The man that brought us both the Mustang and the minivan has left the building.
The automotive and business world is in mourning today at the loss of an industry titan. In broad strokes, Lee Iacocca is best known as the man that helped launch the Ford Mustang in the 1960s then rescued Chrysler from near-bankruptcy in the 1980s. But delve deeper, and his influence on the automotive industry was enormous.
He was born Lido Anthony Iacocca in Pennsylvania on October 15, 1924, to immigrant parents. He adopted the name Lee as Lido Iacocca caused confusion when making long-distance phone calls while traveling throughout the East Coast teaching Ford employees how to sell trucks. Iacocca had started working for Ford in 1946 and made his way up through the company before having a major role in the development of the Ford Mustang and helping define a whole new segment of cars. He was named as Ford's president in 1970, but was fired by Henry Ford Jr. in 1978.
In his autobiography, Iaccoca says of his time as President of Ford that: "When I finally got there, I was on top of the world. But then fate said to me: 'Wait. We're not finished with you. Now you're going to find out what it feels like to get kicked off Mt. Everest!'"
In 1978 Iacocca joined Chrysler before becoming the company's CEO in 1979, only to find himself with a different mountain to climb this time. Chrysler was on the brink of bankruptcy, but Iacocca managed to make a deal with the federal government for a bailout. Iacocca had seen the value of fuel-efficient cars while with Ford and saw it again with Chrysler. He oversaw the development of the K-car platform and guided Chrysler through back to back recessions, ensuring the bailout loan was paid back early. Iacocca also pushed for the minivan concept and had a key role, along with the Mustang, in developing another booming automotive segment.
Chrysler's newfound financial solvency also allowed Iacocca to bring a much-needed halo car to market and green-lit production of another performance icon, the Dodge Viper.
Since Iaccoca passed away due to natural causes and complications of Parkinson's Disease at his Bel Air home in Los Angeles, tributes from those that worked with him and across the automotive industry have flooded in. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles released a statement that expresses the general feeling of many: "The Company is saddened by the news of Lee Iacocca's passing. He played a historic role in steering Chrysler through crisis and making it a true competitive force. He was one of the great leaders of our company and the auto industry as a whole. He also played a profound and tireless role on the national stage as a business statesman and philanthropist."