One Of My Heroes: RIP Lee Iacocca

Lido Anthony Lee Iacocca
Credit: FCA
As a young man in the car business, Lee Iacocca was bigger than life. Hard charging, charismatic, cigar smoking, and no fear were among the many things he was known for.

Lido Anthony "Lee" Iacocca was an American automobile executive best known for the development of Ford Mustang and less for the Pinto cars, while at the Ford Motor Company in the 1960s, and then later for reviving the Chrysler Corporation as its CEO during the 1980s. Lee was also the father of the minivan.

Born: October 15, 1924, Allentown, PA
Died: July 2, 2019, Bel Air, Los Angeles, CA

Although the Ford family felt threatened with his success and was known as a “maverick” inside FoMoCo circles I have been told, he was a success at every position he held. He was known for doing Chrysler commercials, daring people that “if they could find a better car than a Chrysler, to buy it.”
Iacocca Introduces First Minivan Article
Credit: FCA

I recall, too, as a young man in the business, it was Lee who came up with the first rebates for cars while at Chrysler in the mid-1970s. He came up with a 5% cash back rebate that turned the auto industry on its ear. At that time it amounted to about $250 on average, and the industry was changed forever.

The story went around that Iacocca got loans from the government in 1980 totaling 1.2 billion dollars, but the reality is he arranged for the government to guarantee private capital loans. None of the loans were ever paid by the government, and Iacocca paid the loans back seven years ahead of schedule. Had he not been successful, there would likely be no Chrysler today.
Iacocca Chrysler Top Salesman
Credit: FCA

Lee was attributed with many, many quotes, but these are the ones I loved the most and tried to emulate in my career:

  • “I hire people brighter than me and then I get out of their way.”
  • “In my book, if you’re not No. 1, you’ve got to innovate.”
  • “The most successful businessman is the man who holds onto the old just as long as it is good, and grabs the new just as soon as it is better.”
  • “Motivation is everything. You can do the work of two people, but you can’t be two people. Instead, you have to inspire the next guy down the line and get him to inspire his people.”
  • “We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.”
  • “Start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees, motivate them and reward them. If you do all those things effectively, you can’t miss.”
  • “Decisiveness is the one word that makes a good manager.”
  • “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.”
  • “Any supervisor worth his salt would rather deal with people who attempt too much than with those who try too little.”

May you rest in peace Mr. Iacocca. It was you, not me, who was the Car
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I was about 15 years old when I bought my first car. The main reason I picked the car I picked was because of watching Lee Iacocca on television . I could just remember being in all of him as a businessman even at 15 years old and told my dad that I wanted a Dodge shadow and to this day I'm happy I bought one it was a great little car never gave me an ounce of trouble very reliable and was fun to drive with the turbo package . As an adult I read his book and found even more admiration for the man. I think today he would be highly disappointed with the Chrysler mergers of the past decade and the Chrysler name as it sits today with a paltry lineup of One vehicle that's new and another vehicle that's going on ancient in the auto world. In the right hands the Chrysler name plate should have been with Buick is the GM or Lincoln has the ford. A near luxury name plate putting out first rate cars and SUV's.
Dan M
Great article Jerry about Mr. Iacocca. Not sure if it is coincidence or destiny: the name Iacocca stands for: I Am Chairman Of Chrysler Corporation America! You and Kevin keep up the great work. We listen every week and appreciate everything you do.
Nice thoughts I'm not sure how happy he'd be with the state of affairs of FCA today, despite being a businessman. He was no doubt an important pillar in the pre-EV industry.
The Car Pro
I agree, I don't think Lee would have allowed the Chrysler/Daimler merger and less likely the Chrysler/Fiat merger.

Jerry Reynolds,
When Mr. Iacocca took over Dodge in the 70's is when I bought my first Dodge truck.
It now being 2019, I still drive a Dodge pickup.
Thanks, Mr. Iacocca.
The Car Pro
I think Lee would highly approve of today's Ram pickups, they are really something special.

Jerry Reynolds