrepid, Concorde, and LHS). The program created confidence and propelled the company into profitability again at the time of his exit.

Iacocca remained a major stockholder in Chrysler, and in 1995 became involved in a bitter battle waged by another major shareholder, Las Vegas financier Kirk Kerkorian, to gain control of the company. Iacocca placed his shares on Kerkorian's side in the war, and he was roundly criticized for doing so. The move seemed a bit uncharacteristic, since in his two books, Iacocca: An Autobiography and Talking Straight, Iacocca had previously condemned such corporate raiding, claiming that it destroyed American jobs.

In 1998 Iacocca became chair of the Koo Koo Roo chain of restaurants, which boasted 52 eating establishments in California, Nevada, Florida, and Washington, D.C. He was also involved in the electric-car market in California.

Social and Economic Impact

Iacocca has been hailed as the savior of the American automotive industry. Although his detractors are many, his achievements are numerous. He was one of the first industry executives to champion safety features in cars, and the vehicles produced under his tenure (the Mustang, the minivan, and the Grand Cherokee) set the standard for other automakers, and virtually defined, and redefined, a generation and its car-buying habits.

Though he has often weathered criticism for relishing the perks of his position a bit too much, Iacocca was a fresh departure from the stereotypical stodgy auto executive. He enjoyed great popularity during his stint at Chrysler, in part because of television ads that gave consumers the idea that the once-ailing automaker was in the capable hands of a strong, tough-talking leader. Such advertising was also a first among the usually colorless automotive executives, who were content to remain unrecognizable to their thousands of employees and car buyers. Iacocca was even mentioned as possible presidential candidate in the 1980s.

Iacocca's influence in the slow-moving world of automotive-industry economics stretched far beyond his exit from Chrysler. For example, he was the visionary behind the Chrysler Technology Center which later catapulted the automaker to the top position in research and development among the Big Three. This superiority was one of the significant attractions for German automaker Daimler-Benz when it agreed in early 1998 to merge with Chrysler.

The 1998 merger betweeen Chrysler and Daimler-Benz merger had been hinted at for some time. Some observers said that what Iacocca did at the automaker during his reign had prepared it for just such a move. As chair, wrote Barbara Seaman and Ron Stodghill II in Time, Iacocca had "dreamed of creating what he called Global Motors, a fully integrated international car and truck builder and seller....Specifically, Iacocca's Global Motors was to be an alliance of Chrysler and Volkswagen (or Fiat or Renault if VW didn't want to play)...." Seaman and Stodghill wrote about Iacocca's vision of a fleet of vehicles with multinational pedigrees sold at joint dealerships around the globe, and noted that, while Iacocca had long since retired, "Global Motors lives again as Daimler-Chrysler."

Iacocca has been involved in some charitable activities, most notably the 1986 Statue of Liberty restoration and centennary project. Proceeds from his two books were donated to the Iacocca Foundation, which contributes to diabetes research. He is also active in the Iacocca Institute at Lehigh University, which emphasizes competitiveness in the global marketplace.

Sources of Information

Bibliography

Byers, Paula K., and Suzanne M. Bourgoin, eds. Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.

Contemporary Authors. Volume 125. Detroit: Gale Research, 1989.

"Lee Iacocca's Next Challenge? Boston Globe Online, 31 March 1998. Available at http://www.boston.com.

Levin, Doron P. Behind the Wheel at Chrysler: The Iacocca Legacy.New York: Harcourt Brace, 1995.

Newsmakers. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993.

Rigby, Rhymer. "America's Biggest Auto-Ego." Management Today, December 1997.

Seaman, Barbara, and Ron Stodghill II. "Here Comes the Road Test." Time, 18 May 1998. Available at http://www.pathfinder.com/time/magazine/1998/dom/980518/business.here_comes_the_6.html.

Smith, David C. "What's Next for Lee?" Ward's Auto World, January 1993.

Wyden, Peter. The Unknown Iacocca. New York: Morrow, 1987.

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