Lee Iacocca Bio

Lee Iacocca is an American automobile executive who had a hand in producing models such as the Ford Pinto, the Continental Mark III, and the Ford Mustang. He was also the CEO and chairman of Chrysler during the 80s. Sadly, Lee passed away in 2019 at the age of 95, but being such an influential business operator in the automobile world, he has left a legacy worth discussing.

In this Lee Iacocca bio, I thought it was an excellent opportunity to look back over his life and find out exactly what made him one of America’s wealthiest men. Since I have always found the lives of the prosperous so fascinating, I couldn’t help but dive into his life behind the companies, including his three marriages, his children, and his relationship with Henry Ford III.

If the automotive industry is something that appeals to you, then I recommend you read our Carvana Competitors Analysis to find out about how e-commerce now allows consumers to purchase vehicles online.

Lee Iacocca Bio Facts

Full Name: Lido Anthony Iacocca
Birth Date: 15th of October, 1924
Birth Place: Allentown, Pennsylvania
Nick Name: Lee Iaccoca
Nationality: American
Siblings: Sister, Delma Iacocca Kelechava
Children: Daughters, Lia and Kathryn
Partner / Spouse: Mary McCleary, Peggy Johnson and Darrien Earle. He had no partner or spouse at the time of death.
Profession: Businessman, Chairman and CEO of Chrysler. President of Ford.
Salary: Unknown
Net Worth: $150 million at the time he passed away
Social Media: No social media
Companies Associated With: Chrysler, Ford
Last Updated: August 2022

Lee Iacocca Key Facts Summary

  • Lee authored numerous books, including an autobiography and a book called “Where have all the leaders gone.”
  • In his youth, he had initially wanted to join the military, but because of health complications in his childhood caused by rheumatic fever, he wasn’t fit for service. Instead, he went to university and got into the world of engineering.
  • He was the president and CEO of the automobile company Chrysler from 1978, where he remained until he retired.
  • Lee was married three times, his first wife passed away, and his second two marriages failed due to domestic complications.
  • In 1988 he toyed with the idea of running for president. [1]
  • Lee supported the former president of the United States, George. W. Bush in the election of 2000.
  • In 2007, he launched a website that would encourage freedom of speech surrounding challenges within contemporary society.
  • In 1985 he won a Greatest Public Service award. [2]
  • He had an on-screen role in Miami Vice and appeared on Good Morning America, Bob Hope Buys, and Late Night with David Letterman.
  • Shortly after Lee passed away, a film about the 1960s Ford GT40 project was released. Jon Bernthal played the role of Iacocca.
  • Lee convinced Henry Ford II to go back into the racing industry.
  • In 2005, Lee returned as Chrysler’sChrysler’s pitchman, promoting their “Employee Pricing Plus” campaign, using the quote, “If you can find a better car, buy it.” This had been his trademark from the 80s.

Lee Iacocca Birthplace and Early Life


Lee was born on the 15th of October, 1924, in Pennsylvania. His father, Antonietta Perrotta, and mother, Nicola Iacocca, were Italian-Americans who had settled in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.

His uncle, Theodore Iacocca, ran a restaurant in their hometown called Yocco’sYocco’s Hot Dogs, which still operates in four locations around Allentown. [3]

Lee was christened with the name Lido. Some say this is because his place of conception was in Lido, Venice, where his mother and father had visited on their honeymoon, while actually, Lee denied this and said that his father had, in fact, visited Lido long before their marriage with his soon-to-be brother-in-law.

Lee attended Allen High School, which he graduated from in 1942 with honors. He then moved on to Lehigh University, where he studied industrial engineering and graduated with a degree. [4]

While at university, he became part of the engineering honor society, Tau Beta Pi, and the Theta Chi Fraternity. [5]

After he had finished his studies at Lehigh University, he moved on to Princeton after winning the Wallace Memorial Fellowship. He left Princeton in 1946 with a master’s in mechanical engineering. [6]

Straight out of education, Lee started working for Ford Motor Company as an engineer. [7]

If you want to find out more about the founder Ford, then you should check out our Henry Ford Bio for a historic and informative read.

Lee Iacocca Early Business Success

1946 – 1878

After working as an engineer for a short period, he requested that he be moved into the marketing and sales side. This is when his career really started to boom. He started as an assistant sales manager in Pennsylvania, which is when he was first recognized globally for his campaign offering loans on the 1956 car models. The campaign was highly successful and led to him being called into the headquarters of Dearborn.

In 1960 he was made the general manager and vice-president of the Ford Division.

Lee had a significant role in the designing of numerous Ford models, but he got the most recognition for his involvement in the Ford Mustang, the Escort, and the Continental Mark III.

In 1986 Lee noticed a gap in the market for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars and came up with the idea for a vehicle that would cost less than £2000 and weighed under 2,000 pounds. The car was designed and manufactured and was called the Ford Pinto. Lee was recognized as the main force behind the model.

However, in 1977, the Pinto was recalled due to a fault in the car’s structural design. The model had to be redesigned.

He worked his way up through the company and wound up being the president of Ford Motor Company, helping them to earn a $2 billion profit, but he was fired in 1971 after clashing with Henry Ford III.

1978 – 1992

Lee started to rebuild his reputation once again once he joined Chrysler. This was during the time that the company was running into the ground and making losses of millions. Lee bought in previous associates from Ford and started to bring the company back from the brink of bankruptcy.

Lee then decided to try out an idea he had already put to Ford unsuccessfully, the Mini-Max project, an updated version of the minivan that was already proving to be a hit for automobile competitor Toyota. Lee was about to make history in the automobile sector, paired with former Ford employee Hal Sperlich, who had been the original brains behind the Minimax idea and had also been fired from Ford.

In the first year that Lee was with Chrysler, 1979, he realized that the company would need a massive cash injection to save it from going out of business. So, he appealed to the United States Congress for a loan, which he successfully obtained. This was on the promise that Chrysler would reduce their costs and halt some projects they were already working on. These projects included the turbine engine, which was a big sacrifice as they had been working on this for 20 years, and it was almost ready for production.

Over the next five years, Chrysler, thanks to Iacocca, began to spiral back into success, over which time they produced the Dodge Aries model and the Plymouth Reliant. The cars sold like wildfire. Iacocca then introduced the Imperial model, which would be Chrysler’s most prominent model.

Finally, in 1983, the minivan came into production, making more sales than any other model had done for the company in the last 25 years. [8] The company was doing so well that they were able to pay back the loans to the government seven years prior to the expected date.

Lee retired in 1983, the same year the Grand Cherokee was released into production.


In 1995, Kirk Kerkorian took over Chrysler, and Lee returned to assist him in doing so. At first, he was unsuccessful, but the following year, Kerkorian settled a five-year agreement with Chrysler, which also included a gagging order preventing former CEO Lee, or ever speaking publicly about the company.

Lee Iacocca Videos

Let’s look at Lee Iacocca’s business strategies, his move from Ford to Chrysler, his appeal for a government loan that saved the company, and the rise of Chrysler.

Watch Lee Iacocca on Saturday Night Live

Lee defends the quality of Chrysler vehicles and explains why they will successfully sell in Japan

Lee Iacocca Business Failures

Despite his ups and down, Lee was successful throughout his business history. His primary failure, if you want to call it that, came after he clashed with his boss Henry Ford III and was fired from his position in the company.

However, Lee never let this stop him, and, in fact, I think this probably just pushed him to succeed further. Had he not been fired from Ford, he may never have gone on to join Chrysler, which was what drove him to make millions and gain worldwide recognition.

Lee Iacocca Family

Lee was married three times throughout his life. His first wife was Mary McCleary, who he married in 1956. The couple had two daughters, Kathryn and Lia. Kathryn Hentz is now the president of the family’s foundation, which was founded in honor of their mother, Mary. Lia also sits as a board member for the foundation.

Before Lee passed away, he spoke openly about the fact he did not know how much money he would leave in his will. He said he didn’t want to leave them a billion dollars because they wouldn’t know what to do with it, so instead would leave them a comfortable amount, meaning they could live a stable life.

His wife Mary passed away from type 1 diabetes following complications in 1983.

Lee married for a second time to a lady named Peggy Johnson. But the marriage didn’t even make it to the two-year mark before he had it annulled. The rumors are that Lee’s two children, who by this time were adults, did not accept Peggy into the family.

His third marriage was in 1991 to restaurant owner Darrien Earle. The couple was married for three before their divorce after Darrien claimed Lee was not treating him well and was acting strangely towards her.

Lee Iacocca Net Worth and Career Earnings

Lee Iacocca 2009 Mustang serial #001

It is hard to say precisely what Lee’s career earnings were during his time at Ford and Chrysler, mainly because a lot of his career dates back to the 70s and 80s, but at the time of his passing in 2019, his net worth stood at $150 million.

One thing that was made public knowledge is that when he returned to Chrysler after he had officially retired, he agreed to take $1 per year from them, plus 337,500 shares in the company, which at the time were worth $4.2 million. In exchange, he asked for higher equity compensation. After three years, the shares had tripled in value, making Lee’s compensation over $20 million.

Lee Iacocca Real Estate Holdings

Lee bought a home for $4.25 million in 1993, which was in Bel-Air. It was situated just minutes from the Bel-Air Country Club, and he had exclusive access to the hotel directly from his house.

In 2020, a year after he passed away, his children sold the home for almost $20 million.[10]

Lee Iacocca Quotes

Over his lengthy career, Lee has said many things that can inspire others to succeed and go further in life, making the most out of any situation. Let’s take a look at some of his most influential words.

“As you go through life, there are thousands of little forks in the road, and there are a few really big ones. Those are moments of reckoning, moments of truth.”

“The ability to concentrate, and to use your time well is everything.”

“If you set good examples, you don’t need to worry about setting rules.”

“Mistakes are a part of life. You can not avoid them all. All you can hope for is that they aren’t too expensive, and you don’t make the same mistake twice.”

“You can have brilliant ideas. But, if you can’t put them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.”

“Management is nothing more than motivating others.”

FAQs – Lee Iacocca Bio

Question: When Did Lee Iacocca Die?

Answer: The former CEO of Ford and Chrysler passed away on the 2nd of July 2019 after a battle with Parkinson’s Disease.

Question: Why Did Lee Iacocca Get Fired From Ford?

Answer: Lee was fired from the automobile company Ford after a disagreement with Henry Ford III. It is said that the two often butted heads and had a personality clash.

Question: Who Are Lee Iacocca’s Daughters?

Answer: Lee had two children with Mary McCleary, who was his first wife. The daughters are called Kathryn and Lia. Both now work for the Iacocca Family Foundation, which was put in place after their mother passed away following complications with her diabetes.

Recommended Reads:

Research Citations

  1. www.buttonmuseum.org/buttons/lee-iacocca-president
  2. https://web.archive.org/web/20101124043935/http://jeffersonawards.org/pastwinners/national
  3. http://www.yoccos.com/our-story.html
  4. https://www2.lehigh.edu/news/lee-iacocca-45-business-icon-and-a-great-son-of-lehigh-dies-at-94
  5. https://www.uothetachi.com/
  6. https://paw.princeton.edu/memorial/lee-iacocca-46
  7. https://www.nytimes.com/1971/07/18/archives/fords-iacocca-apotheosis-of-a-usedcar-salesman-fords-iacocca.html
  8. http://www.foxnews.com/story
  9. http://www.detnews.com/specialreports/2002/iacocca/a08-442452.htm
  10. https://www.latimes.com/business/real-estate/story/2020-04-08/auto-titans-bel-air-estate-sells
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