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Iacocca inducted into WPC Legacy Circle

by Bill Cawthon on

Former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca was the last of four inaugural inductees into the Walter P. Chrysler Museum Legacy Circle. At ceremonies last night, Sergio Marchionne, Chrysler’s current CEO, invited Ford CEO Alan Mulally (Iacocca was with Ford before coming to Chrysler) and newly elected UAW president Bob King to join him at the podium for the presentation.

Marchionne who, true to form, wore his trademark sweater, introduced Iacocca to the assembled crowd of 570 who each paid $500 to attend the fundraising event.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. It is truly a privilege for me to introduce tonight’s final recipient of the Walter P. Chrysler Legacy Award.

“Today happens to be the anniversary of the founding of Detroit in 1701. It is entirely appropriate that we honor Lee Iacocca tonight, as there is such a deep bond that ties together Detroit, Chrysler and this man who is one of the great leaders in the history of our company and our city.

“I feel a special kinship with Lee Iacocca, and it is not just because we share an Italian heritage.

“A few months after I became CEO of Chrysler in June 2009, Lee was kind enough to welcome me into his home and to express his support for our efforts to revive the company. This gave me a chance to know a little bit of the man – not just the iconic businessman and the author of best-selling books.

“Lee Iacocca’s Chrysler took help once in the form of government-paid loan guarantees, and paid the loans back years early. I told him that the day we pay the government back, I’ll take him to Washington so he can hand over a check for the second time.

“While the world has changed a great deal in the last three decades, certain principles are timeless. Lee Iacocca allowed others to grow and do their best. This is how he once described his philosophy:

“ ‘Start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees, motivate them and reward them. If you do all those things effectively, you can’t miss.’

“Lee Iacocca is one of the true giants in automotive history. He steered Chrysler through crisis, led the introduction of landmark vehicles like the K-cars and minivan, and engineered the acquisition of Jeep. He was the driving force behind the creation of the superb Chrysler Tech Center.

“For many years, he was the public face of the company, appearing in numerous TV commercials and writing a best-selling autobiography.

“During his time at Chrysler, Lee was not afraid to break the mold. He and his team had the courage to be real leaders. Today, we know we must replicate this attitude, as well as speed of execution.”

“Chrysler people have a resiliency … a belief in each other … and an unshakeable faith in the future. These character traits are part of Lee Iacocca’s legacy.

“Many of the experts had written off Chrysler – and these days we are familiar with similar judgments. But under this man’s leadership, Chrysler came roaring back in one of the most celebrated comebacks in the history of industry.”

“And he gave us a philosophy that still inspires us today, when he said: ‘We don’t want to be the biggest, just the best.’

“Speaking for today’s Chrysler, we still take this advice to heart. We are determined to transform Chrysler into a company that is once more respected and esteemed, and that makes a valuable contribution to society.

“This is the best way we know to honor Lee Iacocca!

“On behalf of the men and women who work for Chrysler … and its retirees … its dealers … and everyone else in the family, I want to express our humble gratitude to Lee Iacocca for all that he has done for this company … and for the automotive industry.

“Lee, welcome home. No one could be more deserving of this induction into the Walter P. Chrysler Legacy Circle.”

The late Virgil Exner, trendsetting Chrysler stylist from the 1950s, was the first honoree, inducted by Ralph Gilles, Chrysler’s current design chief. His son, Virgil Exner, Jr., accepted on his father’s behalf. NASCAR legend Richard Petty was introduced by Frank Ewasyshyn, former executive vice president of manufacturing. Fred Diaz, president of Dodge brand, did the honors for comedian and noted car collector Jay Leno.

Video courtesy of Chrysler Media

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.

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