Monday, 1 June 2015

Industry Practice – Personalities of the Past – Lee Iacocca: Autobiographical Reflection... 3 Decades On.

It is hardly advisable to steer a course forward by looking in the rear-view mirror, yet it is inevitable that yesteryear's words of wisdom, or at least descriptions of historical experiences, should rightly or wrongly have a level of influence for auto-sector leaders, whether from their formative youth, or in latter years.

Looking Back -

In recognition, this web-log offers a synopsis of Lee Iacocca's autobiography; viewed in the late 1970s and early 1980s as “saving Chrysler”. Though it should also be recognised that America has always had a tendency to deify its industrial leaders as all-conquering heroes, with little objective countenance.

So at this juncture, although in real terms belated for the US – and of little true use to current Chrysler head Sergio Marchionne (who is more than aware given his near identical Italian-Canadian background), and should be well known by auto-sector sell-side and buy-side analysts, the autobiographical recount of a previous era's 'Detroit Doyen' may offer a degree of insight for a new generation of BRIC and broad EM auto-sector participants, whether managing or investing.

Far more pertinent for China's auto sector leaders, especially relative to SOEs, who themselves whilst presently gaining from their lower pricing strategies – vis a vis foreign brands - now face a new era of quality improvement, process rationalisation, marketing improvement and ultimately improved domestic and export competitiveness as the PRC government inevitably slowly loosens indirect control and the firms are formed eventually into autonomous free-market entities.

Today, Iacocca has become engrained in American automotive heritage, itself a major strand of its national culture; a culture now very much media-driven, expanded, and very well 'curated' by the likes of Jay Leno.

(An interesting youtube link: Jay Leno's Garage...“50 years of Mustang: Lee Iacocca).

Auto sector investors would do well to immerse themselves in that which industry executives should already know 'by heart': the story of the Ford Mustang's development and the turnaround of Chrysler after the 'Japanese Invasion', industry watersheds born from 'boom' and 'bust' contrasts in national fortune.

Lee Iacocca -

Now very much a member of America's 20th century's “hall of fame”, Iacocca, sits alongside names such as: Henry Ford, Walter P. Chrysler, Alfred Sloane, Harley Earl, the “Whiz-Kids” of McNamara and Thornton, Virgil Exner, Bill Mitchell and John De Lorean.

To deploy Warren Buffet's saying: these men “were fortunate enough to win the life lottery”, being born into the heartland of America's 20th century industrial and cultural hegonomy, its reach across the world. But sat mid-point of that century, Iacocca also viewed the initial stumbling of domestic automotive might in the face geo-political shifts, questions about energy security and a reduction of US import tariffs which mustered better consumer competition. Unlike his 'hall of fame' forebears, he watched as the innate national 'feel-good factor' declined, and what seemed an unassailable nation, for a while, much blighted.

The time-line of Iacocca's career was fortuitous, he rode the good times as a younger man, making an taking opportunities, and was informed and mature enough to not only endure, but help re-orientate the later bad times.

Published in 1984 'Iacocca, An Autobiography' arrived within the context of a sociologically battered but re-emerging USA. During the Reagan era it became a type of invigorating touchstone for all kinds of readers; from industrialists to students. Thirty years on from its publication it may still serve.

The PR 'Blurb' -

The Amazon book sales website pronounces the following:

...He’s an American legend, a straight-shooting businessman who brought Chrysler back from the brink and in the process became a media celebrity, news-maker, and a man many had urged to run for president.

The son of Italian immigrants, Lee Iacocca rose spectacularly through the ranks of Ford Motor Company to become its president, only to be toppled eight years later in a power play that should have shattered him. But Lee Iacocca didn’t get mad, he got even. He led a battle for Chrysler’s survival that made his name a symbol of integrity, know-how, and guts for millions of Americans.

In his classic hard-hitting style, he tells us how he changed the automobile industry in the 1960s by creating the phenomenal Mustang. He goes behind the scenes for a look at Henry Ford’s reign of intimidation and manipulation. He recounts the miraculous rebirth of Chrysler from near bankruptcy to repayment of its $1.2 billion government loan so early that Washington didn’t know how to cash the check.

Synopsis -

This is offered by the publishers Compact Classics within volume one of its humorously titled compendium 'Passing Time in the Loo':

[NB For counter-point balance independent comment from investment-auto-motives is provided as deemed necessary].

….Lee Iacocca, the tough businessman who brought Chrysler back from the brink of collapse, offers his own story here – along with his opinions on safety belts, Japanese self-interest, mandatory retirement, worker entitlements, and how to make America great again.

Nicola Iacocca sailed into New York harbour in 1902, a poor solitary 12 year old. For him America was a land where you were free to become anything you wanted to be. This philosophy he later infused into his daughter, Delma, and his son, Lido (Lee). The children were made to feel important and loved. “My father may have been busy with a dozen other things but he always had time for us”.

Nicola became the owner and promoter of several movie houses and advertised special offers for Saturday matinees: “people still talk about the day he announced that the ten kids with the dirtiest faces would get in for free”. Then the Depression hit. Lee was only six or seven at the time but he still remembers the anxiety he felt about the future. The backbone of the family was his mother, Antoinette. She ensured they had enough to eat by sewing shirts for hire. His father's favourite theme during those years was that life has its ups and downs: “you'll never know what happiness is unless you have something to compare it to”.

Even in a restaurant, Lee's father demanded top performance. If the waitress was rude, he'd call her over to give her a real tip: “why are you unhappy in this job? Is anyone forcing you to be a waitress? If you really want to be one then be the best damn waitress in the world. Otherwise do something else”.

[NB Although this was hardly an option for many during the harsh economic times of post-Great Depression America, especially for those with little formal education]

In predominantly Dutch Allentown, Pennsylvania, being Italian was something you tried to hide. Bigotry left its mark.

[NB It must be noted that this difference is not only nationalistic but stems from the historically engrained cultures of conservative Protestant northern European perspective (work ethic, frugality etc necessary in a cold climate) vs the historical Catholic southern European orientation (greater lethargy because of the heat, the innate power-base of the Church, and (ironically) a less strict moral code. Critically, the Protestant Dutch were historically typically distrustful of Jews, and thus the American emigree Dutch were wary of the close relationship Jews created and other migrants such as new American-Italians].

In school Lee discovered what was to become his most important lesson – how to communicate.

After engineering degrees from Lehigh University and Princeton he began working for Ford Motor Company as a student engineer. On the assembly line he learnt about every stage of manufacturing. However, he was eager to be where the action was in marketing or sales. Though awkward and bashful Lee was a willing learner and liked working with people.

“Learning the skills of a salesman takes time and effort. Not all young people understand that. They see a successful businessman and they don't stop to look at all the mistakes he might have made along the way. Mistakes are part of life, you can't avoid them. All you can hope is that they won't be too expensive and that you don't make the same mistake twice”.

[NB This then a seemingly overtly relaxed very 'American' and 'salesman-like' perspective (reflective in the book's cover photo of Iacocca) Very different to highly analytical, risk-averse, and typically very responsible attitudes of Northern Europeans and most corporate EM mindsets].

At Ford, he met Charlie Beacham, “a southerner, a warm and brilliant man and the closest thing I ever got to a mentor”. Charlie taught Lee to face up to his own failings and mistakes. He also advised in matters of communication and public relations, and so before Lee's first trip to the southern states Beacham highlighted that he spoke to fast, and that should swap around his Christian name and Surname. ('Lee' was the revered name of General Lee, the Confederate leader, whilst Iacocca audibly sounds much like 'Coca-Cola', the nation's favourite soft drink).

[NB It is perhaps no surprise then that latterly in the late 1970s Iacocca sought to rejuvenated Chrysler's fortunes with the help of a television series which starred a Dodge Charger named the 'General Lee'. This fictional car's licence plate was “CNH 320”, perhaps an early indication of FIAT's concurrent ownership of both Chrysler-Dodge and the CNH Industrial division (with renewed focus upon US agriculture)].

With sales slumping at Ford, Iacocca suggested a new sales campaign: offering a new 1956 car for a modest down-payment, followed by three years of payments at $56 per month. The “56 for '56” took off like a rocket, “after 10 years of preparation I became an overnight success”.

He was promoted to become the Washington DC district manager. Thereafter, twice more he was promoted. First in Ford's domestic Trucks marketing section. Then onto lead marketing for Cars.

Robert McNamara was his new boss, a good businessman who believed in producing a utilitarian car, and so came out with the extremely popular and inexpensive Ford Falcon. But its profit margin was limited.

[NB As one of Henry Ford II's original 'Whiz-Kids', brought into save Ford after WW2, it was McNamara background in military planning, his use of statistical sciences, dogmatic efficiency seeking and reporting that saved Ford. As cold rationalist who viewed the 'snake-oil' ways of salesmen as beneath contempt, he and Iacocca were not kinsmen, but Iacocca was respected by his boss for his ability to comprehend the process science, engineering and talk to those at the coal-face.

Despite the book's description, Falcon was not an overtly utilitarian car, simply the corporate answer to a natural market development for a lighter, smaller, fuel-efficient, affordable 'compact' entry-level vehicle, which did come with, if not an array, buyer relevant trims and options. Importantly, right product, right time after the 1957 recession and painful loss of mid-size sales, and failure of directly targeted Edsel. It vied against the likes of VW Beetle and Nash Rambler and later Chrysler Valiant and Chevy Corvair, and grabbed and grew segment share.

Interestingly, it was born not from an engineering ideal or “back of a napkin”, but from a set of MacNamara's target statistics (volume, weight, cost). Per unit margins were indeed limited because of the very nature of the car, as the cheapest of the range and use of a new expensively developed platform. However, to McNamara's credit, this was well recognised in the original business model and ROI was intentionally based upon the high volume sales of the North America, South America, Australia and elsewhere. In McNamara's view the car would sell itself...and it did...even if it did not reach the ambitiously set 600k plan].

So [in reaction to “utlitarian” Falcon and planned later 'Cardinal' model (which became the European Taunus P4)] Iacocca set out first to 'dress-up' Falcon to gain margins in variants and trim decoration]...then to develop his own car [based on “power, price and style”]. “One that would be popular and also make us a lot of money. He brought together a team of “creative young guys” with a goal of creating a car that would appeal to a million post-war baby-boomers who Iacocca knew would be screaming for the right product. One with with great styling, strong performance and low price” With time running out and 18 clay models, none of which was quite right, the company staged a competition. An engineer named Dave Ash submitted a model that to Iacocca looked like it was moving. From the names: Bronco, Puma, Cheetah, Colt, Cougar and Mustang the latter was chosen.

[NB The fact is that Mustang was only achievable as a pertinent affordable offering because it relied heavily on the already much amortised Falcon platform; hence its low production cost. In technical reality it was largely slightly altered in engineering hard-points, a total re-skin, expanded engine choice and new interior. That was however more than enough to market it as a wholly new vehicle. The prime carry-over parts philosophy then provided an immediate ex-factory profit base, which was boosted yet again by the high buyer uptake of a wide choice of options and accessories, so as to better personalise the car].

At this time Iacocca had his first confrontation with Henry Ford II, about the topic of rear seat passenger legroom, Ford demanding an extra inch in the wheelbase so impacting the project's engineering and styling development, time and costs and adding additional material costs. Even so at launch in March 1964 dealerships were mobbed to view and drive the new Mustang.

[NB Management must recognise that there may be confidential and highly strategic/tactical reasons' for what seem odd (seemingly personal) demands from company leaders. Thus specific timing and cost targets set-out in the planning phase become subservient to, and reactionary to, higher 'big picture' corporate aims. These may span from the immediacy of 'bad news' negatively impacting short-term share-price dynamics if it is felt the share-price has over-heated, through to ongoing alliance discussions with a prospect of future platform sharing, requiring aligned product dimensions].

Iacocca was in line to become the next President, however Henry Ford II instead chose the highly regards product man Bunkie Knudsen from cross-town rival General Motors. Knudsen immediately required that the next generation of Mustangs and Thunderbirds be bigger, which took convincing (given the macro-trend for smaller) but it was the habit of Knudsen walking into Ford's office unannounced and without knocking that set his fete at FMC. “He tried to get palsy-walsy with Henry and that was a big mistake”...”Give Henry a wide berth” as Beacham frequently advised, “Remember, he has 'blue blood', your's is only red”.

In 1970 Iacocca finally became President, located next to Ford in the 'Glass House' and given 'royal class' service and accommodation. The new boss inaugurated a programme to cut operating costs by $50 million in four areas: timing foul-ups (to limit machinery and worker down-time), product complexity, design costs and outmoded business practices. He revised Ford's shipping procedures and rid the corporation of dozens of operations that either lost money or made minimal profits. Now without the stamina of the Mustang years and increased responsibilities he took on a driver and protected his weekends from work and so his sanity.

But even as the business prospered Iacocca worried about the future of the business under Henry Ford II. “He held the power of life or death over all of us, he could suddenly say 'off with his head' and often did. Without a fair hearing one more promising career at Ford would bite the dust. It was superficial things that counted for Henry, he was a sucker for appearances, if a guy wore the right clothes and said the right buzz words Henry was impressed, 'keep your people anxious and off-balance' was Ford's management philosophy. What made him so insecure? Maybe because Ford the younger never had to work for anything in his life...but worried that he might screw things up?”

Once when Iacocca forged a masterful bargain to use a Honda engine in the Ford Fiesta Henry promptly vetoed it. “no car with may name on the hood is going to have a Jap engine!”

[NB the probable reality behind this was that Henry Ford II recognised the need to maintain core competence in small car engine design, rather that simply transplanting a very good externally sourced engine in what would become a best selling small hatchback model in Europe.

Also, the fact is that the Ford family – rightly – have always been very concerned about the firm being intentionally weakened by insiders who might have external ties to those who would like to see Ford's demise.

This harsh reality was learned the hard way by the firm's founder Henry (I), when ousted from the original car company he set-up. That experience, and other observations, led Henry to have personal concerns about the 'international jew' and “conspiratorial ways”. Iacocca, through his father and elsewhere, had cordial business connections to American jews of the period. Thus Henry Ford II would inevitably always have concerns about Iacocca's true loyalty, even if it was from Iacocca's viewpoint wholly unquestionable. Ford's beliefs where no doubt seen to verified when Iacocca ran Chrysler and gave Gerald Greenwald the Vice-Chairmanship of Chrysler].

With Henry Ford II's health failing “he began to realise his mortality” and to worry about “the Italian interloper” taking over the family business. “Ford conducted a full scale investigation of both my business and personal life, interrogating executives and suppliers. When the witch-hunt failed to produce results Ford ordered some of Iacocca's close company circle fired. Lee finally found out he had been fired. Henry would give no reason (see above). “I wanted him to know exactly what he was throwing away...'we've made a billion-eight for the second year now, you may never see a billion-eight again....because you never knew how we made it in the first place!”.

“As you go through life there are thousands of little forks in the road, and there are a few really big forks – moments of reckoning, moments of truth. This was mine. I was financially secure and could play golf for the rest of my life, but it just didn't feel right, I knew I had to pick-up the pieces and continue. As it turned out I went from the frying pan into the fire”, Iacocca offered the presidency of troubled Chrysler Corporation. “Even its top management didn't have a very good idea of what was going on. They knew Chrysler was bleeding, but didn't realise it was actually haemorrhaging”

He was hired and his wife, Mary, though having suffered a heart attack said “Let's give Henry a shot he'll always remember. The same day Chrysler announced its worst deficit in history.

“In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, products and profits. People come first, unless you've got a good team you can't do much with the other two.

“Like Italy of the 1860s, the company consisted of a cluster of little duchies, each run by a prima donna. There were 31 vice presidents, each with his own turf. No real committee set-up, no system of meetings. The guy running engineering was not in constant contact with his counterpart in manufacturing; these people almost have to be sleeping together; these guys weren't even flirting”.

Iacocca realised that cohesion must be created, incompetence abolished and install sound financial systems. He fired some workers and sought out others who possessed inner strength, who enjoyed adventure and risk and who stuck with a task even when it was not fun. “Hal Sperlich was already at Chrysler when I arrived, having been been fired by Henry in 1977. Having Hal was like finding a tall, cold beer in the middle of the desert...thankyou Henry!”

To create new images for Chrysler's Dodge-Plymouth division, he hired the same PR firm who came up with the 'Ford has a Better Idea' campaign: Kenyon and Eckhardt. The first action was to bring back Dodge's ram symbol. Slowly public perception of Dodge changed to that of durable, dependable and no-nonsense, able to match Ford and GM. Secondly a thirty-day, no-quibble, return policy was initiated.

Customer service was improved, prompted by disgruntled customer letters, with dedicated dealership seminars held to underscore the need for courteous customer service. If sales people couldn't at least provide that they should (in Nicola Iacocca's words) “look for another line”.

And at last, quality control was highlighted, adopting the Japanese mindset of 'right first time' and aspects of lean manufacturing.

However, whilst micro-level issues were being improved, the macro environment worsened as 1979 saw the world economy stumble. “The Shah was forced out of Iran, gas prices almost doubled, and the plentiful, gas-sipping Japanese imports were very much sought after by the public. All whilst Chrysler's own full-size car plants were working over-time”

[NB This occurrence then highlights that Iacocca's turnaround efforts were not wholly attuned and successful, and whilst he did indeed create a number of firsts, he also followed the crowd by mimicking the production schedules of cross-town peers. Even though the smallest of 'the Big 3', and so more nimble, and offering the small Euro-sourced Omni since 1977, the failure to react quickly compounded operational problems].

“Detroit got caught with its pants down. Sure enough as the weakest link Chrysler got hit first”. Within six months GM and Ford also experienced losses. There was only one course to take: Iacocca did his homework and then went and asked the US government for a loan. He was criticized for asking:

“Predictably the biggest cry came from the business community, the old cliches got dusted off. Ours is a profit and loss system....liquidations and close-downs are healthy...a loan guarantee violates the spirit of free enterprise. But they were wrong, free enterprise is about competition, and that loan ensured greater competition since it would allow the third of Detroit's Big Three to remain. Saving Chrysler also preserved jobs, 600,000 of them. So Chrysler's closing would only mean exporting more jobs to Japan!”

But Iacocca's biggest argument dealt with economics.

“The Treasury Department estimated that if Chrysler collapsed, it would cost the country $2.75 billion during the first year alone. It was time for tough, straight talk: “you guys have no choice. Do you want to pay the $2.75 billion now... or do you want to provide guarantee loans for half that amount and have a good chance of getting it all back?”

“Many members of Congress were ideologically against the loans, but when they recognised that their states risked job losses and lost revenues it was farewell ideology”.

In his fight for survival Iacocca cut his own salary to a dollar a year, and cut pay at all but the lowest levels...”we left the secretaries alone, since they deserved every cent they made”. He caught the attention of the unions...”hey boys I've got a shotgun at your head, I've got thousands of jobs available at $17 per hour, I've got none at $20!”. “I discovered that people accept a lot of pain if everyone's going through the chute together...equality of was hundreds of millions of dollars given-up by everybody involved”.

Chrysler cut back the layers of management and found that running a large company became easier...”that's a lesson our competitors have yet to learn, I hope they never do”. An all-American red,white and blue campaign was initiated to promote the new smaller packaged front-wheel drive K-car...”yet still roomy enough to hold six Americans”. Sales improved and by 1982 the company showed a modest profit, by 1983 it made its largest operating profit ever. Chrysler modernized its plants, moved to FWD technology across the all car platforms, led in fuel economy and had a half million strong labour force.

[NB in the technology realm Chrysler was infact essentially on par with Ford, which had redeployed its European FWD capabilities – first with (1976) Fiesta, then (1981) Escort and (1982) Sierra – into the US, culminating with mid-size (1985) Taurus. Protecting this competence highlights the true understanding Henry Ford II actually had, even if disregarded by Iacocca given the proposed Honda deal, FMC latterly taking a shareholding in Mazda for JV development and production. GM obviously followed in badge engineering and adopting light FWD architectures as with the Geo Metro].

“After paying off one-third of the government loan we made the momentous decision to repay the entire sum right away, seven years before agreed”....”it makes the last three miserable years all seem worthwhile”.

“Now we were out of danger it was time to think of fun again”, and so he had a custom LeBaron convertible created as a potential 'daily-driver'. The press and public attention it drew was strong, and so by-passing the usual routine of preliminary marketing research he ordered the cars into production. Soon after GM and Ford followed suite and created personal convertibles of their own.

Though the Minivan was actually conceived at Ford, it was first produced at Chrysler, where it became a hit, its low step assisting women in skirts, low roof-line to fit into a garage and front mounted engine to provide partial crash space.

[NB the Minivan concept had been seen originally with the 1955 GM 'window-van-sedan' concept, then appeared as a working prototype by the Willys-Jeep FC, and later in the mid to late 1960s with International Harvester's passenger van concept and Ford's 'CommutaVan' concept. But all these were of a 'forward-control' layout. It was ultimately the pioneering efforts of Matra in France during the late 1970s (connected to a separate yet commercially entwined Simca/Chrysler/Rootes Europe) that truly evolved the Minivan, and influenced Chrysler's Voyager and Renault's Espace alike].

Iacocca's wife Mary unfortunately died at the young age of 53, after second and third heart incidents, demonstrating the emotional and physical load she carried to support her husband and undertake volunteer work in the local hospital.

“Mary never got wrapped-up in the corporate life. For both of us family was supreme. Yes I've had a wonderful successful career, but next to family, it really has not mattered at all”.

At one time Iacocca was aired as a possible candidate for the White House...which he laughed away...though adding “I do think that our national leadership consists of too many people that don't have business backgrounds...I'd like to see a system where we brought in the twenty top managers to run the business side of the country”

When asked how he reached his level of achievement, he said:
“I go back to what my parents taught me. Apply yourself. Get all the education you can, but then do something. Don't just stand there, make something happen. It is not easy, but if you keep your nose to the grind-stone and work at it, it's amazing how you can become as great as you want to be. And of course be grateful for whatever blessings are bestowed upon you”.

Upon Reflection -

The story-telling manner behind of historical content is a central aspect of the commercialisation and so sales of autobiographies. Such books within the realms of the business-world, will inevitably typically raise the importance of the author's industrial and so societal contribution.

The corporate helmsman battling the mire of hostile real world circumstances and a fairy-tale ending is what enthuses readers, maintains the fascination with corporate career ladders, and in many cases – given origins - simultaneously maintains America's global hegemony.

To this end, Iacocca's account of his career to 1984 did not simply sell himself, and reward the publishers, but also operated as a marketing tool for Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth sales of the period, under-pinning and demonstrating the Auto-American rebound.

Yet it must also be seen that as a prolific salesman Iacocca undertook the dream role of convincing the public of the very worth of himself.

Even so, reading between the lines of even this very abridged autobiography, it is clear that beneath the surface of the ego-driven, publicity seeking “industrial hero”, he openly recognises, to a degree, that he was neither perfect nor infallible.

His initial entry into the auto-industry via Ford was seemingly effectively assured after attending the Ivy League Princeton University. Unlike the necessarily bigger, rigid and bureaucratic GM, and the less structured more chaotically managed Chrysler of the 1950s, thanks to Ford Motor Company's rock-steady familial roots and the 'turnaround' processes initiated by the “Whiz-Kid'” senior managers, FMC in the period proved that it was intimate enough to provide individual familiarity for a career rises through meritocracy, yet also operationally efficient enough to ensure that such individual's efforts translated directly into speedy bottom-line results.

Iacocca then was arguably in the perfect environment, by far the best of Detroit's 'Big 3'.

However, his refutation about the low per unit profitability of Falcon, and so its worthlessness, was wholly incorrect. That car essentially saved Ford given the massive recession period losses on its big cars and the simultaneous introduction of the poorly timed new 'near-luxury' Edsel (sat below Lincoln, but above respectively ranked Ford and Mercury). Conventionally engineered and cleanly styled it was the the perfect formula for a down-shifting North America in 1960, mid recession and wholly aligned to the 'thrifty' driven consumer; at least until things improved some time later in 1963-4. Had Ford II and MacNamara allowed Iacocca to expand the variant offerings of Falcon into sporty and personal realms much earlier as he wanted, it would have only served as a loss-making exercise on the car, as proven by the poor sales of the later Mk2 'Sprint' and Convertible variants in 1963 – one year before Mustang. That 'late' introduction of 'personal' variants then both reduced losses but critically simultaneously built a perceptual pathway in customers' minds for the introduction of Mustang in 1964.

Thus, with the advantage of distant hindsight and objectivity, the reality of the Falcon experience situation does not directly accord with Iacocca's re-telling.

With early 1960s economic improvement, new consumer optimism grew, and as ever the case people sought to reward themselves for the years of previous constraint.

Mustang then was an obvious and expected product, given the market and model environment of the early and mid 1960's.

Whilst the America's original “sportscar”, the Chevrolet Corvette, had remained essentially the same as a 2-seater, Ford's own direct competitor the Thunderbird had by the Mk2 iteration grown in size and weight to accommodate 4 people, thereafter available with a hardtop variant also, hence marketed alternatively as an up-scale lifestyle car. By differentiating the Ford, and placing it into a separate higher volume territory, the instigated difference protected each notional 'competitors' respective market space(s) during the TIV suppressed years between 1958 and 1963.

With the inclusion of compact cars, the theoretical market space for compact-based spin-off models grew as a new product type in itself. The engineering base of a standard model series could spawn something different with greater style and panache: an affordable smaller 2+2 sporty car, produced in higher volumes with coupe and convertible variants, as a semi-mainstream offering. Essentially the little brother to the bigger Thunderbird; and so the 'Pony Car' was born. This was hardly revolutionary thinking, as Iacocca might convey, simply commercial logic that had been deployed for much of the previous sixty years.

Of influence was also the rumour that Chrysler and possibly GM were contemplating putting performance power-trains into their smaller cars, so as to create the first offerings of ex-factory, dealer offered 'hot-rod' trend inspired variants, latterly known as 'muscle cars'. The post WW2 'hot-rodders' and specifically the corporate men wannabees had generally good incomes as recognised by the likes of De Lorean and the Pontiac (Tempest) GTO.

It was only logical than that Mustang should offer a wide range of appeal, spanning from faux sportiness through mere appearance, through to true high performance capability (via Shelby) performance. The true achievement was less Iacocca's product planning and more Gale Halderman's inspired styling work and proportions, which managed to merge the need for relatively slab-sides to allow for as large a cabin space as possible using the “euro-moderne” style partially seen in Falcon and more so in the Lincoln Continental; (this cleaner look with styling accents even used to create a far less known 4-door clay model variant). This appearance then gave a taught, very different 'muscularity' at a time when sporting cars were traditionally curvaceous (eg Italian, German and British sports-cars).

Ultimately, applause must be given to all three major participants. Ford II for approving the project in a timely manner in line with the economic cycle. Iacocca for recognising the potency of Mustang as a new concept for broad spectrum customer-base, with vitally its opportunity for strong profitability, using amortised platform and prompting customer-led mass-customisation with high margin add-ons. Halderman for perfecting the body-style, after what had been a problematic process.

As the savvy self-promoter, on the back of the Mustang launch, Iacocca started to appear as a national treasure, on the front-cover of Time Magazine and other publications. Now with very much raised industrial and public persona.

This must have concerned Henry Ford II. Whilst undoubtedly recognising that whilst such publicity about the capabilities of the company's management was advantageous in an era when FMC was still a relatively young publicly listed company on the NYSE, it also posed a possible threat to future family's interests. No matter how seemingly remote, board members and senior management could feasibly secretly collude with those with financial means outside of the company and create through intentional mismanagement a long and protracted coup: by damaging share price, deliberately devaluing the market capitalisation of the firm - damaging to the family's paper-based wealth – deliberately destabilise the balance sheet, and with resultant low credit rating effectively demand issuance of new stock, and so dilute the family's holding. All of which could end with the family's loss of sizeable control.

That possible threat, no matter how remote, meant that inevitably the useful but self-promoting Iacocca would be eventually released. The small 'Siberian' office that Henry Ford gave him, from which to use as a base to seek-out his next post, undoubtedly a ploy to further irritate him further...possibly ordained from on-high – the Whitehouse or elsewhere - to anger, steel and ready him for his eventual next deployment across town.

[NB At this point Iacocca should have remoulded himself as an independent consultant, with wide remit and greater overall influence, but it seems his anger and desire for revenge got the better of him].

His desire to beat Henry Ford generated the move to the much struggling Chrysler, was then, an obvious one.

As stated previously - after the loss of Walter P. Chrysler as authoritarian leader (1925 - 1940) - the company, whilst enjoying the post WW2 boom-time, experienced greater problems that GM and Ford during the 1958-63 recession, with the failure of De Soto as an increasingly meaningless marque, poor styling choices (such as the Valiant) and thus fewer economies of scale by which to ensure its health and was most likely through the 1960's and 70's to experience a loss of potential sales to the even weaker American Motors Corporation, especially in compact cars.

Hence a loss of general corporate strategy, momentum and profitability. Plymouth too slowly faded in the popular consciouness as a notionally mid-market badge engineered version of higher volume Dodges. However, whilst the functionally respected Dodge nameplate retained favour in the pick-up truck sector and its cars often sold as essentially functional, thus demanding greater incentives and so less profit, and to 'shift metal' were often heavily discounted to police forces, business fleets and taxi firms. This business decline was only partially saved by own-brand rebadging of Mitsubishi's Colt/Lancer as a stop-gap, and the design 'importation' of the small Omni hatchback in 1977 from Chrysler Europe. The lack of foresight and need to rely upon fuel-efficient 'imports' demonstrated the poor habits and mismanagement of Chrysler up until 1977, when Iacocca joined.

Given the threat of Japan's grown prowess, (in small cars and trucks), the circumstances he faced regards functional “silo-creation” and internal “empire building” are astounding to see. Such problems allowed the spiral of decline and should have been overcome by the early 1970s in recognition of the increasingly prolific Japanese industrial mindset, its achievements and the potential threat from Europe's low-cost car-makers after the success of VW's Beetle.

Yet the highly combative nature of automotive sector corporate politics of the time in the USA, UK, though less so Europe, – was somewhat akin to the 'swinging dicks' mentality of Wall Street. That “not invented here” attitude ostensibly undermined the efficiency and efficacy of western manufacturers throughout the late 1960s, 1970s and even partially into the early 1980s. Whilst an intransigent attitude was very necessary to combat militant trade unionism, ultimately it weakened internal capability.

As the 'father of Mustang', it was Iacocca's reputation that Washington sought to revitalise the #3 car-maker, recognising that whilst AMC was weak enough to be lost (dissected and sold), the idea of a remaining GM vs Ford duopoly riled against the notional American spirit of open competition.

With the loss of AMC, itself a blow to employment in plants and through the tier 1 and 2 supply-chain, Chrysler was destined to be saved, inevitably through the offering of government funds. And so Iacocca's role was to enthuse management, staff unions, suppliers, dealers and customers.

In this regard, although the “die was set” by circumstance, the fact is that Iacocca did indeed use the critical thinking he'd learned from McNamara and importantly combined it with the ability to convincing 'sell' the set of solutions required to all internal and external stakeholders, from Washington down to the local dealer and to hearts and minds of past, current and potential Dodge, Plymouth and Chrysler customers.

Although perhaps viewed as a little smarmy by some, it was his public self-assurance of the plan ahead for the company, and its operational and profitability renaissance, that did indeed allow for all the different bits of the business model puzzle to come together relatively smoothly. Others could have achieved the same thing, but it was his ability to orientate intrinsically important conversations as a subtle and not so subtle negotiator that quickened the process of corporate recouperation.

Between the mid 1980s to late 1990s Chrysler had re-established itself as the most progressive of Detroit's Big 3 auto-makers, with introduction of the modern American minivan/MPV in the Caravan/Voyager, conceptually funky concepts toned down market such like compact Neon, futuristic 'cab-forward' packaging and organic styling in the full size LHS, greater 'less is more' taste to personal cars such as the Sebring, and the hugely popular retro-styling of the PT Cruiser and Ram pick-up, and importantly the revitalisation of the Jeep brand, all providing enough cashflow and confidence to create 'homages' to home-grown auto-culture with Viper and Prowler.

After Daimler's overtly heady high-priced purchase, the 2000s once again witnessed a new confidence, with sales of high margin Durango and 300C, creation of blended cars such as the Crossfire, and highly efficient multi-marque platform sharing, even if perhaps dilutive to historic brand personas. Yet once again intense competition by the mid  2000s saw incentives rise, unit margins for most models decline rapidly and ultimately credit fuelled sales lead to production over-capacity as ever greater economies were sought...right up until the financial crisis of 2008.

Thereafter, all is well known, Washington (once again) to the financial rescue, and the phased-in control of FIAT group, leading to today's FCA Group.

Lee Iacocca, whilst an undeniable self-proclaimer, then perhaps contributed less toward the Ford Mustang than history would have us believe. But, whilst perhaps overly applauded, he re-conjoined the multiple facets of American industry and commerce to re-boot Chrysler in the early 1980s. And all too tragically soon after experienced the loss of his very cherished wife, very possibly as a consequence of the shared stresses endured.

Today, auto-sector's own dimming memory exists largely through culturally attuned media, dedicated collections and honorific products such as the Shelby Fords and the skunk-works inspired 2009 'Iacocca Mustang'. Automotive heritage has never been so well curated given its cultural and commercial importance, especially so, and obviously so, in the USA.

Yet critically, looking forward, Iacocca's story (and those of his counterparts) must act as newly discovered chapters for the current and future EM-born automotive executives. And ideally as critically, the ever expanding band of EM institutional, hedge fund, private equity and even possibly auto-enamoured retail investors.

All involved should know of the historical contexts, watershed case studies and personalities that together underpinned the evolution of today's global auto-sector.