I just woke up to the news that iconic business leader Lee Iacocca, who led Ford and Chrysler in 70’s and 80’s passed away at age 94.
I really liked Lee and followed him a lot though he had retired from public/business life long ago. His autobiography was one of the first Business biographies I read (almost 18-19 years ago) and it still remains one of the best biographies I have read. I remember having read his and Jack Welch’s biographies back to back, followed by biographies of Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Henry Ford and Dhirubhai Ambani (that book was banned, and taken off shelves – the newer edition is not as good/dramatic).
Lee’s story was special and almost akin to a Bollywood movie. He was head of Ford Motors in 1970’s when he had some difference of opinion with Chairman Henry Ford Jr (not the founder i.e. Henry Ford, Sr, but his descendant). It was clear that they couldn’t work together. However the way the relationship ended was tragic. It is said that Ford didn’t like Lee entering his cabin without knocking on the door and hence fired him! As Iacocca later wrote in his bestselling autobiography, Ford called Iacocca into his office shortly before 3 pm on July 13, 1978 and let him go, telling him “Sometimes you just don’t like somebody.”
Given that Ford was an eccentric man (just like Henry Ford Sr, who was also a “genius”), the story could be true. But I guess the real reason was control of Ford Motors and how it was run.
Back in those days, Ford was the industry leader. And suddenly Lee was fired unceremoniously. So he went and joined Chrysler Corporation. Chrysler was facing bankruptcy in those days. Lee not only steered Chrysler out of the bankruptcy but led to record profits of $2.4 billion in 1984, in just 3-4 years of time. Lee also too a revenge of sorts by displacing Ford in auto sales. Lee eventually retired from Chrysler in 1992.
Here is a very good interview from 1984, which is now available online.
Here is another interview From Fortune magazine in 1988 where he candidly spoke about Ford and other things:
Do read his biography if you like business biographies…