Lee Iacocca is one of the great legends of the automotive industry for his tough-minded leadership at both Ford and, later, Chrysler in the 70s and 80s.
He was born to Italian immigrant parents on Oct. 25, 1924, and later he would capture the imagination of the American public with his keen creative abilities and almost swashbuckler demeanor at both companies. However, what really defined Iacocca was his salesmanship and willingness to work harder than the next person.
He led efforts to help develop the Mustang while at Ford in 1964, which became a huge hit with Americans. And according to a biography about his legendary accomplishments, his efforts on the Mustang demonstrated his executive skills, including surrounding himself with talented and competent individuals and giving them the freedom to do their jobs. However, at Ford it is reported that Iacocca started having trouble with Henry Ford II, and as a result he was fired in 1978.
In November 1978, he became the CEO of Chrysler Corp. during a state of emergency in which the company was virtually bankrupt in a number of ways. There was no communication, no teamwork and whole departments seemed to be going their own way without any consideration for the company as a whole. As a result, Iacocca had to make tough decisions, such as firing a number of key executives, in addition to bargaining with the unions for cuts in salary and benefits. In a brilliant move, he reduced his own salary to $1 a year to show that everyone at the company had to be willing to sacrifice if Chrysler were to survive.
Coupled with these moves, he was able to persuade the government to give Chrysler government-backed loans that were paid off by July 13, 1983. After the payback, Iacocca was quoted as saying, We at Chrysler borrow money the old-fashioned way. We pay it back.