For most, the recap of a successful career in the automotive industry might include as a highlight a successful product launched, maybe a business decision that worked out particularly well, or some piece of industry ephemera that lives on in society's automotive memory.
Accomplish one of them and you've made a mark; two, and you were a star.
But so profound and so broad is Lee Iacocca's lasting legacy on every corner of this industry that his death this month at age 94 still bowed heads in reflective awe, some 27 years after he last led Chrysler Corp.
Here was a man — flawed, certainly, as all of us are — whose labors gave rise to whole automotive segments, first the pony car and later the minivan; a man who saved thousands of jobs — and the countless communities and families who depended on them — with little more than the strength of his word; a man with the demonstrated ability to recognize and seize upon potential, even when it was not fully realized.
The Ford Mustang, Chrysler's minivans, the 1979 Chrysler bailout, the purchase of American Motors and its Jeep brand — these are the headline pieces of today's auto industry that directly and rightly trace their lineage to Iacocca's legacy, and for which he will always receive full credit.
But Iacocca was also the man who dangerously trained consumers to expect a come-on from the factory whenever they purchase a new vehicle, a practice that is now as ubiquitous as it is destructive to industry pricing discipline and profitability. And he was the iconoclastic executive whose admitted vainglory in choosing a successor 17 years earlier contributed to Chrysler's 2009 bankruptcy.
Iacocca certainly loved the spotlight, but he wielded its power effectively and, at times, unselfishly. His frequent forays onto America's TV screens on behalf of a recovering Chrysler beginning in 1979 made the second-generation Italian-American the perfect pitchman to solicit funds for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
Even though he was a bestselling author and an accomplished CEO, Iacocca's lifelong efforts on behalf of this nation's immigrants deserves its own unique and lasting praise.
From his humble industry beginnings as a postwar engineering trainee at Ford Motor Co., to his days in the penthouse suite of a vibrant, resurrected, moneymaking machine at Chrysler, Lido Anthony Iacocca touched every corner of this industry and beyond.
He left his mark upon the world and, on balance, it is a better place today for his having been here.