In June, 2005 Lido Anthony Iacocca was named by CNN as the fifth most influential business leader of the past 25 years, edged out by the likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. In 2007 Conde Nast's Portfolio magazine named Iacocca the 18th greatest CEO of all time. According to Wharton Business school, he is among the top 25 most influential business leaders.
Iacocca was born on October 29, 1924 in Allentown, PA, three years after his parents, Nicola and Antoinette, emigrated from Italy. Iacocca's parents helped to run his uncle's new company, Yocco's Hot Dogs (then known as The Orpheum Wiener House), which he founded in 1922. The Lehigh Valley food icon is still under Iacocca family management. The name Yocco's is derived from the Pennsylvania Dutch pronunciation of Iacocca.
Nicola Iacocca also owned a car rental company called U-Drive-It consisting mostly of Ford models. Though his father encouraged Iacocca's love of cars, it was a family friend, the owner of a Ford dealership, who introduced him to the car business.
Iacocca graduated from William Allen High School in 1942. Because of a bout with rheumatic fever at fifteen, Iacocca was not eligible to join the army. He then attended Lehigh from which he graduated in 1945 with a B.S. in industrial engineering, though he also took many classes in psychology and abnormal psychology. At Lehigh he was also a member of the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society, the Theta Chi fraternity, and was a writer and editor for the Brown and White. After winning the Wallace Memorial Fellowship at Princeton University, he pursued a master's degree at the school. Though he also studied politics and plastics, Iacocca graduated a year later with a master's in mechanical engineering and began his professional career as an engineer at Ford Motor Company.
A Career at Ford Motors
Iacocca soon discovered that he preferred the business aspect of the company and entered its sales and management ranks. In 1956 he introduced the "56 for 56" plan in the Philadelphia district of Ford. In his plan, consumers made a 20% down payment and then paid 56 dollars a month for three years. The idea was so successful that the president of Ford decided to use it in national ad campaigns. In the late 1940s, Iacocca met Ford receptionist, Mary McCleary. After an eight-year courtship, the couple married on September 29, 1956.
As general manager of the Ford Division, he was the driving force behind the design of the 1964 Mustang. He was on the cover of Time magazine for the first time in April, 1964. Six years later, on December 10, 1970, Iacocca was named President of Ford. During his tenure at the company he was also partially responsible for the Lincoln Continental Mark II, the Ford Fiesta, and the revival of the Mercury brand.
Move to Chrysler
After a long power struggle with Henry Ford II, Iacocca was fired from Ford in July of 1978, even though the company turned in two billion dollars in profits the preceding year. Less than five months later he was hired as president of the nearly-defunct Chrysler Corporation. His leadership there would eventually help transform the firm's fortunes and cement his place in the landscape of American business.
Iacocca's first task was to raise money to fund new projects for the failing company. In addition to the $1.5 billion governmental loan he was able to acquire, he also had to close plants and convince labor unions to accept layoffs and wage cuts. In July 1983, only five years later, Iacocca was able to turn the company around and pay back the entire loan including interest--seven years before his deadline. Breathing new life into Chrysler earned Iacocca another cover of Time in March 1983. In addition to Chrysler's new smaller, more fuel efficient cars including the K-car series that replaced the old gas guzzlers, Iacocca introduced the main reason for the company's success, the 1984 T115 minivan. Always an advocate for promoting necessary if unpopular causes, Iacocca also pushed for mandatory seat belts, interlocking systems, and the installation of air bags. His TV ad commercials made popular the slogan, "If you can find a better car, buy it." He also engineered the $1.5 billion acquisition of American Motors (AMC) and the Jeep Cherokee model. When Iacocca retired from Chrysler in 1992, the firm's profits were up and thousands of American manufacturing jobs were secure.
For his keen management skills in the automotive industry, Iacocca was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Engineering in 1986. Acceptance into the NAE is one of the highest honors accorded to an engineer.
After his success with the improvement of the Chrysler Corporation, President Reagan asked Iacocca to serve as chairman of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. Under his leadership, the organization was able to raise nearly twice the $230 million budget it required for the restoration of the two monuments.
Iacocca agreed to return to Chrysler in 2005 to appear in a few new television commercials. "The pride is back." and "If you can find another car, buy it," were once again used. Also acting in the ads were Seinfeld star, Jason Alexander, and rapper, Snoop Dog.
Investment at Lehigh
As a philanthropist, Iacocca has donated millions of dollars to various institutions and charitable foundations. At Lehigh, he led the fundraising campaign to purchase the Mountaintop Campus from Bethlehem Steel and jointly started the Iacocca Institute, an organization dedicated to increasing the global competitiveness of American organizations. Also housed on the Mountaintop Campus are the College of Education and the biology and chemical engineering departments. He is an honorary trustee of the university.
Finding a Cure
His wife's lifelong struggle and subsequent death in 1983 from type I diabetes inspired Iacocca to devote much of his time, money, and energy into raising funds for diabetes research. After her passing, he established the Iacocca Foundation of which he is Chairman of the Board. His elder daughter, Kathryn Iacocca Hentz, is President of the organization and his younger daughter, Lia Iacocca Assad, is also a member of the board. Since its inception, the Foundation has raised more than $23 million to fund diabetes research.
Iacocca donated the proceeds of his first book, Iacocca: An Autobiography, as well as the money he made in his 2005 Chrysler commercial to the foundation.
The Kids With Courage Foundation, an organization that provides support systems for children with type I diabetes, recognized Iacocca as the first inductee to their Hall of Heroes.
Iacocca is the author of four books: Iacocca: An Autobiography, one of the best-selling non-fiction hard cover books in 1984 and 1985 and republished in 2007, Talking Straight in 1988, "I Gotta Tell You": Speeches of Lee Iacocca in 1994, and most recently, Where Have All the Leaders Gone? in 2007.
At one time Iacocca was urged to run for President of the United States, and a number of Ford and Chrysler dealers across the country even provided him with initial funds. Although he played (and continues to play) an active role in politics and is frequently asked to give speeches about his opinions, Iacocca's mother and close friends convinced him not to run for the office.
Along with his extensive work with the Iacocca Foundation, he currently manages two of his own businesses. He started Villa Iacocca, a wine and olive oil import company, in 1986. In 1993, he and his son-in-law, Ned Hentz, formed Olivio Premium Products, a sister company that creates healthier, olive-oil based replacements for butter.
- The Iacocca Foundation
- Lee Iacocca Wikipedia entry
- Lehigh University's Contributions to Engineering, 1976
- Lee Iacocca's personal website
- Iacocca Institute
- Wharton Business School names Iacocca one of the top 25 most influential business leaders
- Iacocca teams with Snoop Dogg in new Chrysler ad in USA TODAY.
- Olivio Products Company Website
- Iacocca elected to the NAE