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The miracle in Detroit.

To a man (and woman), Post editors opposed my using "sexy" to describe Lee iacocca as the Motor City's symbol of economic recovery. Just say "symbol," they advised. When I suggested the cover line to Iacocca during our interview, he just laughed.

But I was still undecided. Should I use such a term on the cover of the Post, and with a distinguished gentleman? So I went across the street to my husband's office.

"Do you think 'sexy' is too, well, uh, inappropriate to use with 'symbol,' like 'sex symbol of the economic recovery'?"

"I don't know any man over 60 who would mind your using that word in connection with his person," said my husband. "In its modern sense it means charismatic, avantgarde, exciting."

That did it. I overruled my associate editors, who are all under 50. Someday, they'll understand. a When a prevention-minded physician looks at a miracle man like Lee iabocca, thoughts whirl of his clout to change the health habits of his thousands of employees. What an opportunity this dynamic man has to become a benevolent dictator to his loyal troops about how they should stay well!

He was thoroughly good-natured throughout the interview, even when I tried to slip in a few suggestions of my own. His enlightened behavior regarding exercise and diet undoubtedly contributes mightily to his spectacular performance.

SerVaas: We want to begin by asking you about what at Chrysler you might be planning to do about the thing all business people seem to be worried about, increased cost of health care in your organization--unless you don't have increased costs of health care.

Iacocca: Ours are as high as anybody's in the country. Well, yes, this has gotten a lot of attention from everyone. Probably we got there first because we had to address a problem approaching the $600,000,000 mark per year. That's about $550 per car.

SerVaas: That was $550?

Iacocca: Yes, approximately $550 per car. It's a staggering number, I realize. What we did about two years ago was set up an official health-care committee of our board, making us probably the only company in the world that has an official health-care committee.

And the reason I did it was because I've been involved in this whole problem for about 25 years. On our board we had Doug Fraser, the head of our union, and we have Joe Califano, who is former head of HEW, and William Miliken, former governor of Michigan. So we put together this committee because we felt that we knew more about this subject than anybody in the world, because the very programs that we had negotiated as management and government and labor had caused some of the problems. And we were determined to attack them. So what we had emanating from that committee, of course, is a lot of subcommittees, but aside from that a lot of action.

I'm sorry to say taht we've just nipped away at that $600,000,000 in the last 12 months, and we've picked up a savings of probably $25 million against that bill. It comes slowly and it's a complicated subject, but in a nutshell--we're not trying to take good health care away from our employees, we're trying to make sure we deliver those services efficiently. The biggest single improvement that has started to move the needle, in a positive fashion, has been soliciting our employees to consider joining HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations).

The biggest rage now all over Detroit--I guess we started it--is to develop the same type of HMO for dental plans, which have gotten out of hand. We started a program of making sure employees understood the value to them and to us of getting second opinions before surgery. It cuts down probably about half of surgery when properly administered. And the biggest one--where most of the costs are--that we're wrestling with now is in hospital care. That's Chrysler's biggest single bill. By the way, for every additional day of hospital stay, the cost is about a million dollars. We would save that much for every day that we can cut it down. So we're trying to develop preferred providers, competition among the hospitals, working on incentive plans even, that kind of thing. Naturally beyond all this they sound minor, but we've taken some abuses out of the system. We have more detailed audits now of the services rendered and the type of billings that we get. It's a frontal attack on just about everything. It's starting to pay some dividends, I think. At first there were many adversaries, obviously, whether it's doctors or pharmacists or dentists or hospitals, who figured we were trying to do something that would make it more difficult for them to deliver services. But the truth is that after a couple of years of really plodding away at it we have a lot of people understanding the root of the problem now and cooperating. I think that given another couple of years we'll start to show a big improvement.

SerVaas: You didn't mention as much about diet, exercise and no smoking as disease prevention.

Iacocca: Well, we have a total program in the company in preventive medicine, of course. We send out the usual communications to people's homes to suggest that they exercise, use good diet, etc., because in the end, the people--especially young people must maintain their own health. When they're 20- and 30- year employees, later, it pays dividends--that's the long road but that's the proper way of doing it. We're doing a little bit of everything but I wouldn't want to kid you. It comes hard.

SerVaas: It comes hard, but now industry, the unions seem to be cooperating more on the health thing. We are very excited about what industry can do in curtailing smoking, and some statisticians say that it costs an employer $4,700 extra per year for every smoker. Employees really enjoy the clean air when you say no smoking in the building.

Iacocca: We have programs on smoking and since we're a big corporation--105,000 people work here--we have programs on drug abuse, alcohol, the whole gamut, and all important, if you really want to attack the root of mounting health costs.

SerVaas: What about your own robust good health? Do you exercise yourself and how do you stay so energetic and full of steam?

Iacocca: Oh, I don't know, I guess I've got the right genes. I guess I was born with it. Every day that I'm not traveling, I take about 20 minutes on Nautilus machines, then I run a fast treadmill at four or five miles an hour for 10 or 12 minutes and then I take a sauna and relax. I try to do that during my lunch hour. By doing that I skip lunch so I get a two-for-one effect. And then during the summer, I try to swim. I haven't done too well this year. I have a pool at home that I used to use a lot but I haven't used it much lately. That kind of thing.

SerVaas: Dance? Do you dance for exercise?

Iacocca: No, no. I used to, but i'm getting too old for that.

SerVaas: Oh, no, you're not. Do you play tennis?

Iacocca: I have a tennis court and a paddle-tennis court and I play occasional tennis, not a lot. I never play golf because I don't have time. But I'd say other than an occasional game of bowling or paddle tennis in the winter or tennis in the summer and as much regular regimen I can get out of the gym here, that's about it.

SerVaas: Do you really enjoy taking vacations? I know that you've been called a workaholic. Would you really rather work?

Iacocca: Oh, no. I've tried all my life with my family to make sure that I took my vacations. Probably, during the crisis at Chrysler I missed a few, but those were really at adverse times. I'd say that looking back over a career of almost 40 years in the auto business, I have been very demanding on myself and my top people to make sure that they take their vacations, because they're so important to good physical health and their mental well-being. They've got to be with their families. So I seldom have missed my four or five or six weeks. They sometimes get interrupted and sometimes the phone rings too much, but I do my best to make sure I take some time off.

SerVaas: You're really an old-fashioned family man at heart.

Iacocca: I sure am.

SerVaas: Your parents came through Ellis Island, I believe.

Iacocca: Yes, they did--both of them.

SerVaas: Is it true that you're a good Italian cook? You can cook food like that?

Ianocca: You get rid of your stress in many ways, and one of the things I use is cooking. I love to cook. My mother, who is still living, is a great cook and my wife, before she died, became a very good cook. And so my daughter and I even went to school in Italy for a week and we signed up for a course in an Italian cooking school, so it's fun.

I don't have a lot of time for it, but on weekends I do my own cooking. I have certain favorite things that I like to make. I'm getting pretty good.

SerVaas: Did you just come from Europe and your Italian cooking school or was that something you did earlier?

Iacocca: No, that was 2-1/2 years ago.

SerVaas: All this talk about fiber, I don't know if you know--Vince DeVita, the head of the National Cancer Institute, has been eating fiber for 15 years, and a lot of people are now understanding that at prevents cancer of the colon. Have you gotten into fiber? Do you eat fiber in the morning?

Iacocca: I have the finest colon doctor in the world and he started me 25 years ago. I recommend it to everybody and I recommend it to you. I have taken one pack of Metamucil every night for the last 25 years. That fiber has saved me, because when I was about 40, I got a touch of diverticulitis in the colon and everybody said you couldn't eat strawberries, and you couldn't eat nuts and so forth. I've ignored the diet completely. I keep so full of fiber with Metamucil that I've never felt better in my life.

SerVaas: You had a really pioneering state-of-the-art doctor way before his time.

Iacocca: He studied the African nations and watched what they ate. It was 100 percent fiber and he wondered why they never had any colon disease of any type and therefore he was way ahead of his time.

SerVaas: He truly was.

Iacocca: I probably have saved 500 lives by spreading the gospel.

SerVaas: And don't let a surgeon touch them with a knife.

Iacocca: Exactly. I'm high fiber by supplementing it with the Metamucil, which is a psyllium-type fiber and seems to do well by me.

SerVaas: And this doctor isn't going to let you have bypass surgery either because he's going to give you enough of the right diet, low fat, right?

Iacocca: I hope so. I should be better at it but I watch my diet. I'm a moderate. I found that I can now, instead of eating butter, eat those sticks that have 60 percent margarine and have about 40 butter. Instead of 12 eggs a week, I probably do 4 now. Just by watching it, I don't miss anything. Not flavor, only calories. I don't feel restricted in any way. I've just been eating cautiously and I think it's helpful. I hope so.

SerVaas: Well, I think that's great news. When we print every word you've said, I hope that all your Chrysler employees will eat that highfiber diet too so you won't have medical bills for diverticulitis.

Iacocca: Right.

SerVaas: Or cancer of the colon.

SerVaas: Yes, right. Well, you probably don't ever plan to retire, do you?

Iacocca: Well, no, I have strong feelings about work? I'm writing a book this fall. I have a few paragraphs in there about all the people that I ever saw who began to beat the drum for retiring at 55 or 60. They were highly active but they usually got into deep trouble and even died, and I don't want that to happen to me. I've been too active. I would always do something. I enjoy my work, especially now that we're oer the hump at Chrysler, and I intend to stay until I'm 65, and then after that we'll see. I'll be active doing something. I don't know quite yet what I'll do.

SerVaas: You'll probably start making 20-year plans in a new business.

Iacocca: Five at a time, five at a time.

SerVaas: What's the name of your book?

Iacocca: Iacocca, an Autobiography.

SerVaas: That "auto" will be separated from "biography"?

Iacocca: I told them they should make it in the shape of a car, but they didn't take me up on it.

SerVaas: What if someone just asked you, What person in history do you most admire--is there one person?

Iacocca: You know I was a young boy during World War II, and I was always impressed with Winston Churchill because of his ability to communicate--not to speak well but to use the English language and motivate and communicate. Of our own people, I always think I'm closer to someone like a Harry Truman. Pragmatic as h----. Ideology is fine, and we should have some ideals, but sometimes you have to get on with it and do the job. So I'd say people like Truman. A lot of people don't agree with me, but I admire Franklin Roosevelt, too.

SerVaas: How about Teddy Roosevelt?

Iacocca: Yes, I've read about him, but I identify more with people with whom I was a contemporary or at least lived through the same era, so FDR and Truman impressed me during a very difficult period in the world ending up with the nuclear devastation of Japan. So the two of them and Churchill, those type of people--I read all of the books about them. I know a lot about them and I admire them.

SerVaas: My husband is a macho man like you, and Winston Churchill is a man he greatly admired too. Incidentally, one of his companies makes automobile forgings for Chrysler. I don't know if you knew, and when you were down, we would have gone under too, so we were praying for you.

Iacocca: Glad to hear that, because when we were pleading for some government assistance, we talked about 600,000 jobs. We showed them by state the employees we had. But we said, of course, the dealers and the suppliers--11,000 of them--would be more adversely affected than we would be.

I think that's what got us the help, because there were so many legions of people, like yourself, who were dependent on it and through no fault of your own, you could have gone under because of . . .

SerVaas: We were carrying you . . .

Iacocca: Right. You probably were. I will say that. I said that in my book. The suppliers--boy, the group really carried us when it got dark because they gave us extended terms and they were patient, even though they knew we might go under.

SerVaas: Does religion play a part in your life?

Iacocca: Oh sure, it always has. I grew up in a Catholic family, you know. Roman Catholic, Italian family that was very close. We had to go to church every Sunday and I wanted to, and we went to confession and took Holy Communion. We have strong faith, I would rather say, than just religion. You don't wear things like that on your sleeve--you grow up a certain way and I feel strongly about it and I just hope I instill that in my kids. They are pretty good with it too.

SerVaas: Your children are daughters?

Iacocca: Two daughters.

SerVaas: And do you have strong ideas about what you want for your children for the future of America?

Iacocca: Well, first I want them to have good health, of course. And they're more careful than I am. They don't smoke, and they wear their seat belts all the time--things I should probably do.

But what I want for them--I worry about the future of all the kids. Our country has got to be strong, that's why I get involved in issues that go beyond just the company itself. So, sure, I want them to apply themselves and work hard and I try to teach them the basics, most of which were instilled in me by my mother and father--and that is that there are no free lunches, and you've got to really work at it. You've got to persevere and you've got to decide in your life what you want to make of it. We live in the great land of opportunity.

I am an unabashed patriot. I always have been. I believe you can go as far as you want to go. Write it down on paper and then go after it. It usually works because we're blessed to have been born here.

SerVaas: We are blessed in this country and a lot of people were probably praying for you when you went to Washington to get that money.

Iacocca: Yes, I hope so. I had many people come to me. In Detroit, we had a big black population. A lot of Baptist ministers would write me and tell me their Sunday sermon was being given for Chrysler in hopes that we would make it. So I got a lot of prayers from a lot of people when things were tough. Maybe that's what helped more than anything.

SerVaas: Well, somebody listened. We're glad your prayers were answered. Do you have, besides your church obviously, do you have other charities or philanthropies that you particularly think someday you'd work for?

Iacocca: Well, I have one major charity, of course. My wife died of the ugly disease, diabetes. I am committed in a big way to try before I die to stamp it out in this country. Diabetes, because it affects children and it's hereditary and is passed on. It's a debilitating disease and causes blindness. The disease is just one of the most insidious diseases in the world and that's my most important charity. I work on the Statue of Liberty because that's a labor of love for my parents and freedom and liberty and it's a fascinating and interesting project.

But when it comes to outright charity, I've decided, instead of spending my time with five or six different ones, I really want to put a lot of . . . even before my wife died, we had set up a fellowship in Boston at the Joslin Diabetes Center for basic diabetes research on how to find out what it is and try to stamp it out.

I intend to pour a lot of resources into that, to get the finest young minds in the world to try to work to eradicate it. So that's the most important charity by far.

SerVaas: That's marvelous. Dr. Jim Anderson at the University of Kentucky at Lexington does a lot with fiber to help diabetics require less insulin. Some maturity-onset diabetics can even go off their insulin altogether on a high-fiber and high-carbohydrate diet.

Iacocca: Yes, I know.

SerVaas: But what about your daughters--don't they get after you? You sound just a little bit hoarse. Do you get your vocal cords visualized because you do smoke a cigar?

Iacocca: I only smoke two a day.

SerVaas: Doesn't your doctor look at your vocal cords? Does he put a fiberoptic laryngoscope down your throat?

Iacocca: Oh, sure, I get annual physicals.

SerVaas: And he does look to see if you have a polyp forming there? Are you hoarse now?

Iacocca: I'm a little hoarse today. I just came back from Europe after days and I'm jet lagged. I had a tough day when I first got back. So I'm a little run-down and tired because of the ten-day trip. But usually I'm not. I watch it.

SerVaas: I know executives probably get better health care than most people. Is your lung function checked?

Iacocca: Oh yes, every year. I do the lung-function test to see whether I'm getting better or worse. That's why I run on the treadmill to try to get my lungs going as much as my hearT. I get a rather thorough physical annually. I've done that for 30 years. I don't think I've missed one in several years. I think it helps.

SerVaas: Obviously, you are doing something right.

Iacocca: Well, you've got to have stamina to be in the auto business, but especially during the last five years, and especially with Chrysler.

The one thing that you need to do is get rest. You have to have good rest habits and good eating habits. When I overeat--I don't overeat very often--I pay the price because then I've got to go charging the next day. It's tough on your body. So I'm conscious of that.

SerVaas: And sleep is never a problem?

Iacocca: I sleep very well. Thank God for that.

SerVaas: You are crediting your good health to your good genes, because your parents had longevity?

Iacocca: Well, my father died at 83 and my mother . . . we just had a surprise birthday party for her 80th.

SerVaas: For her 80th.

Iacocca: Yes, she looks younger than I do. She's terrific.

SerVaas: And no high blood pressure?

Iacocca: No, very low in fact. Good diet, good Mediterranean diet--pasta for many years in our lives, no fatty meats. Olive oil, sometimes, obviously, but not butter and the like. So . . .

SerVaas: As a child, you probably ate a lot of those good things.

Iacocca: More so than I do now. As you go off into the world, you began traveling a lot and having the best steak in the world, well marbled. And you ate that for 10 or 15 years and you ate desserts and so forth. But I must say that during my wife's very difficult period--for many years she was ill with diabetes--we never had sugar in the house or sweets, so the kids have grown up with a different kind of a diet and I've benefited from it, just automatically. We eat well.

SerVaas: That's marvelous for your future. You probably won't be having a coronary bypass ever. Since you're so health conscious, we'll certainly want to read your book when it's out. Who is publishing it?

Iacocca: Bantam.

SerVaas: It's going to be paperback?

Iacocca: No, hard cover.

SerVaas: Next subject: You know everyone says why doesn't Lee Iacoccan run for President and why doesn't he run for President?

Iacocca: Why don't I? For the obvious reason that, first of all, I wouldn't want to run for an elected office, ever. I'm not cut out for it. I don't have the temperament for it. I've spent so many years in Washington. They don't need people like me. I've spent all my life in management, making decisions daily. Down there, it's almost a fantasy world to me. I could never fit in. I've often said I could never hack it there.

SerVaas: But the press loves you.

Iacocca: Oh, the press does, and because of the Chrysler story, I've probably had literally thousands of letters suggesting that I run for President in '84. I said early on, "No way," and I still feel strongly about it. I don't mind serving my country in one way or another, but I sure don't feel that I could handle an elective office. We'll see in the future what I might do as the years go on. But that is not one of my dying ambitions.

SerVaas: You'd be a Harry Truman or a Teddy Roosevelt kind of president?

Iacocca: Oh, I know one thing. I'd cut the deficit in half in a night. And I would recommend that to this President. But that's the first thing I'd do if I was President, just cut the deficit in half and then I'd probably change the tax code, which is a scandal, and start over again. It might be difficult. That's why I wouldn't make a good politician, because they say you couldn't make changes. It would take 20 years to do that. It is the inertia, the ssytem itself--our political system doesn't allow you to be practical and get things done, and that's why things don't get done. They go with that attitude. I've been close enough to the last few Presidents to know that I wouldn't want the job. I do not envy them, believe me.

SerVaas: There's also a great danger you might get shot.

Iacocca: Well, I never think along those lines. I could get shot in this job too, by the way.

SerVaas: You probably get a lot of threats where you are?

Iacocca: Well, I don't talk about them, but you know in any job where you are highly visible you are bound to get a lot of people wanting not to just write to you but talk to you and sometimes meet up with you and you have to be careful. You have to be cautious.

SerVaas: Do you know Bob Hope very well?

Iacocca: Very well.

SerVaas: Do you know when I interviewed him, he had the marvelous story about how they all wanted his wife Dolores to quit smoking. And she just wouldn't quit, but she was really smoking so much that she needed to. The five or six of her best friends each bet her $100 that she couldn't quit till Christmas. She wanted to collect, so she quit from August until Christmas and never smoked again. I was so impressed with the way he told that to me that I would like to ask you something. Would you think Chrysler might enter a Quitters Sweepstakes with the SatEvePost Society and some other organizations which would all pitch in to give some motivational prizes? If everyone who came into your dealerships could drop his name in the sweepstakes drawing for every month he quit . . . we could probably persuade a lot of smokers to quit.

Iacocca: Yes, we are pretty active in this. As I said, we have Joe Califano on our board, who probably is the No. 1 man in the nation on the anti-smoking crusade for the last 15 years. In fact, he's a convert of the first order and he does it with zeal, so we get plenty of prodding with him, and we have some pretty good programs here. We'd always be interested. We have a group here that's pretty good and active in this whole program. If you have suggestions for programs like that, you send it in to me, and I'll get in the right hands. There's something we could do together.

SerVaas: I'll surely do that. Well, I think that a Chrysler, you know, you have the image of a winner. People watch what Lee Iacocca does.

Iacocca: I must say that anytime the doctor who saved my life as a kid saw me with a cigar at a press conference, he'd write me and tell me that, since I'm a role model these days to a lot of these kids watching, I should never smoke. In the last few years, I have been very conscious of never being seen with a cigar in my hand in photography for that reason.
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Title Annotation:interview with Chrysler president Lee A. Iacocca
Author:SerVaas, Cory
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Interview
Date:Oct 1, 1984
Words:4621
Previous Article:How's your hearing?
Next Article:Lee Iacocca and an America that's back on its feet.
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