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Iacocca Missed a Leader in Lutz

Posted by: David Kiley on August 13, 2007

If Lee Iacocca has one thing to answer for, it’s letting his personal feelings about Bob Lutz get in the way of naming the auto exec CEO when he had the chance.

Iacocca instead turned to Bob Eaton who brokered the deal to sell Chrysler to the Germans.

Lutz would have been the right guy to lead Chrysler out of its old ways and into the 21st century. More importantly, its clear to me that he has done a much better job of cleaning up General Motors’ models than the geniuses at Mercedes-Benz did in cleaning up Chrysler’s.

The products that Lutz has had a chance to bring to market with a clean sheet of paper—the new crossover SUVs like the Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia, the Pontiac Solstice, redesigned Cadillaac CTS, Chevy Tahoe—are head and shoulders above Chrysler’s newest developed and brought to market by the Germans. I’m talking about the Dodge Nitro, Chrysler Sebring, Jeep Compass, etc. And it’s worth noting that GM and Chysler were working with the same set of difficult healthcare cost problems and efforts to lower costs. In terms of execution, there is a lot of daylight between GM’s newest and Chrysler’s newest.

Iacocca recently wrote a book, titled, “Where have All The Leaders Gone?” I have a question for the former iconic CEO. It is well known that you passed over Lutz because you thought he was too much of a hot-dog when it came to the press. But even back in the early 1990s when the process of succession was an issue, why couldn’t you look beyond your own prejudices of personality and recognize the man’s talent for developing cars and trucks, and getting others to line up behind him.

Lutz’s leadership at GM is very apparent. In fact, GM’s biggest headache is recognizing someone who can follow Lutz. He is such a powerful leader, he will be a tough act to follow. Mr. Iacocca…Pity you couldn’t have recognized that. A real leader would have.

Reader Comments


August 13, 2007 11:58 AM

Interesting topic. Personally I've looked up to both of these men for many years for their earned places in Automotive Industry fame. They are both quite different though in personality, and the way they attack different situations. We can only speculate what was going through Lee's mind when the thought of a successor was being contemplated. Perhaps a hen house as big as Chrysler's, still wasn't big enough for these two roosters--it's hard to say. With that said, I do agree with you that Bob Lutz would have been a great visionary and leader for Chrysler. If that would have happened, perhaps your Blog today would read something like: "Iacocca scores Leader in Lutz". In Lee's defense, hindsight is always 20/20, and in his book he concedes that his successor choice was a big mistake.

Jim Fletcher

August 14, 2007 8:14 PM

Amen David. It could have not been said better. However, in addition to Iacocca's prejudices his ego prevented him from making the obviously right decision for Chrysler and its shareholders.

Mr. Iacocca just could not live with the selection of a CEO that would be significantly better then himself.

Murray Ingram

August 18, 2007 8:11 AM

Dear David; Great article, I find it very ironic that Mr.Iacocca thought Bob Lutz was a hot dog with the press when in fact Lee never seen a camera or microphone he didn't love... I believe he didn't select Mr. Lutz because he was scared of the negative comparisons he would face...

win burke

August 24, 2007 9:47 AM

In my now or never transforming plan for the auto industry, I focus on the unions as the key player. In my plan Chrysler would potentially be the big loser if the union controls it. Conversely, if Chrysler controls it, they can be the big winner along with their employees. Maybe Nardelli (or Lee Iaccoca) would like a shot at implementing it. See below.

I have a plan that will transform the auto industry. It is a now or never plan that has never been possible before and never will again. It depends on a ser ies of confluences of events that might come along once a century.

I have tried to talk to UAW President Ron Gettelfinger who has ignored me several times. The current contract talks could completely derail my plan. Countertuitively, my plan works bes if the UAW to refuse to grant any concessions.

I have also tried to talk to various financial institutions and lobbyists who might be able to enable access to Gettelfinger. Only one, a top Democratic lobbyist, responded via an intermediary. He thought the plan was highly intriguing and planned to call Gettelfinger right before the credit market implosion diverted his attention to his major corporate clients.

Everybody wants to know my plan but they lose interest when I want confidentiality agreements and fee agreements. I came from that world so i understand why people can not and will not respond to every outside communication. They all have the best & brightest so why do they need anybody else. I just have to find a way for myself, the auto industry and the country to break through this wall.

Any ideas on how to reach any of the players. I prefer Gettelfinger because he has the ultimate control over the outcome. The companies want what he has. I can make it all a win-win for both sides.


Win Burke

Edwin M. Burke, Jr. ("Win")
CapLink LLC
34 Plumbridge Circle
Hilton Head, SC 29928
TEL: 843-341-5832

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