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Lee Iacocca, the son of Italian immigrants, rose spectacularly through the ranks of Ford Motor Company to become its president, only to be toppled eight years later in a power struggle with Henry Ford II. After being fired from Ford, however, he immediately went to Chrysler Corporation and led that company back from the brink of financial disaster by convincing the United States government to provide Chrysler with a $1.2 billion loan guarantee. Iacocca has been heralded as the epitome of an effective modern leader by the authors of a book about leaders.
He provided the leadership to transform a company from bankruptcy to success. He created a vision of success and mobilized large factions of key employees to align behind that vision. Almost exclusively because of Iacocca's leadership, by 1983 Chrysler made a profit, boosted employee morale, and helped employees generate a sense of meaning in their work. He empowered them. In Fact, we believe that Iacocca's high visibility symbolizes the missing element in management today his style of leadership is central to organizational successful. Because of his success in rescuing Chrysler and the highly visible role he played in restoring the Statue of Liberty, Iacocca became a media celebrity and an American folk hero.
Lee Iacocca is described as a big man with an imposing presence. He stands 6'1" and weighs 194 pounds. His facial features and personal mannerisms have led one author to describe him as a 'Florentine prince." The biography of Iacocca attributed his leadership ability to six character traits:
1. The ability to break away from rigid, stereotyped thinking and use upbeat, energetic approaches to problem solving.
2. His realism and courage.
3. His devotion to homework by being thorough, careful, and well informed.
4. His aggressive curiosity.
5. His uncommon capacity for personal growth.
6. His ability to surround himself with people possessing strong personality ties without being intimidated or threatened by them.
In his autobiography, Iacocca describes three key elements that contributed significantly to his successful leadership. First, Iacocca believed that he was extraordinarily effective in motivating people because he knew them well, he expressed sincere appreciation for their contributions, and he provided a vision for them of where the company was going. Second, Iacocca developed a quarterly review system that focused the energies of his people on successful goal accomplishment. Every three months, Iacocca required his managers to submit specific written goals and objectives and then, in a face-to-face, MBO type interview, he required them to explain how they planned to achieve the goals. Finally, Iacocca believed in being decisive. Although he was a strong advocate of being well informed and gathering all the facts before making a decision, he also argued that if you waited until you had 100 percent of the facts, the opportunity would have passed. Although he liked to be fully informed, he was not afraid to go with his gut feeling and he did not rely on committee decisions. Iacocca's definition of management by consensus was, "Consensus is when we have a discussion. They tell me what they want, and then I decide."
Leadership is an extremely popular topic in organizational behavior because of the role we assume it plays in group and organizational effectiveness. We assume that the success of a group depends primarily on the quality of leadership. To have a winning season requires a good coach; to achieve a military victory commander; and to have a productive work group requires a supervisor. Whether they deserve it or not, leaders are usually credited for the group's success and blamed for the group's failure. When a team has a losing season, instead of firing the team, the coach is fired. Although leadership is similar to management, there is a clear difference between these topics. For managers to be effective, they need to be good leaders. However, not all leaders are good managers. Leadership is more narrowly defined; it refers to influencing the behavior of others. Not all acts of influence, however, are necessarily acts of leadership. There are important differences, for example, between leadership and the exercise of power described in the next chapter.
The book, Iacocca: An Autobiography, has been written by Lee Iacocca in collaboration with William Novak during the mid 1980's. Hence, Iacocca is the subject of the book and also the writer of the book at the same time. Lido Anthony Iacocca famously known as "Lee" Iacocca was born on October 15, 1924 and is an American industrialist most profoundly known for his revival of the Chrysler brand in the 1980s when he was the CEO. Among the most widely recognized businessmen in the world, he was a passionate advocate of U.S. business exports during the 1980s. He is the author or co-author of several books, including Iacocca: An Autobiography (the subject of this review) and "Where have all the Leaders Gone?" his latest publication. The book under review is the first one written by him. The book has a good flow and delivers intellectual qualities like simplicity and clarity in language. Moreover, it also reflects a lot of emotional qualities such as wit, humor, satire and anger. Furthermore, the writer uses the metaphors and similes with ease and firm grasp on them. An example of emotional quality and use of similes is evident from the very start of the book in its "Prologue", where he writes on remembering his dismissal and what his family had to go through because of it:
"They were the innocent victims of the despot whose name was on the buildingâ€¦ Even today, their pain is what stays with me. It's like the lioness and her cubs. If the hunter knows what's good for him, he'll leave the little ones alone. Henry Ford made my kids suffer, and for that I will never forgive him."
The purpose of publishing the book is to answer all the unanswered questions about Lee Iacocca's life, like, how did he get to be successful? Why was he fired from Ford? How was he fired from Ford? And how did he turn Chrysler around? However, he wanted these answers to be authentic and coming from the person directly involved in the questions. That is why he states:
"I wrote this book to set the record straight (and to keep my mind straight), to tell the story of my life at Ford and Chrysler the way it really happened."
The book has a total of twenty-eight chapters and is divided into four main parts with an "Epilogue" at the end. The four-parts are as follows:
Made in America
The Ford Story
The Chrysler Story
The subject matter has been organized chronologically starting from the very first time his family came to America in 1902 and how things went on from their onwards in his life. The book has been organized in such a way that serves the purpose of it being written. The first segment of the book i.e. Made in America comprises of two chapters and the last segment Straight talk has been allotted 4 chapters. The writer has dedicated most of the book to the purpose of it and hence the Chrysler story encompasses nearly forty-percent of the book and the ford Story encompasses nearly 30% of the book in nine chapters.
The book is an informative read. Not only does Iacocca write about his life history openly but also shows us the circumstances that were present during those years in America and gives us the picture of the world scenario as well. From the very start his exposition has been informative. In the first paragraph of the first chapter of the book he tells us about his father and his feelings about arriving in America in the following words:
"Nicola Iacocca, my father, arrived in the country in 1902 at the age of twelve - poor, alone and scared. He used to say that the only thing he was sure of when he got here was that the world was round. And that was only because another Italian boy named Christopher Columbus had preceded him by 410 years, almost to the day."
The book is filled with numerous examples of lessons to learn for the reader like the one above and this chapter gives us not only the history of Iacocca's and his family but also explains how the World War played a significant part in helping Iacocca get the best possible education. The second part of the book namely, "The Ford Story" starts with his entry into Ford. He came to Ford as an engineer and he was being trained to design auto related products. However, nine months in to the program he realized that engineering no longer interested him as a profession. His heart was more in selling than engineering but he wanted to be a part of FORD. He explains his feelings vividly in the following extract:
"I wanted to stay at Ford, but not in engineering. I was eager to be where the real action was- marketing or sales. I liked working with people more than machines. Naturally my supervisors in the program were not amused. After all the company had hired me out of engineering school and had invested all this time and money in my training. And now I wanted to be in sales?"
Both the above extract reflects the authors grip on expression and the reader is bound to live in the moment when reading the character sketches of the people that the author describes. Moreover, the explanation after pointing out the character traits is also another aspect in which the author has an incredible amount of lucidity in his expression.
Furthermore, this segment is where Iacocca shares with the readers what he learnt about management from his experiences. He states that the most important thing to management is decisiveness. He says:
"You can use the fanciest computers in the world, and you can gather all the charts and numbers, but in the end you have to bring all your information together, set up a timetable and act."
Moreover, he emphatically states that the key to managerial success is motivating the people who work with or for you. He argues that in order to motivate people one has to be encouraging and also has to be a good listener. The tone of the passage that follows is frank and relates to one's own practical experiences during work; that is why he impresses me as a writer. What the author means by suggesting the need for good listening is that a person may be able to turn a mediocre or average employee into a success story, all because he has listened to his problems and helped him solve them. Moreover, Iacocca advises the young generation of managers or upcoming managers about the communication skills to be adopted by them in order to efficiently and effectively manage the resources. The most common way, he suggests, is to communicate with people as a group, however, he stresses on the need for adequate preparation for presentation by the speaker.
Furthermore, a whole chapter is dedicated to the success of "Mustang" as a car in the market; how it came about and its success stories and how Iacocca achieved the target he set for himself,
most number of units sold of a model for Ford. The other half of this part comprises of his rise to the Presidency of Ford and what he accomplished during his tenure, the dictatorial behavior of Henry Ford II and how Henry Ford II fired him arbitrarily before his retirement was due. The last chapter of this segment apprises us of how some people close to him changed their attitude towards him and his family after his dismissal in order not to enrage Henry Ford and how deeply saddened he got looking at their attitudinal change. However, he mentions that he received a lot of letters of support from his fellow employees which were hand written just because they did not want to keep any record of them fearing Henry Ford. He also states that the Ford Dealer Alliance President, Ed Mullane tried to get him reinstated all on his own thinking rather than Iacocca putting things in his head (according to Henry Ford).
The third segment of the book, "THE CHRYSLER STORY" starts off with the Chrysler auto-company courting him as the CEO. This part also comprises of a few family pictures of Iacocca and pictures of land marks in his life. In this part he mentions that at the time of his entry, the company was in doldrums and he was entrusted with bringing it on its feet. In the final chapter he tells the reader how Chrysler paid back the loan seven years before it was due because of the huge success of the mini-van which he had initially proposed at Ford but which fell on deaf ears over there. He also pays a tribute to his wife, Mary, whom he lost in 1983 a few months before they were to achieve this victory and according to him it was mainly because of her demise that this achievement turned out to be bittersweet for him. The last part, "Straight Talk", is where Iacocca as a reformer and as an American is most vividly portrayed. The topic is pure rhetoric. He talks in support of issues such as mandatory use of seat-belts in the vehicles; just pay for the workers for their work and ends this part by pointing out to the need of unity between the political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats in order to make America great again.
The book is realistic and seems to cover almost all the aspects of the life of Lee Iacocca. The book is not only related to the business world but as has been stated above, it also entails a lot of practical wisdom for readers of all ages. The book preaches us that success does not come over night or in a matter of months rather it is a process and it takes time to be successful, so work hard, diligently and with high spirits; try to be patient with success. The book is inspirational and I am glad that I chose this book for my book review and I say this without an inch of doubt that it is a must read for everyone and especially for people who are interested in innovation, leadership and making it up to a successful position in the corporate world!.