Today, on Lee Iacocca's 80th birthday, it's fun to think about what he achieved ... and what he might have accomplished if given a few more years in the business.
Iacocca joined Chrysler in 1978 after being fired by Henry Ford II, and Iacocca is credited with saving Chrysler when it lurched toward bankruptcy. Of course he had a lot of help from Chrysler's workers and lenders.
But around here, that miracle is overshadowed by the attempted takeover of Chrysler nine years ago by Iacocca and billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian, who among other things was the power behind MGM-Grand and its casinos.
Their 1995 takeover attempt was beaten back by Bob Eaton, who succeeded Iacocca as Chrysler chairman. Then, three years later, Eaton sold the company to Daimler-Benz.
But imagine if Kerkorian and Iacocca had been successful ... There would be no DaimlerChrysler. If the two companies had still hooked up, it would be ChryslerDaimler. And the Daimler would be silent. Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., would look more like a Las Vegas hotel, with neon lights galore. There would be scantily clad waitresses from the company cafeteria dispensing free drinks for engineers playing the CAD-CAM machines. Chrysler likely would be into casinos, just as Magna International is into racetracks. But in Detroit, that would mean acquiring a Native American tribe or opening one as a subsidiary. Every Chrysler dealer would sell Iacocca's electric bicycle. Period. Mercedes-Benz dealers would get to sell his Tuscan wine and olive oil. Instead of Gulfstream G-5s, corporate jets for Kerkorian and Iacocca would be stretch 747s with red interiors. Board meetings would be conference calls. Short and to the point. Bluetooth means never having to leave the tennis courts of Las Vegas. Annual shareholder meetings would resemble Las Vegas revues. Kerkorian knows how to do that big time. When the MGM Grand opened, Barbra Streisand was in the main room, "Hair" was in the second room and Ike & Tina Turner were the lounge act.
Oh well. Maybe next time.