LEE Iacocca, Chrysler savior and honorary IISE member, dies at 94

Compiled by Keith Albertson

Lee Iacocca, the charismatic automotive executive credited with launching the Ford Mustang and rescuing Chrysler from financial ruin in the 1980s, died Tuesday, July 2, 2019, at age 94.

Iacocca was made an honorary lifetime IISE member in 1991. He earned a degree in industrial engineering from Lehigh University in 1945.

Born Lido Anthony Iacocca on Oct. 15, 1924, in Allentown, Pa., he was raised in humble beginnings as the child of Italian immigrants but rose to become one of the most powerful executives in Detroit and an iconic figure in 1980s advertising for his automobiles.

“Lee was one of few truly great leaders,” Bob Lutz, a longtime executive at Ford and Chrysler who worked closely with Iacocca, told CNBC. “He was my mentor, my teacher and role model. When he was on, he was fabulous. I will miss him.”

Iacocca became president of Ford Motor in 1970, later joining Chrysler as CEO and chairman as it struggled to avoid bankruptcy. He turned the company around by creating minivans and the K-Car that helped Chrysler again turn a profit.

In his signature television ads for Chrysler’s models, he stated: “If you can find a better car – buy it.”

He later was ousted by the Chrysler board and failed a 1995 takeover attempt of the company with billionaire Kirk Kerkorian.

“Lee Iacocca was truly bigger than life and he left an indelible mark on Ford, the auto industry and our country,” Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said in a statement. “I will always appreciate how encouraging he was to me at the beginning of my career. He was one of a kind and will be dearly missed.”

Iacocca resisted the call from many to run for public office based on his business success. In his later years, he focused on writing and charitable work. He was known for helping lead fundraising efforts to restore the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York harbor.

Iacocca was married three times, his last marriage ending in 1994. He lived in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles in his final years. His daughter, Lia Iacocca Assad, said he died of natural causes, but that he suffered from complications from Parkinson’s disease. He is survived by two daughters and eight grandchildren.