June 13, 2005

Today in Automotive History

1978 Break-Up

Ford Motor Company Chairman, Henry Ford II, fired Lee Iaccoca from the position of president, ending a bitter personal struggle between the two men.

Since his grand emergence into the spotlight with the release of the Ford Mustang in 1964, Lee Iacocca had risen precipitously through the ranks at Ford, ascending to the position of company president in 1970. As president of Ford, Iacocca--previously known exclusively as a sales and marketing expert--set into motion a rigorous cost-cutting policy that would increase Ford's stagnating annual profit margin.

Within four years, he recalls, his policies had earned him "the respect of the one group that had always been suspicious of me: the bean counters." Over the course of the 1970s, Iacocca instituted quarterly reviews of Ford staffers by their superiors. Known as an authoritarian, Iacocca would not take excuses from his employees, and he held each employee personally responsible for their output.

His policies proved successful, but as Iacocca became more and more obsessed with making Ford profitable, he neglected to maintain the approval of the family business's volatile boss. Personal relations between the two men turned from distant to ugly. The rift is often explained by Ford's notion of Iacocca as a lower-class hired gun, a gifted immigrant salesman good for business and little else.

One Ford public relations spokesperson explained, "Mr. Ford always regarded Mr. Iacocca as a rather vulgar Italian." And all the while, Iacocca believed that his future in the automotive industry rested wholly on his balance sheets.

Iacocca admits to becoming blinded by his hefty salary, and to ignoring Ford's poor treatment of him. He claims, though, that "in 1975, Henry Ford started his month-by-month campaign to destroy me." Ford launched company investigations into travel expenses of leading executives. He targeted many of Iacocca's proteges. Iacocca was repeatedly asked, at the risk of losing his job, to fire close friends of his. Iacocca wouldn't resign because he had spent his whole professional career at Ford and, as he puts it, "I wanted that $1 million [salary] so much that I wouldn't face reality."

Ford installed a series of new positions to decrease Iacocca's power as company president; finally, in 1978, he called Iacocca into his office to inform him his services were no longer needed. Iacocca stated that Ford gave him no reason for the firing. "It's personal. Sometimes you just don't like somebody," Ford had said. So Lee Iacocca, arguably the automotive industry's most successful executive, was left without a job. He would later agree to run Chrysler.

P.S - Iacocca is one of the people I greatly admire. He worked his way up through the ranks and personnally oversaw Chryslers re-birth from Bankruptcy.

Posted by Quality Weenie at June 13, 2005 09:17 AM