Iacocca's Revenge

Most successful business thrive when innovation meets marketing. It’s one thing to be a genius and quite another to translate that genius into dollars. When brains and swagger butted heads in one of America’s 20th Century industry the result concluded in a fierce rivalry. Against the seemingly overwhelming odds the battle came out to an even standstill in terms of legacy but Iacocca’s comeback after Ford’s attempt to bury him saves him from being tied to Ford’s innovations. Sometimes revenge works out best for everyone.

Henry Ford remains famous for many achievements, we all know about the assembly line, mass production and his epic anti-Semitic sympathies but his feud with company president Lee Iacocca is perhaps among his most interesting and vindictive. Iacocca started in the engineering department but quickly rose to general manager at Ford. By the time 1964 rolled around Iacocca was famous for his launch of Ford Mustang, swiftly becoming the modern face of the company, Don Draper style, his image on the covers of Time and Newsweek. By 1970 he was president of Ford and responsible for one of the worst cars of all time, the Pinto, whose design caused deadly fires when its fuel tanks became easily punctured in rear collisions. “Safety doesn’t sell,” responded Iacocca thus making his one of the greatest and most profitable CEO’s in American history. Ford and Iacocca clashed often and seemingly were at constant odds with each other. Ford allegedly spent millions on private investigators to try to dig up dirt on Iacocca both personally and financially. They came up with nothing incriminating.

Despite the companies massive success there was no way Henry Ford was going to let any of this stand nor his legacy tied to Iacocca and his brash business ways. Resentment grew and Ford schemed to get Iacocca out of his company. He began grooming his son Edsel to take over the company. Ford needed a reason to fire the incredibly successful head of hi own company so he hired a CEO for Iacocca to report to. After trying to get support from the board of directors in 1978 fired Iacocca for insubordination despite the company posting $2 billion of profit for the year. Ford called Iacocca into his office shortly before 3 PM on July 13, 1978, and let him go, telling him "Sometimes you just don't like somebody." The firing left the business world stunned, ending a partnership that made automotive and business history.

After being tossed aside Iacocca did the nearly impossible in his revenge against his former boss. Rather than rest on his considerable laurels or switch industries, he went head to head with the giant he helped create. Chrysler Motors was on the verge of bankruptcy when they hired Iacocca to take the helm as president. A few scant years Iacocca turned the company profitable with the introduction of the Dodge Caravan. By 1984 Chrysler was posting $2.4 billion in profits, taking a considerable chunk out of Ford’s market dominance. His autobiography was the best-selling nonfiction hardcover book of 1984 as he became a symbol of American business prosperity and dominance. The best revenge is living well.