Automobile Legend, Lee Iacocca
Born to Italian immigrants and raised in a working-class district of Allentown, Pennsylvania, Iacocca was to rise to become president of the Ford Motor Company and later to revive the fortunes of the Chrysler Corporation. During his tenure, he introduced the Ford Pinto; helped design the iconic Ford Mustang and launched the revolutionary minivan.
Iacocca is considered as one of America’s greatest CEOs. In 1979, he approached US Congress for a loan to help finance the turnaround of Chrysler (at which he had just taken the helm). In an unprecedented move, Congress granted the loan. With this money Iacocca was able to begin reviving the ailing company. After a few years, Chrysler had paid back all its accumulated debts and had started turning a profit.
Lee Iacocca’s Rules of Success
- Hire great talent. Surround yourself with the best people. Iacocca attributed the rescuing of Chrysler – which was on the brink of bankruptcy – to the intelligence and dedication of the team around him.
- Write down your priorities. No matter how complex your business, you should be able to list your priorities on a single sheet of paper. Be cynical of intricate plans and multi-year forecasts. Write down your most important goals and activities and focus on these daily.
- Say it plainly. Reject “corporate-speak”, jargon or lengthy reports. Require your staff to explain things simply, concisely and quickly. When confronted with time-wasting business reports Iacocca would ask the author to summarise the contents – which they invariably managed to do in two minutes or so. “Why didn’t you just write that in the first place?” would be the reply.
- Know who makes the money. Whenever there were conflicts between different parts of the business, Iacocca would favour line functions (i.e. production, sales/marketing) over staff functions (i.e. human resources, accounting, public relations, legal) as he knew the line made the money. He saw staff functions as a means to help the CEO deliver what line functions required.
- Delegate but set boundaries. Iacocca delegated a lot of responsibility but oversaw his company like a general. He would typically set goals and budgets but not how those goals were to be met or how the money was to be spent. Give good people the autonomy and trust to do their job but keep a eye on the bigger picture.
- Have some intelligent rebels on the team. Beware surrounding yourself with people who agree with all your ideas. You need to keep a few smart people who don’t always agree with you, who express counter-views and opinions and who are not afraid to challenge how things should be done. Have people whose strengths complement your weaknesses and vice versa.
- Don’t lose sight of the important task at hand. Whilst planning and strategy is important, it mustn’t be at the expense of the important daily operations of your business, e.g. maximising earnings. Furthermore, plans always have a habit of being neat and logical – until they meet with reality.
- Do the basics brilliantly. If you look at the leaders in any field, they all do the fundamentals excellently. In business, those could be product quality, customer service, sales. Too much time and effort can be lost to high-level theorising because the stuff that matters generally requires hard work.
- Be yourself. You need to find a management style that suits your personality. You can’t run a successful business trying to be somebody else. Embrace who you are, be natural and smiling now and then won’t kill you.
- “My father always used to say that when you die, if you’ve got five real friends, then you’ve had a great life.”
- “In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else.”
- “In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy to plough your anger and your energy into something positive.”