Lee Iacocca, former Chrysler CEO, died at age 94: The auto executive and master pitchman Lee Iacocca who put the Mustang in Ford’s lineup in the 1960s and became a corporate folk hero when he resurrected Chrysler 20 years later, has died at the age of 94 in Bel Air, California.
Bud Liebler, the company’s former spokesman, and Bob Lutz, formerly its head of product development, the two former Chrysler executives who were his colleagues said that they were told of the death Tuesday by a close associate of Iacocca’s family.
Iacocca helped launch some of Detroit’s best-selling and most significant vehicles, including the minivan, the Chrysler K-cars and the Ford Escort in his 32-year career at Ford and then Chrysler. As he was also not afraid of speaking his heart out, he also spoke out against what he considered unfair trade practices by Japanese automakers.
Iacocca was born in a family of Italian immigrants. He reached a level of celebrity matched by few auto moguls. During the peak of his popularity in the ’80s, he was famous for his TV ads and a catchy tagline like “If you can find a better car, buy it!” He wrote two best-selling books and was courted as a presidential candidate.
He would be remembered for all the above virtues but he will be best remembered as the blunt-talking, cigar-chomping Chrysler chief who helped engineer a great corporate turnaround.
Liebler, who worked for Iacocca for a decade, said he had a larger-than-life presence that commanded attention. Liebler said, “He sucked the air out of the room whenever he walked into it. He always had something to say. He was a leader.”
Iacocca was also active in later years in raising money to fight diabetes. His first wife, Mary, died of complications of the disease in 1983 after 27 years of marriage. The couple had two daughters, Kathryn and Lia.
Iacocca remarried twice, but both marriages ended in divorce.
In recent years Iacocca was battling Parkinson’s Disease, but Liebler was not sure what caused his death.
Remembering Iacocca, Liebler said Iacocca could condemn employees if they did something he didn’t like, but a few minutes later it would be like nothing had happened. He said, “He used to beat me up, sometimes in public.” When people asked how he could put up with that, Liebler would answer: “He’ll get over it.”
Liebler said Iacocca is the last of an era of brash, charismatic executives who could produce results. “Lee made money. He went to Washington and made all these crazy promises, then he delivered on them,” Liebler said.