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Lee Iacocca’s Influence and Legacy to Live on Long after Death

Here in Detroit, we are all still living in the shadow of Lee Iacocca – a giant in the automotive industry – and will continue to live in that shadow for years to come.

Even though he retired from Chrysler more than 27 years ago Iacocca’s influence remains on display today and will survive for decades to come. Iacocca, who died Tuesday, was 94.

He is being remembered today by thousands of workers in Southeast Michigan and Ontario who work in offices and factories and/or on car designs that were shaped either directly or indirectly by Iacocca’s leadership, vision and design.

Iacocca is credited with either creating or saving the Ford Mustang, the minivan, Chrysler’s headquarters in Auburn Hills and even Chrysler itself:

  • In Dearborn, where Iacocca led the development of the Ford Mustang in the 1960s, Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said in a statement, “Lee Iacocca was truly bigger than life and he left an indelible mark on Ford, the auto industry and our country.”
  • Across the Detroit River, in Windsor, nearly 6,000 workers go to work every day to produce the Chrysler Pacifica – a minivan that traces its heritage to the very first minivan produced in the early 1980s under Iacocca’s watch.
  • In Auburn Hills, thousands of engineers, designers, and executives will walk into a technical center that opened in the 1980s and a headquarters announced by Iacocca in 1992 before he retired.
  • Iacocca, who joined Chrysler in 1978, led the company’s efforts to secure a $1.5 billion federal loan guarantee from the government that the company needed to survive.
  • In the 1980s, he became Chrysler’s bold, TV pitchman, with the now-famous the tag line, “If you can find a better car, buy it.”
  • In 1987, Iacocca spearheaded the acquisition of American Motors Corp., which brought the Jeep brand into the Chrysler family. Today, Jeep is a global brand and is Fiat Chrysler’s most valuable brand.

While Iacocca’s role as the creator of the Mustang and his long career at Ford where he rose to become president was impressive, his style eventually clashed with Ford CEO Henry Ford II.

The brash Italian-American’s style was a better fit at Chrysler. The smallest of the Detroit Three both then and now, Chrysler has always been at its best when its back is against the wall. Iacocca became was a savvy TV salesman and became a celebrity CEO before there really was such a thing. Iacocca inspired Chrysler to design new categories of products and promoted them with a swagger.

“Lee gave us a mindset that still drives us today – one that is characterized by hard work, dedication and grit,” Fiat Chrysler said in a statement.

Here at Lambert, we wanted to take a moment to honor that mindset and to recognize that that the long legacy of Lido Anthony “Lee” Iacocca will continue to live on.

Brent Snavely is a director in the crisis communications and automotive practices at Lambert.