Thanks to his unusual name (he was the son of Italian immigrants), Lee Iacocca had a lengthy legacy as a “funny namedrop” for American comedians. But he achieved so away from those five syllables, and has a claim to be the greatest American CEO of all-time.
Starting with Ford as an entry-level engineer after World War II, he switch to sales and became an immediate success. His “’56 for $56” campaign (any 1956 motor for 20% down and $56 a month for three years) revolutionised how cars were financed in the US, and he rose the ranks rapidly, becoming company chairman in 1970. The Mustang and the Escort were among the cars he helped bring to market, although he repeatedly clashed with Henry Ford III and was fired in 1978.
He took up a position with Chrysler instead, helped steer them through a period when it looked like they were going out of business and became a company pitchman as well. His advert appearances led to the catchphrase “If you find a better car, buy it.” He helped bring the minivan to market and bought out AMC, leading to the creation of the Jeep Grand Cherokee. He wrote numerous books on the business of being a businessman in his retirement, and also found time to create and promote the “Olivio” brand of slightly-too-artificial-tasting margarine.