Published: July 3, 2019

Lee Iacocca – American Icon – Resolute Man

Theta Chi Fraternity is saddened to learn of the passing of Lee Iacocca (Beta Sigma/Lehigh 1945). Brother Iacocca served as the key Ford executive responsible for the creation of the original Mustang in April 1964. Iacocca's executive leadership, management, and salesmanship led to the creation of one of America's iconic automobiles. Throughout the 1980s, he served as President and CEO of Chrysler and saved the company from bankruptcy.

Many news sources are sharing their profiles and stories on Mr. Lee Iacocca and you may be able to learn more about his life and his experiences as a businessman, CEO, and author.

Today, to the best of our ability, we share Brother Iacocca’s experience in Theta Chi. We hope that you will enjoy reading that Brother Iacocca was a Theta Chi for Life. Photos and stories were found in past issues of The Rattle as well as Lehigh University’s yearbook, Epitome.

From the September-October 1944 edition of The Rattle:

Beta Sigma Carries On At Lehigh University
By Charles H. Tuttle (1946)

Beta Sigma Chapter has continued to be active at Lehigh University, being one of the few chapters operating there. At present there are six brothers, four pledges, and one boarder living at the house, while three freshmen in the incoming October class have agreed to live at the chapter.

Regular meetings are held every other week. The class officers are: President, Ronald G. McKay (1945); Vice President, Lido Iacocca (1945); Secretary, Charles H. Tuttle (1946); Treasurer, Alfred J. Dinon (1946). Max Petersen, formerly chapter adviser and professor of physics, has left Lehigh and is now teaching at MIT. Beta Sigma at present is without a faculty adviser.

Beta Sigma has upheld its tradition of participating in university affairs. Five members of the 1944 baseball team were from the house, and this fall there are representatives on both the football and soccer teams. Pledge Wilson was recently elected on the five-man committee of Arcada, the student governing body.

William Bloecher (1944) was awarded the president's cane, which is given to the president of the student governing body of Lehigh. He was also president of Tau Beta Pi, and a baseball and soccer letterman.

From Lehigh University’s 1945 Yearbook, Epitome:

Lido A. Iacocca, Mechanical Engineering, Theta Chi
President of Omicron Delta Kappa, Lido held many other posts in various activities, as well as being President of Theta Chi. A member of Tau Beta Pi, he also belonged to Cyanide, and was a member of the editorial staff of the Brown and White. He was also a member of the Interfraternity Council.

Theta Chi
The advent of 1945, with three war years already past, found Theta Chi still maintaining an active fraternity life. With four actives and a graduate to point the way, the house carried on a full activities program. Eight pledges and three boarders completed the house roster of sixteen, a number which represents a loss of only six men in over a year and a half.

Theta Chi’s social program during the year included its annual Christmas dance and numerous other dances, all of which were well attended by brothers now serving in the armed forces. In addition to being very active in all intramural sports, favorite pastimes in the house include the ever present bridge game and a host of other game-room activities.

Theta Chis are well represented on the baseball, swimming, fencing, and soccer squads, and the many other activities are shown by membership in Cyanide, Arcadia, Tau Beta Pi, ODK, Phi Eta Sigma, Pi Tau Sigma, The Newtonian Society, Pi Delta Epsilon, the Band, the Collegians, Brown and White, and the Epitome.

In this chapter photo, Iacocca in the front row, third from left. 

From the Summer 1968 edition of The Rattle:

Lehigh Alumnus is Responsible for Mustang

Here is the story of one Theta Chi who has seen his likeness grace the covers of both Time and Newsweek magazines:

At first it was known only as the T-5, a coded abstraction with no meaning outside the four windowless walls of a room in Dearborn, MI. Then it became the Turino, and perhaps 500 people knew what that meant. Then it became the Mustang, and Americans have to be deaf, dumb, and blind to avoid the name.

Lee A. Iacocca (Beta Sigma/Lehigh 1945) developed an automobile which has become more popular than any other car in the history of the United States.

Brother Iacocca was born and raised in Allentown, PA, and missed service during WW II due to rheumatic fever. He sailed through an engineering course at Lehigh with an "A" average and won a scholarship to Princeton where he received a master's degree. At the same time he started at Ford in a training class which he still calls "by far the world's great course.” 

When the course ended, Lee was just 22 years old. Instinctively he knew how to succeed in business. Assigned to a corporate backwater in Edgewater, NJ, he went instead to the district sales office and sold himself to the district sales manager. Ten years later, he was the district sales manager in Washington. Three months later he was made truck marketing manager for the whole company.

For a while things seemed to work out for Lee; he was closing in on his goal. But now he saw himself lagging behind his self-imposed schedule. "I wanted to be vice-president by the time I was 35. I don't know why, I just did.'' (Iacocca says, "Write down what your goal is.")

On October 15, 1959, he hadn't made it and he said, "Hell, that's the end." Eighteen days later Henry Ford, II called Iacocca to his office and said blandly, "How 'd you like to be a vice-president of the Ford Division."

The rest of this success story is now history. Lee went on to change the Falcon by adding bucket seats and by changing the roof line to give it a sporty look. He saw a need for a poor man's T-Bird, something that would appeal to the working girl. He developed the Mustang.

Brother Iacocca serves on the board of directors of the Detroit Area Council, Boy Scouts of America, and on the United Foundation. He holds honorary doctorates for Muhlenberg College and Babson Institute, and is a member of the Board of the University of Southern California Graduate School of Business Administration.

He is a member of Tau Beta Pi, Society of Automotive Engineers, the Detroit Athletic Club, and the Orchard Lake Country Club.

From the Summer 1969 edition of The Rattle:

Lee A. Iacocca (Beta Sigma/Lehigh 45) stands proudly (at left) in front of the newest American car to hit the market, the 1970 Maverick by Ford.

Iacocca, the Executive Vice President for North American Automotive Operations of Ford, was the prime developer of the Mustang, one of the more popular automobiles on the American road today.

Ford has hopes that the Maverick, with Iacocca's influence, Will be able to match the sale performance of its "big brother" Mustang.

The Maverick hopes to challenge the United Sates imported car market by competing in the under $2,000 price range. It was introduced to the public on April 17th, the fifth anniversary of the Mustang.

The Cover of the April 1985 edition of The Rattle:

On the cover: Lee Iacocca (Beta Sigma/Lehigh 1945) has a new best-selling autobiography. Read more about his role in the campaign to restore the Statue of Liberty and his thoughts about Theta Chi in our next issue of The Rattle. Photograph by Anthony Loew.

A personal appeal in the August 1985 edition of The Rattle:

To my Brothers in Theta Chi,

As you know, I am heading up the fund raising to renovate the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island through a foundation established for that purpose.

The Theta Chi chapter at West Chester University is sponsoring a variety show this month to raise money for the Statue of Liberty renovation project. I applaud their efforts. The Theta Chi Executive Office has suggested that raising money to help the Great Lady might be a very worthy philanthropy project to be undertaken by many Theta Chi chapters around the country.

This letter is my appeal to you as a fellow Theta Chi to assist me in this cause by sponsoring fundraising events on your campus for this purpose or by simply budgeting a contribution from your chapter funds.

We are looking for widespread participation rather than large donations. If each American gives a dollar, we will achieve our goals. I am counting on Theta Chi to do its part. 


A feature profile story in the Fall 1992 edition of The Rattle:

“Excellence in Industry” - Lee A. Iacocca (Beta Sigma/Lehigh 1945)

“The auto industry is a people business,” states Lee Iacocca. "You deal with a lot of people every day. I learned to deal with people in the Fraternity. You develop bonds with brothers, then they leave, and you develop bonds with other ones. The bonds you develop with people when you leave home for the first time are especially close."

Lee A. Iacocca joined our Beta Sigma Chapter in 1943, a year after Beta Kappa Fraternity merged with Theta Chi, which brought our Fraternity to Lehigh University 50 years ago.

"Some moments stick in my memory," Brother Iacocca continued. "I was sitting in the fraternity house when the announcement came that President Roosevelt had died, and one of the guys came running down the stairs shouting: ‘That little (bleep) Harry Truman is President!’ I remember it well, because Truman turned out to be one of our best presidents!"

"I also remember what it took to get in the Fraternity," Iacocca recalled. "It was a time of hazing and assignments that were murder during rush. It was fun and games though, in a sense, because we didn't do anything dangerous, but it was tough."

Brother Iacocca knows the definition of tough. He rose to the top of one or the world's most competitive industries during his illustrious 47-year career, serving as chief operating officer of Ford and CEO of Chrysler, two of the largest automobile manufacturers in the country. He ends a 14-year career with Chrysler in 1992, alter reviving the company with such innovations as the K-car, the LeBaron Convertible, and the Minivan. Although his active career at the helm of Chrysler draws to a close, the latest innovations he supervised will be felt for years to come with the revising of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Dodge Viper and the new mid-size LH series.

Prior to joining Chrysler in 1978, Brother Iacocca spent 32 years at Ford Motor Company, rising from Management Trainee to Chief Operating Officer. Interestingly enough, he spent much of his career working with another Theta Chi.

"Harold Sperlich (Alpha Gamma/Michigan 1951) and I had a close working relationship," Iacocca stated. "Harold was the product genius at Ford and Chrysler. He was the chief architect of the two most important products in my career: the Mustang and the Minivan."

Brother Sperlich became President of the Chrysler Corporation after Iacocca's appointment as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer. He credits Sperlich with creating a revolution in the auto industry, and making a ton or money for Chrysler. Sperlich now serves as Executive Consultant for Creative lndustr1es in Michigan and remains heavily involved in the auto industry.

Brother Iacocca will retire this year as CEO, but plans to remain quite active: serving as Chairman of the Executive Committee for the Chrysler Board of Directors. He also will continue serving as Chairman of the Iacocca Foundation, which sponsors educational programs and the advancement of diabetes research. Brother Iacocca chairs the Iacocca Institute at Lehigh, and serves as the Committee Chairman for Corporate Support of the J0sl1n Diabetes Foundation. He remains chairman emeritus of the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Foundation and an Advisory Board member of Reading is Fundamental, the largest motivational reading program in the nation.

Lee Iacocca graduated from Lehigh with a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering in 1945. He continued his education, and earned a Master of Mechanical Engineering degree from Princeton University in 1946.

"Pick something you like to do!" Brother Iacocca offered a statement of advice to undergraduate Theta Chis. Perhaps the statement serves as a testimony to his own career success.

"If you find you don't like it, drop it and find something else. You can do that in the United States. You can't do that in Japan.”

"Stay mobile. but whatever you do, like it. If you like it, you work hard. and pretty soon you're successful. If you like what you're doing, it's easier to motivate others. You start by motivating a few people, then before you know it, you have a hundred, then 10,000; but you have to like what you're doing.”

In this excerpt from his profile in the Winter 1993 issue of The Rattle, Hal Sperlich (Alpha Gamma/Michigan 1951) shared his memories of working with Brother Iacocca:

Brother Sperlich's career followed a similar path of another Theta Chi, Lee Iacocca (Beta Sigma/Lehigh 1945). Both Theta Chis began their automotive careers with Ford Motor Company. Both men rose through managerial and Executive ranks at Ford. Iacocca became President, while Brother Sperlich was elected Vice President in 1970. Sperlich served in various capacities as a vice president until 1977 when he joined Chrysler, 18 months before Brother Iacoca left Ford to join Chrysler.

"Lee Iacocca was my leader for most of my automotive career at Ford and Chrysler," stated Brother Sperlich. "He was a visionary leader, a tough taskmaster, but always fun to work with...I feel we had a profound effect on one another's careers and lives.''

Indeed, Brother Iacocca cites Hal Sperlich's genius for much or his own success at Ford and Chrysler. Iacocca gives Brother Sperlich credit for developing the Ford Mustang and the Chrysler minivan, noting that the latter vehicle helped rejuvenate Chrysler during its financial crisis in the 1980s.

Additional reading:

We share this link to a profile by Car and Driver:

We also encourage you to take a look at an interview by Automotive News where Iacocca takes a look back at the Mustang's origins, including some memories of Hal Sperlich: 

Founded in 1856, Theta Chi Fraternity is a men’s collegiate fraternity with more than 191,000 initiated members and has established 240 chapters. Leadership development, personal development, and service to alma mater are fundamental to Theta Chi Fraternity’s mission.