Lee Iacocca, Iconic Auto Exec Who Saved Chrysler From Bankruptcy, Dead At 94

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July 03, 2019

Lee Iacocca, the legendary boss of the Chrysler Corporation who is credited with rescuing the fledgling car company from impending doom in the 1980s, has passed away at the age of 94.

"Iacocca's youngest daughter confirmed he passed away of natural causes Tuesday. He is survived by two daughters and eight grandchildren."

Iacocca, who began his auto industry career at the Ford Corporation, first came to national recognition for being part of the team that created the eternally popular Ford Mustang.

When he moved on to Chrysler in 1978, he played a major role in the invention of the Chrysler minivan, an innovation that forever changed the travel needs of the family-focused public.

The son of Italian immigrants, he was born Lido Anthony Iacocca in 1924 in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

“Iacocca started working at Ford Motor Company in 1946 and was a major figure in the development of the Ford Mustang — the first vehicle of its kind. He was named the president of Ford in 1970, but was fired by Henry Ford Jr. in 1978.”

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He began working for the Chrysler Corporation in 1978 and just a year later was named CEO.

He will forever be remembered for having used innovative tactics to save the company when it was struggling throughout the ‘80s.

Iacocca used ingenious tactics to turn the fledgling auto company around, including a government bailout.

“Iacocca urged Congress to authorize the Treasury Department to guarantee $1.5 billion in bank loans for Chrysler.

“Chrysler needed the bailout to survive back-to-back recessions in the early 1980s. Chrysler repaid the loans early. Treasury made money on the stock it received as part of bailout packages.”

Iacocca also spearheaded the introduction of the ‘K-car’ concept: bringing us the Dodge Aries and the Plymouth Reliant, ushering in the era of fuel efficiency at a time when Asian car companies were capturing an increasing share of the car market.

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Iacocca also ushered in the age of the Minivan with the introduction of the Dodge Caravan. The Caravan and its sister Plymouth Voyager enjoyed decades of popularity, sparking the creation of dozens of similar models from competing car manufacturers.

Iacocca retired from Chrysler in 1992, but his departure sparked a pair of lawsuits that marred the historic relationship between the two parties.

In 1995, the former CEO accused the company of illegally preventing him from exercising the stock options he earned during his tenure. In return, Chrysler sued Iacocca, alleging he gave inside information to Kirk Kerkorian who was trying to take over Chrysler.

The two sides settled both legal actions in 1996. The terms of the settlement were not made public.

In spite of the bad blood in the final years of their tenure with Iacocca, Fiat Chrysler issued a praise-laden statement upon hearing of the automaker great’s death:

"He played a historic role in steering Chrysler through crisis and making it a true competitive force," FCA said in a statement.

"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."

Bill Ford, current executive chairman of Ford Motor Company also issued a glowing tribute to Iacocca, saying that Iacocca was "truly bigger than life and he left an indelible mark on Ford."

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Ford reminisced about the immense encouragement Iacocca brought him when he was starting out in his family’s company.

"He was one of a kind and will be dearly missed."

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Iacocca’s own words perhaps best reveal how and why he had such an illustrious career.

“I hire people brighter than me and then I get out of their way. -Lee Iacocca”

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