Roger Penske, who was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame last week (see Page 8 of this week's print edition), nearly replaced Lee Iacocca as chairman of Chrysler Corp. in 1991.
As described in Comeback, a 1994 book by Paul Ingrassia and Joe White, Chrysler executive Ben Bidwell worked long and hard to recruit Penske, who was running his giant dealership group, his truck leasing business and engine maker Detroit Diesel.
Iacocca was 66 and due to retire. Indeed, the transition to Penske looked good to go until Iacocca was driven to Penske's home in suburban Detroit on May 29 to talk things over. As the two men chatted, it became clear to Penske that Iacocca did not plan to retire anytime soon. Instead, he would spend a couple of years as CEO evaluating his new second-in-command. Penske, who already ran his own empire, wanted to no part of that.
Several years later, Iacocca offered his own version of the story.
"The guy I really talked to at length was Roger Penske. He was interested, but he had bought Detroit Diesel, and he said, 'If I come in, I want to bring my guys. I want to bring 15 executives in.'
"I said, 'Holy s---, Roger, our executives are pretty good.'"