Lee Iacocca, the auto industry legend best known for developing Ford Mustang and Pinto cars and later resuscitating Chrysler Corporation literary from its apparent demise, died on Tuesday morning at the age of 94 at his home in California. He was the only auto executive in modern times to preside over the operations of two of the Big Three automakers in the US.
Born to an Italian immigrant family, he grew up in humble conditions. After completing his education, a graduate Degree from Princeton University, he joined Ford Motor and later became the president of the company in 1970. But after an unfortunate dispute with the company’s heir Henry Ford II, who accused him of plotting for the chairman position, he was fired from the company. A year later, he took over the operations at Chrysler – a company that was literally struggling for its existence. He not only saved the company from its potential bankruptcy in 1980 but also made it relevant again. And while the company was recovering from its financial slump, he famously worked on a salary of $1 a year.
During his long, illustrious, ambitious and productive career, he became associated with many iconic cars, including the Ford Mustang – he is widely known as the father of the Mustang – the K-Car lineup, which helped Chrysler come back from the brink of bankruptcy, and the Chrysler minivans, which continued for many years to be the most profitable lineup for the automaker.
During his lifetime, Mr Iacocca authored several books, including his autobiography – Iacocca: An Autobiography – which is as inspiring a read as he was a figure in his real life. It's a must-read for anyone interested in his life or automotive history or simply with a desire to read an inspiring and insightful book. The upcoming Hollywood blockbuster Ford vs Ferrari, due to release in November this year, immortalises Mr Iacocca, played by Jon Bernthal, and his role in defeating Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France.
On his death, Bob Lutz, a close associate of his, said, ‘Lee was one of few truly great leaders. He was my mentor and role model. When he was on, he was fabulous. I will miss him.’
Well, so will the entire auto industry and everyone associated with it. Even in the industry that has no dearth of legends, you don’t see an inspiring figure and a great leader like Mr Iacocca quite often.