Michigan leaders remember 'bigger than life' Lee Iacocca

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
Lee Iacocca poses next to the new Chrysler Concorde with the British Airways Concorde in the background, Monday, July 13, 1992, at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

An outpouring of support from leaders in Michigan came following the death Tuesday of Lee Iacocca, the former celebrity U.S. auto executive and television pitchman who helped produce the success of the Ford Mustang and the Chrysler minivan.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles confirmed the death of the 94-year-old former CEO in a statement Tuesday night: "The company is saddened by the news of Lee Iacocca's passing. He played a historic role in steering Chrysler through crisis and making it a true competitive force. He was one of the great leaders of our company and the auto industry as a whole."

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Timeline: A closer look at Iacocca's life, work

Lido Anthony Iacocca is the only auto executive to have led two of the Detroit Three automakers. He joined Ford Motor Co. in 1946 and quickly climbed the ranks. By 1970, he was president of the Dearborn automaker, but Chairman Henry Ford II later fired him. Chrysler Corp. hired Iacocca as its CEO in 1978, and he often is credited with helping to keep the company driving. He stepped down in 1993.

Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford paid tribute to Iacocca's "central role" in the creation of the Mustang in a statement.

“Lee Iacocca was truly bigger than life and he left an indelible mark on Ford, the auto industry and our country," he wrote. "On a personal note, I will always appreciate how encouraging he was to me at the beginning of my career. He was one of a kind and will be dearly missed.”

General Motors Co. chairwoman and CEO Mary Barra paid tribute to Lee Iacocca on Twitter.

Other Michigan business leaders also remembered Iacocca fondly.

“Lee Iacocca was my original inspiration,” Patti Poppe, president and CEO of Consumers Energy, said on Twitter. “I read his biography when I was in high school.  I wanted to be a disrupter and innovator just like him.  Thank you Lee for great cars and extraordinary leadership.  Your life mattered. #youwillbemissed”

Actor and director Bruce Campbell, a Detroit native, also shared a personal memory following the auto industry titan’s death.

“During my formative years in Detroit, I worked on the crew of a Chrysler commercial with Lee and Frank Sinatra,” he posted. “Frank was a big deal, but in Detroit, nobody was a bigger deal than Lee Iacocca. Drive on!”

Politicians and elected officials also remembered Iacocca Wednesday.

“This has been a difficult year as we say goodbye to so many giants of a different generation,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearbon, said on Twitter. “Lee Iacocca was a unique force. My heart goes out to his family. Many of us are sadder as we say God speed to a towering figure in the history of the motor vehicle industry.”