Where Have All the Leaders Gone? by Lee Iacocca with Catherine Whitney
Just before the last election, legendary former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca, then 82, wanted so much for Americans to take full advantage of the 15th Amendment [“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” in case you needed a refresher], he wrote an entire book (with a little help) to prod voters to the polls on November 4, 2008, and make a difference. Almost a full year after the new Obama Administration took office, I strapped on that iPod (which Iacocca gripes about with today’s youth tuning out, but really, it’s an old age issue for me because my diminishing eyeballs get too tired to read the small print) and listened to Iacocca himself rant, rave, and reminisce. And, yes, I thoroughly enjoyed all six-plus hours of his angry-old-man-kindly-old-grandfather schtick. The one thing I might have wished for would be a ‘one-year-after’ epilogue, but perhaps I ask for too much …
Iacocca with his potty-mouthed-tell-it-like-it-is attitude hooks you in immediately … what’s not to love about such straight talk: “Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where the hell is your outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can’t even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, ‘Stay the course.’ Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I’ll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!”
And one year later, throw the bums, we did … so someone was definitely listening. Famous for having given the baby-boomers the Mustang while at Ford (from which he readily admits he was fired) to then giving said boomers the mini-van when they grew up and had families while at Chrysler (which he saved from virtual obscurity, only to watch broken-heartedly as it was subsumed by Daimler-Benz), Iacocca begins his treatise with all the reasons the old administration had to go. Even though you might not glean anything new as the problems were so ubiquitous, Part 1 is still worth a few good chuckles to hear it all again. From leaders (or lack thereof), Iacocca moves to “Where have all our friends gone?,” free-versing about how the U.S. has burned quite a few international bridges, not the least of which is a humorous spin on the whole ‘freedom’ fries fiasco on the Hill.
He tackles contemporary capitalism in Part 3, drawing on his personal experiences as one of the most powerful CEOs in history, sharing life lessons in leadership (and knowing when you’re not fit to run for the White House). In the fourth and final section, Iacocca is perhaps at his most honest and unguarded, using his own history – his immigrant parents’ influences, his mentors’ wisdom, his personal relationships (he takes his grandkids out to lunch regularly and really listens) – as examples of how he chose to “DO something.”
And he’s certainly done plenty, from funding patriotic endeavors like The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation (he regrets not taking his kids there when they were younger as his parents took him and his sister in their youth), to finding a cure for diabetes through his eponymous Iacocca Foundation (his beloved first wife died of the disease), to educating future generations of leaders from all over the world at Lehigh University’s Iacocca Institute (where food is always something dependable to bond over!), to feeding hungry children all over the world with Nourish the Children. This year, Iacocca turns 85 … and surely is showing no signs of slowing down … he’ll keep doing. We just need to join in.
Published: 2007, 2008 (audio)