FROM OUR ARCHIVES: Colorful figure, bright career

Originally published: June 22, 1998

When Robert Lutz looks back, he sees his legendary accomplishments and recalls the great and not-so-great bosses and colleagues with whom he shared the stage at four automakers. He also wonders what might have been.

If he had been less strident and more deferential toward Lee Iacocca, might he have succeeded Iacocca to the chairmanship of Chrysler Corp. in 1993?

If he had stayed at Ford Motor Co. in the mid-1980s, might he have risen to president or chairman? Surely not, he thought at the time. Today, he is not so sure.

Lutz, 66, retires July 1 as Chrysler's vice chairman. The tall ex-Marine pilot was the protector and leader of the team of Chrysler executives who pulled the company from the money-bleeding depths of a product drought in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Today Chrysler is one of the world's most profitable and admired automakers.

From Chrysler's depths, Bob Lutz retires in an era when, he says, 'We've defeated Japan.'

He will long be known as a bold, even cocky, Swiss-American with a visceral sense of the kinds of vehicles people want to buy. But he regrets not being known, too, as a tight-fisted, financially oriented executive in the mold of one of his mentors, Harold Poling, who rose to become chairman of Ford.

What will Lutz do now? He is in the market for an auto supplier. But he also might play with his helicopter, jet and cars for a while. And in September, his memoir and business book, Guts: Unconventional Business Wisdom from Chrysler's Dramatic Second Turnaround, will be published.

Bob Lutz is retiring but not shy. He is not going away.

You can reach Peter Brown at pbrown@crain.com

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