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Home / Business / The car industry owner Lee Iacocca dies at 94

The car industry owner Lee Iacocca dies at 94

DETROIT – He was one of the unique personalities that the American automotive industry sometimes produces – a greater than life presence that changed the course of car history.

Revered by someone, despised by others, Lee Iacocca was a force to be reckoned with, both public and private. Mustang's father, midwife of the minivan, rescuer of Chrysler Corp., the rebuilding of the Statue of Liberty, Lee Iacocca died Tuesday in his home in Bel Air, California, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and the long-standing driver Bob Lutz confirmed to the Free Press. He was 94 years old.

In the 1980s, Iacocca was by far the most popular business figure in the world. Pictures of him, often with his trademark cigar, were on magazine covers and TV screens. His 1

984 autobiography became an international bestseller. He was in global demand as a speaker.

There were even moves to designate him as a presidential candidate in 1984 and 1988, and as an American senator in 1991. Iacocca – probably wisely – sidestepped all those stations.

His death was met by an exhaustion of tribute and sadness late Tuesday.

"He was one of the great leaders of our company and the automotive industry as a whole," said Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in a statement. "He also played a deep and tireless role at the national level as a business statesman and philanthropist. Lee gave us a mindset that still drives us today – one that is characterized by hard work, commitment, and pig."

  Lee Iacocca speaks on the 70th breakfast in Metro-Detroit
Lee Iacocca speaks on the 70th Luncheon of Metro-Detroit

And Ford CEO Bill Ford said Iacocca had a deep and lasting impact on the automotive industry.

"Lee Iacocca was really bigger than life, and he left an indelible mark on Ford, the automotive industry and our country," he said. "Lee played a central role in the creation of the Mustang. On a personal note, I always appreciate how encouraging he was to me at the beginning of my career. Lido Anthony Iacocca was born October 15, 1924 in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where his family drove a small hot-water site – the precursor of a Coney Island-type chain now known as Yocco's, a Lehigh Valley corruption of the Iacocca name.The family eventually extended their interests to real estate and other businesses.

Iacocca & # 39; parents immigrated through Ellis Island from Italy – his father, Nicola, in 1902 and his mother Antoinette, in 1921.

The future auto management – the younger of two children – went to public school, graduated 12th in the Allentown High School class from 1942. Because he had rheumatic fever a few years earlier, Iacocca was rejected and classified 4F as he attempted to join Army Air Force after high school

Disappointed that he couldn't help fight World War II, he threw himself into the engineering study at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Iacocca ripped through eight fast holidays, without any summers, graduating with honors in industrial construction in 1945.

Even before he finished at Lehigh, Iacocca had set out to work for Ford Motor Co. He won a job with the automaker on graduation, but at the same time he was offered a scholarship for graduate work at Princeton University.

The Ford recruiter told him to take the community; the company would hold a place for him. He completed a Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering at Princeton in 1946 and brought a train in Detroit with $ 50 to start working as a Ford engineering student.

Quickly boring with the nitty gritty engineering, Iacocca started what would be his life's work – Marketing – by selling Ford executives on the idea that he was going to trade.

He started the same year as a small fleet salesman in Chester, Pennsylvania. In 1949 he was a zone manager who worked with 18 dealers. Ten years after switching to marketing, Iacocca received the attention of the Ford Headquarters in Dearborn, by developing a finance program to move slow-selling models into 1956 models: Customers can pay 20% down payment, and then make three years for $ 56 monthly payments. Financing for new cars just got into vogue; Iacocca called his version "56 for 56".

The program took off, and so did Iacocca's career. In 1960, he was the head of car and truck sales for the Ford division. The same year, aged 36, was appointed Vice President in charge of the division.

Fired from Ford

  Lee Iacocca, as a young man, already president of the Ford Motor Company, was shown here in front of the River Rouge Plant in 1971.
Lee Iacocca, a young man, is already president of Ford Motor Company, shown here in front of River Rouge Plant in 1971.

Iacocca's first major achievement as leader of the Ford Division was also his first major contribution to car history – Mustang.

Iacocca and his team members were looking for a car that would have youthful appeal, with winding style, strong performance and low price, he wrote in his autobiography ring and the shaft of Ford's popular but clean Falcon, designed a completely new body for the platform, and brought it on the market in spring 1964 with a base price of just $ 2,368, including bucket seats, wheel covers and carpets as standard.

During Mustang's first sales weekend, 4 million people visited Ford dealers. The car appeared at the same time on the covers of Time and Newsweek magazines.

The Mustang sold a US record of 418,812 sold in the first 12 months, and Iacocca was promoted to Vice President responsible for all car and truck development for both Ford and Lincoln-Mercury divisions.

In December 1970, 24 years after joining the company as a trainee, Iacocca was president of Ford.

But his relationship with chairman Henry Ford II first warmed, grew cold with time as conflicts developed between the two strong personalities.

  Donald Frey, Lee Iacocca and Henry Ford II on New
Donald Frey, Lee Iacocca and Henry Ford II On The New

Henry Ford II Kicked Iacocca July 13, 1978. When journalists asked for a reason, Ford replied, "It's personal, and I can't tell you any more. It's just one of those things."

To protect some of the benefits of Iacocca, Ford decided to make the fire effective October 15, iacocca's 54th birthday. But as a final humiliation, he exploded Iacocca from the Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn, known locally as the Glass House, and awarded him a small uncarpeted office in a corporate party depot of Telegraph Road in Detroit.

Chrysler's savior

Within a few weeks, Chrysler Corp., the nation's No. 3 automaker, had wooed and won Iacocca, although the announcement of the new alliance was postponed until January 1, 1978, when Iacocca became called Chrysler's president and CEO. In less than a year, in September 1979, he would become chairman.

When Iacocca was made president, Chrysler announced a three-quarter loss of $ 160 million. As Iacocca wrote in her autobiography, "One of Chrysler's greatest problems, which I soon learned, was that even top management did not have a very good idea of ​​what was going on. They knew Chrysler was bleeding. What they didn't understand – and I soon would find out – was that it was bleeding. "

By the summer of 1979, Iacocca had concluded that Chrysler would need government assistance to survive. After a long and sometimes humiliating campaign, Iacocca's team won a $ 1.5 billion congressional loan guarantee. The Chrysler Loan Guarantee Act achieved Congress Passion on December 21, 1979, saving 600,000 Chrysler jobs and countless supplier companies and giving Chrysler time to restructure.

From early 1980 and February 1981, Chrysler used $ 1.2 billion of $ 1.5 billion guarantee. In order to gain access to the money, the company had to streamline, secure pay and benefit receipts from all employees, renegotiate existing loans and receive financial support from banks and suppliers.

Iacocca set the pace by cutting their own wages for 1980 from around $ 360,000 to $ 1.

Everyone associated with Chrysler made financial concessions: trade unions, leaders, and vendors. In addition, the company joined thousands of workers with blue and white faces, as it happened beyond fat and into the flesh of operations.

At the same time, Iacocca pushed through the development pipeline the simple, rectangular and desperately needed K-cars that gave Chrysler fuel-efficient family sedans to sell. Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant K cars came to market in 1981, and Iacocca, at this time appearing in Chrysler TV ads, as well as running the company, told the Americans: "If you find a better car, buy it. & # 39; & # 39; A Survey showed that 85% of TV viewers knew who Iacocca was and thought he was sincere.

By mid-1983, Chrysler was in good shape to repay the entire loan package seven years before the plan. Iacocca announced the move to the National Press Club in Washington on July 13, 1983 – just five years after Ford had fired him.

In three years, lending banks had made $ 404 million of interest from Chrysler, the federal government making $ 33 million In administration fees, lawyers and investment banks had made $ 67 million, and the US Treasury gave more than $ 311 million of the Chrysler share, guaranteeing the department received as part of the loan guarantee package.

As if he wasn't busy enough, Iacocca said. yes in May 1982 when President Ronald Reagan asked him to lead a multimillion-dollar private fund station to renovate the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in time for the statute's 100th anniversary in 1986. Iacocca accepted the task of paying tribute to his parents.

But Iacocca's supercharged activities were suddenly stopped on May 15, 1983, when Mary, his wife for 26 years, died of complications from diabetes.

Although he had one of the most famous faces in America, Iacocca always described himself as a homebody. He refused to eat out, prefers a homemade pasta meal and an update on what daughters Kathi and Lia were up to.

Mary Iacocca had been anchor for the automatic leader's private life; now she was gone. Iacocca called her death the "greatest personal sadness in my life."

But he couldn't stay quiet for long. Iacocca was now an international business hero with many demands on him. Admitters wanted to draw him as a presidential candidate in 1984. He refused to sign a new three-year contract with Chrysler at the end of 1983.

"I am too pronounced to be a good politician," he later observed in his autobiography. "If a guy gives me a lot of baloney, I tell him to buzz off because he's wrong. Somehow I don't think the presidency works that way."

In November, Chrysler turned consumer heads with something brand new – a vehicle which the company called the minivan. Iacocca described the minivan as revolutionary and historic and predicted it would "create extraordinary excitement and buyer interest and force other manufacturers to come up with copycat versions."

He was right. With a unique design, a high tool and a base sticker price of about $ 8,500, the minivan created a consumer sentiment and a brand new market segment.

Iacocca had now turned the car industry up and down three times in his career: first with the Ford Mustang in 1964, next with the salvation of Chrysler and then with the minivan.

Fired again

On Iacocca's 60th birthday, October 15, 1984, his autobiography beat the nation's bookstores and became an immediate seller. The book was vintage Iacocca – blunt, folksy, meaningful, colorful and full of details about his turbulent career.

Iacocca made no campaigns for the book. Anyway, at the end of the year, publisher Bantam Books had printed a million hardcover copies of "Iacocca: An Autobiography." The stores sold out of the $ 18 books as soon as they got them. Hundreds of fans sent emails to the Chrysler headquarters and hoped that Iacocca would autograph the volumes. Iacocca increased its already intense popularity by announcing that all the profits from the autobiography would go towards finding a cure for diabetes.

Iacocca and Chrysler were both rolling.

As the Statue of Liberty seized in 1986, Iacocca reached the fund station for restoration had exceeded its target, with $ 277 million either in hand or mortgaged.

So almost as evidence that he would not interfere well in politics, Iacocca found himself again – this time as chairman of the National Commission, which monitors the actual restoration work on the statue and Ellis Island.

Deputy Secretary Donald Hodel said in February 1986 that he would not have a man responsible for both raising and spending the project. But National Park staff, who maintain the statue and Ellis Island, contrasted with Iacocca's transfer methods and accused him of running around with their plans.

In addition, there were rumors that Iacocca could be prepared to run for the White House as a Democrat in 1988. "19659002]" I am no threat, "a furious Iacocca said after the firing. "I'm not running for anything other than my life. If only politics, boys will be boys down there. They get nervous and a choice comes up and it's the game they play in Washington."

The smoke that was created by Iacocca's firing, had drifted away when the chief executive tore up the Statue of Liberty Centennial celebration on the 4th of July weekend in 1986.

The glittering salute featured special musical performances and a massive fireworks display, and drew more than 20 tall ships, dozens of movie stars , Heads of State, business leaders, thousands of journalists, and an estimated 13 million spectators to New York Harbor.

Iacocca said revenue from tickets and advertising would almost cover the $ 3.2 million cost of the gala. Asked for allegations that the restoration project had been commercialized, Iacocca snatched, "commercialization is a good US move. We have been commercializing things for over 100 years."

Iacocca's father, Nicola, was not there to see the celebration, and he died in 1973. But the car performer's mother, Antoinette, then 82, was an honored guest.

"My son God gave me," said one tears Antoinette Iacocca. "I love him so much I can describe to no one. He makes me feel so good here," she said, knocking her chest over her heart. "Sometimes I think too much is on him; but he loves it."


Iakocca always seemed always in the midst of a whirlwind.

Chrysler, now profitable, yet short on appealing models, formed joint ventures with foreign automakers, including Mitsubishi, Samsung and Maserati.

But the biggest deal by far was Iacocca's announcement on March 9, 1987, that Chrysler would buy American Motors Corp from French automaker Renault for around $ 1.5 billion. The agreement created fusion headaches for Chrysler in the form of layoffs and planters; But it also took its valuable Jeep brand.

Iacocca had never investigated buying General Motors Corp., an agreement analysts said would have cost about $ 40 billion. "Finally, I concluded that it might be easier to buy Greece," Iacocca said in another book, "Talking Straight," published by Bantam Books in June 1988.

The GM Daydream may have provided Iacocca's boldness in an illegal 1995 Bid – Three years after retiring in 1992 – took over Chrysler Corp. with Las Vegas billionaire Kirk Kerkorian.

The whole idea was to take Chrysler privately, or at least just quasi-public, so it could be more effective with a core group of shareholders controlling it, as much as the Ford family controls Ford Motor Co., Iacocca explained. later.

Iacocca hoped or mistakenly believed that the Chrysler government and management would accept the idea. When they did not, the situation worsened to a painful and bitter legal war between Iacocca and the company that he had given so much of his life and energy. Kerkorian and Iacocca's takeover attempts failed when Chrysler's board said the company was not for sale.

Man of Opposites

Iacocca was a contradictory character. He was on the one hand cigar-chomping, swashbuckling seller who seemed to know instinctively the right things to say and do to impress a Senate Committee or a regular consumer.

On the other hand, he was intense private and almost painful shy offstage, a man who became nervous before each speech.

He was also a bit of a hypochondriac. It was sometimes played by Chrysler insiders that if you wanted to shake the day, you just had to tell Iacocca that he didn't look so good.

Iakocca was known in Chrysler for making effective use of his time, and insisted that problems were boiled down to their essential elements before being taken to a decision.

He was often inspiring, but he was not a kickback, and he did not go into crowds. He has always maintained a certain distance, a reserve that involves power, intentionally or not. The air around him almost broke with electricity.

Only one person was allowed to make fun of him publicly with relative impunity: his long-standing friend and other Ford and Chrysler practitioner Ben Bidwell.

In the office, only a handful of people were allowed near him, and directives were sent down through them. The roster of leaders who suddenly left the company after merging with Iacocca was impressive and included some top men he had recruited or brought from Ford-Chrysler Vice-President Gerald Greenwald and CFO Steve Miller among them.

Greenwald asked Once to describe Iacocca's leadership style, one answered only half, "the whip."

Private chaos

Iakokca's privacy was rarely less chaotic in the home.

In April 1986, three years after his beloved Maria died, Iacocca married former airline and publisher Peggy Johnson. Both were known for their short fuses, the two arguing almost from the beginning. They divorced six months after the wedding and divorced a year later, in November 1987.

In his second book, Iacocca wrote about his marriage to Johnson. After Maria died, he said, "I found myself alone and tired as hell. Eating alone was bad enough but living alone really scared me. Death alone scared me even more. …

" I have to admit that I didn't know for sure if I was ready to get married yet. I wasn't sure in my heart, I had finished providing my first wife. I should have waited a little longer than I did. … Immediately I began to guess myself. »

In March 1991, nearing retirement, he tried again. This time, Iacocca's former California restaurant owner Darrien Earle married. That union was dissolved in a nasty and public divorce, which eventually ended in May 1995, in the middle of Iacocca's bid to take over Chrysler with Kerkorian.

The privacy of Iacocca and his executive habits inevitably invited comparisons with the colorful Henry Ford II, and several former colleagues said Iacocca was driven by wanting to surpass their old adversary.

Iacocca did little to destroy his imperial reputation. As time approached to introduce cars and trucks for a given model year, Iacocca would go through a number of cars in the Chrysler styling dome and literally give each one a thumbs up or thumbs down. This exercise sometimes resulted in expensive, last-minute rings in tool or paint colors.

On one occasion, he changed the name of a model the day before it was introduced to journalist recorders. Numerous news reports and other distribution materials had to be torn up and redone overnight.

As a nationwide recession, its toll on automakers in the late 80s and early 90s, Iacocca's purchase of American Motors and other companies lost the brilliance of Wall Street analysts and critics in Chrysler. They argued that the acquisitions had removed Chrysler with money needed to develop exciting new products.

In the first half of 1991, Chrysler lost $ 553 million; The company's market share declined from more than 12 percent in the mid-1980s to 8.7 percent for the first half of & # 39; 91.

Iacocca came under increasing pressure to retire and make room for someone with a fresh perspective – a step he finally made at the end of 1992, when the board put former GM leader Robert Eaton behind the wheel of Chrysler.

Gagged by a post-choral court ruling with Chrysler that prevented both parties from criticizing each other in public, Iacocca kept his mouth uncharacteristically closed when Eaton arranged Chrysler's buyout of Germany's Daimler-Benz AG, announced in May 1998. [19659002] Just as unpleasant for Iacocca was life as a pensioner.


Unfortunate as a bachelor, but unwilling to risk another catastrophic marriage, he tackled a number of business ventures. They included gambling resorts, restaurants, olive oil, margarine, electric cars and an internet company formed to sell used industrial equipment. Some of the projects kept their interest; Some did not.

"I'm telling people who are getting ready to retire, not – it doesn't just worry about your financial well-being. You're better off for something, or painting or playing music or being a mentor to children. better, even if you don't need the money, just to stay active. You go wrong if you don't, "he said in a 1999 interview.

Nevertheless, after all career achievements and community activities, it was his family that Iacocca always said was most important.

"My legacy is two great daughters and six grandchildren so far. It's your only real heritage, let's face it. The rest comes and goes … Finally, if you're healthy and your family is good, the rest fun, "he said in a 1999 interview.

"I've always felt that when I die, if I can say I've done well in my family … then I've lived a full life and a good life. What else is it? You're standing up the morning, you go through the same day and night as everyone else … maybe you really have had life, but how? You are just as good as the part you did with those around you, especially your family and friends, "wrote he in his second book.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Lee Iacocca dies at 94

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