Loan-Lee at the Top

The CEO traipsed down to Washington, positioned himself in front of the arrow-slingers, and spoke humbly but with determination about the future of his company.

He explained to the tough crowd in the room how beneficial it would be, for all of us, if his company were propped up, with a little financial help from the federal government.

Float us a loan, he told the sourpusses, and I promise you won't regret it.

It was the late-1970s. Detroit was in a recession, as was the entire country. But especially Detroit. It's always that way, it seems, when the country's economy goes sideways.

Lee Iacocca promised he would pay every single penny back, if the lawmakers in Washington would only give him a shot in the arm.

And what a shot it was: $1 billion in government-backed loans.

And ole Lee paid it back -- with $350 million interest, to boot. And early.

The bailout ended up not costing the feds a dime, after all.

Chrysler got the loan in 1979, and paid it back by 1983. Not long after that, there were folks who wanted to draft Iacocca for president. Of the United States.

Lee wasn't interested, though he was flattered. He was a car guy, through and through. Not a politician.

That was quite evident, in the manner that ole Lee managed the money that was lent to his company. No politician could ever have been that wise and prudent with that kind of dough.

There are some of them who I wouldn't trust with a sawbuck, much less a billion dollars.

Iacocca as a Time magazine cover boy, 1983

It comes to mind now, Iacocca's payback to the government, with the news that Chrysler, this time, won't be able to avoid bankruptcy. The news broke today. Negotiations with some creditors broke down. The Big Three is now The Big Two-and-a-Half.

Where's Lee when you need him?

I was never more proud of a corporation, or of a CEO, than when ole Lee talked his way into a billion dollar loan and then waved the payback cash in the politicos' faces.

There were plenty of folks, inside and outside of Washington, who didn't think Chrysler would pay that money back -- at least not on time.

Ole Lee brought the wheelbarrow of cash into the halls of Congress ahead of the appointed time.

Take that, you Beltway Boobs!

Iacocca was more than just a CEO who made his own TV commercials. His defection from Ford couldn't have come at a better time for Chrysler. Lee put out the "K car" and other simple, quality sedans and promised excellent customer service.

"If you can find a better car out there, buy it," Lee dared us in those 30-second TV spots.

Iacocca kind of drifted off into the sunset after his days at Chrysler. They asked him once more if he'd consider a political run of some sort, and he politely declined.

He saved a car company, propped it back up, and put it in a position to be successful once more.

I guess he thought he deserved some time off.


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