[Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1.
Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US. Most recent sense check, Entry #332.]
As noted in last week’s entry, I thought it might be interesting to present information about Lee Iacocca that has been overlooked or generally not discussed in the media. None of the stories will be too personal, embarrassing or disclose confidential information. However, these stories are what I remember most about Lee Iacocca. I hope you find them interesting. [If you missed entry #343, which includes how I met Lee and our working relationship, you might want to read before proceeding.]
One characteristic rarely mentioned was Lee’s voice. You know how some people have voices that are just naturally loud? He fell into that category, big time.
Following are a few examples that come to mind. #1 — Was that an ass chewing? The office location for EV Global Motors (electric bike company post Chrysler), as you might expect, was in a fairly high-end building in Los Angeles — corner of Wilshire and Westwood. A few of the individual offices had tall, heavy, solid wood doors.
When Lee and I had conversations about personnel, legal or financial matters, the door would be closed. I always thought the wood doors were pretty soundproof. That idea was shattered after one meeting when the staff asked me, “Did you just get your ass chewed?” My befuddled response was “No, why do you ask?” Staff responded, “Because his voice was so loud we heard it out here.”
As a sidebar, the only time I saw him really get mad was discussing legal bills. I remember one invoice in particular that was on the high side. He was furious at the amount and my assignment, which he described in very explicit terms, was to renegotiate the amount with the lawyer.
The subject set of legal bills was associated with what I would characterize as a frivolous lawsuit. An executive of the company had been offered what most would consider a very generous buyout. After presenting the offer, I suggested he review with counsel. Rather than taking the offer, which included a guaranteed payment even if he had another job in hand, which he had, the executive hired a well-known litigator in LA who took the case on contingency — I think only because of Lee’s association with company.
The case ultimately was dismissed and the employee and the hired gun got zero. However, the company spent a considerable amount of time and money on the case before it was dismissed.
Conversations with Lee about the case were unpleasant and because of his frustration, often loud. The conversations with counsel trying to renegotiate the invoice were equally unpleasant and often loud. On a positive note, I maintained a close friendship with counsel until his death a few years ago.
Voice Incident #2 was actually funny, even at the time. Lee and I were to visit a company near Palm Springs that made upscale golf carts. The purpose of the visit was to determine if the company was qualified to make neighborhood electric vehicles (NEV) for EV Global Motors. NEV’s were part of the long-term strategy to expand the product line beyond electric bicycles.
I was to meet Lee at his house in Palm Springs. Murphy’s Law took over that day and I was late. As I stopped at the guard house at the entrance to the development, I heard a voice that sounded as if the person were standing next to me shouting in my ear. But instead of next to me, there was Lee, probably 50-75′ away leaning out of the driver’s side of a minivan yelling, “Dabels, where have you been? Follow me!”
Voice Incident #3 I still find humorous as well. It occurred during one of our regular Sunday evening calls to discuss pending business issues. Over the previous few weeks, the company had experienced a problem with a key component of the electric bicycle. The president of the firm suppling the part was also to call me Sunday night and provide an update on fixing the problem.
Although Taiwanese-based, the supplier had an office in LA and with the same area code as Lee’s home. When the phone rang, I saw the area code 203. Before I could say “hello” there was a “hello” on the other end, to which I responded “Percy?” (name of supplier contact). My question led to a response in a rather loud voice, “Do I sound like Percy? Dabels, (expletive) do I sound like Percy?”
After a quick apology from me, the conversation turned to business at hand. However, whenever I hear the name Percy, my mind flips back to the phone call and the question, “Do I sound like Percy?”
#4, The Buzzer. Iacocca’s office in LA included the desk and the phone from his office at Chrysler. The phone was typical style for that era — touch dial pad and buttons at the bottom for incoming phone lines. On the far right at the bottom was a buzzer, which when pressed while Lee was at Chrysler, would alert the administrative assistant in the outer office.
One day over coffee, he asked me, “See that buzzer? After I nodded, he continued, “When I was a Chrysler, I could press that buzzer and in 15 minutes someone would be in here telling me about the economy in Kazakhstan or some other country. “You know what happens now when I press that buzzer?” I shook my head. “I’ll tell you what happens. Absolutely nothing.”
#5, The Tone of Voice. The final voice observation in this entry is how the tone of his voice changed when talking about family, especially the topic of growing up as maybe the only Italian in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Although he never said it directly, at least to me anyway, the tone of voice conveyed a certain loneliness about not being accepted. Like most of us, our childhood experiences have a profound impact on our behavior as adults.
For Lee, the childhood experiences were a great motivator to become successful, which he clearly accomplished. But even with all that success and glory, what never left him, as probably never leave any of us, were the childhood experiences and that little voice that kept asking to be accepted.
All for now. More next week.