Chrysler Plans Private Tribute to Lee Iacocca

Lover come back

By Brendan Moore

06.09.2008

Chrysler LLC is planning a private, employees-only rally to honor Lee Iacocca, the 83 year-old former CEO of Chrysler Corporation.

Katie Hepler, Chrysler spokeswoman, said, “Our leadership team just wanted to welcome him home and thank him for his leadership and the pivotal role he played in our heritage.”

The affair will be held at Chrysler’s Auburn Hills, Michigan headquarters on June 26. Iacocca, a living legend in the automotive business has signaled that he will attend the event.

Iacocca was fired by a Ford at Ford Motor Co. after an extremely successful career in Dearborn and went to Chrysler in 1979. Many people had already written Chrysler off at the time as they floundered in the market, deep in debt, and with irrelevant product. They seemed irredeemable and completely doomed. Iacocca, however, was able to convince the federal government to loan Chrysler enough money for new working capital and was able to convince a skeptical American public to buy Chrysler product in the early 1980’s. By the way, Chrysler also launched a new product called the minivan during this time. Chrysler earned what was at the time a record $2.4 billion in 1984, and it all seemed to happen almost by magic.

Iacocca became chairman of Chrysler in 1985, and retired as same in 1992. All the good feelings evaporated, though, in 1995, when he joined forces with corporate activist and billionaire Kirk Kerkorian in an unsolicited $22.8 billion bid to buy Chrysler. Chrysler said it wasn’t interested in selling, and there weren’t a lot of people that thought it was a good idea in general (including myself, which I stated in a radio interview on the Marketplace business segment in 1995).

The bid effort fizzled out, but Chrysler was still angry at what they viewed as Iacocca’s betrayal, and sued him, saying that he fed Kerkorian proprietary information about Chrysler while employed as a consultant to Kerkorian.

Then, a little later, Iacocca sued Chrysler for not allowing him to cash out of approximately $40 million in Chrysler stock options when it would have been advantageous for him to do so.

Tentative attempts at reconciliation were started after the new century, and by 2005, Chrysler and Iacocca had accomplished a rapprochement and made up, with Iacocca appearing in some ads for Chrysler, most notably in a television commercial together with Snoop Dogg, a rapper, who was quite taken with the then-new Chrysler 300.

Apparently, all has been forgiven from both sides now.

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Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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6 Comments

  1. The rescue of Chrysler was nothing short of brilliant, but Lee’s attempt to revisit his glory days by throwing in with Kerkorian in 1995 was pathetic and embarassing.

  2. I think that when Iacocca was fired by Henry Ford II, Iacocca asked him the reason he was being fired, and Ford told him, “I just don’t like you”.

    How’s that for a punch to the gut? It’s no wonder he had to make Chrysler successful after that. Talk about incentive!

  3. Maybe they’ll present a custome LeBaron to Chairman Lee, you know, one that’s fully loaded. That car was the height of engineering prowess.

  4. I wonder if Lee and Snoop shared a congratulatory smoke after they finished filming the commercial?

  5. Chairman Lee was the right guy at the right time for the Chrysler of the 1980’s, and he deserves the accolades. Does anyone think that Nardelli is the modern version of Chairman Lee? I don’t think so.

  6. Lee Iacocca’s and Walter P. Chrysler’s names are the only two indelibel to Chrysler’s history.

    I was hoping that in the honor to Lee Iacocca last week, they would have renamed in his honor the technology center he planned for, budgeted for, and built, The Lee Iacocca Chrysler Technology Center.

    It was as he has written his most proud accomplishment as CEO of Chrysler.

    It set the table for Chrysler to enter the 21st Century, from which they are still dining.

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