Sunday, October 2, 2011

Lee Iacocca: “Lead, follow or get out of the way”

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Lido Anthony Iacocca was born on October 5, 14 to Nicola and Antoinette Iacocca. He graduated in 145 from Lehigh University and received a master’s degree in engineering from Princeton University in 146. He began his career as an engineering trainee at the Ford Motor Company in August 146, but after nine months, wanting “to be where the action was”, he shifted to sales and marketing. This “change of heart” set the stage for his monumental achievements for Ford.

In 156 while sales were slumping, Lee, as a regional sales manager, developed the “ 56 for ‘56 ” program which enabled customers to purchase a 156 Ford for a modest down payment and $56/month payments. The program was an extraordinary success and was adopted as part of Ford’s national marketing strategy. The program was responsible for boosting sales by an estimated 75,000 cars. This breakthrough started his rise through the ranks and by December 160 he was at the head of the Ford division. In 164, having anticipated the rise of the baby boomers, he was responsible for developing one of the most popular cars in automotive history � the Ford Mustang. In 168, he repeated his success with the introduction of the Lincoln Mark III. These accomplishments led to his promotion in 170 as President of the Ford Motor Company, “second in command under Henry Ford II”.

“Never wanting to stop at success, Lee continued developing and implementing innovative and cost cutting ideas”. However, his growing popularity and success was a source of concern to Henry Ford “who began to worry about this ‘son of an immigrant’ taking over the family business”. Tensions between Ford and Iacocca steadily escalated until finally reaching a head when Lee was forced to resign in July 178.

His successes did not go unnoticed, and in November 178, he assumed the Presidency of the Chrysler Corporation. In Chrysler, he found a company plagued with management and sales problems and headed toward bankruptcy. “On the day his hiring was announced, Chrysler also announced a third quarter loss of $160 million, the worst deficit in company history”.

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In 17-80, with the world economy in tatters, gas prices doubling and import cars steadily increasing market share, Chrysler was faced with insolvency. Lee, realizing that there was only one course of action to take, appealed to the Federal Government for aid. “His speech before Congress was so convincing, that the government agreed to guarantee $1.5 billion in loans if the company could raise another $ billion on its own. Iacocca then went about trimming operations, persuading labor unions to accepts lay-offs and pay cuts, shifted Chrysler’s focus to fuel-efficient models and began an aggressive advertising and public relations campaign” to win back consumer confidence and support. Chrysler began improving quality and introduced the popular (Motor Trend Car of the Year 181) K-series cars and “in 184, the minivan, one of the best selling vehicles in North America”. Iacocca succeeded in changing the company’s image from just another “fat-cat American car company, to the underdog that refused to die” and people started buying Chryslers again. “By the end of 181, Chrysler showed a small profit; three years later it announced record profits of $.4 billion” . On July 1, 18, five years to the day of Lee’s release from Ford, Chrysler completed repayment of their loans, a full seven years ahead of schedule.

In 186, against his wishes, the Draft Lee Iacocca for President committee was formed to try and convince Lee to run for President of the United States. Although he graciously declined, it illustrated that “he had accomplished what few North American business leaders ever had He had become a national hero”. Lee Iacocca continued as CEO of Chrysler until his retirement in 1. From 18-86 he successfully led the (non-profit) endeavor to restore the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, raising $05 million ($75 million more than the original goal) to complete the project. “Lee is currently Chairman and CEO of EV Global Motors, which he founded in 17, to design, market and distribute light electric vehicles and is the founder and principle owner of Olivio Premium Products, a Boston-based food company.

Lee Iacocca’s success can be attributed to the melding of his character and business philosophy. His energy, persistence, attitude toward risk and willingness to listen to people and take whatever measure necessary, enabled him to succeed. While he placed a premium on research, Iacocca believed that the ability and willingness to act decisively was the key as illustrated by his famous “Lead, follow or get out of the way”.

His philosophy is also described in another famous quote “In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words people, products and profits. Without the first, there’s not much you can do about the other two”. He recognized that the importance of his people as those who make the company. As a leader, he adopted one of the most basic (and ignored) principles of leadership Lead from the front. There is no better illustration for this than during the Chrysler “comeback”. Lee was seemingly everywhere, “on the production line, in both high and low level meetings, at the White House, in Congress” or meeting with workers at his production facilities. He went on record to personally vouch for Chrysler’s products. One of the key factors in the company’s resurgence was a series of wage cuts that Lee instituted. In his showdown with the union, “he delivered a one minute speech in which he told them that he had thousands of jobs available for $17/hr, but none at the current $0/hr rate. He gave them one night to take it or leave it ‘but if you leave it’, he advised, ‘I’m going to declare bankruptcy in the morning’ ”. The union agreed, not out of desperation, but because he had announced to them that he had already cut his own salary to $1 per year (a concept he terms “Equality of Sacrifice”). He didn’t just talk the talk, he walked the walk.

Lee Iacocca has had a major influence on American business and is one of America’s most respected and recognized business leaders. He left his mark indelibly on the automotive industry with his numerous successes as President of Ford Motor Company and especially Chairman & CEO of the Chrysler Corporation. His meteoric rise from humble beginnings and through numerous adversities to the highest position in one of the nation’s largest corporations is representative of the “classic American success story”.



Conger, Jay A. , Rabindra N. Kanungo, and Associates. Charismatic Leadership. San Francisco Jossey-Bass, 188.

Marcinko, Richard. Leadership Secrets of the Rogue Warrior. New York Simon & Schuster, 16.

Iacocca, Lee, and William Novak, comps. Iacocca An Autobiography. New York Bantam, 184.

Internet Sources

Senior One Source Lee Iacocca. Retrieved February 6, 00. http//

Lee Iacocca The Man with the Plan. Cole, Dave, eds. 8 March 001. http// . Retrieved February 1, 00. http//

Olivio Premium Products Lee Iacocca. Retrieved February 6, 00. http//

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