5 lessons learned from Lee Iacocca’s insights on leadership and innovation

While always maintaining humility and charisma, Lee Iacocca transformed the auto industry and encouraged dealers to cultivate innovation.

While most people have heard of innovation gurus of today such as Tesla’s Elon Musk, some may not know about one of the most prominent icons in the auto industry from the last century, Lee Iacocca. Not only was he the highest-paid executive in the U.S. at one point, but he was also a New York Times best-seller and a beloved innovator that had, in part, gotten the auto industry where it is today. Though Iacocca passed away in 2019, his legacy undoubtedly lives on through some of the most critical insights he offered during his 40+ year career. While it would be impossible to name a few of his lessons as the greatest, here are some of the most popular ones he left us with. 

“Innovation is the only way to win.”

It is well-established that innovation is required to stay relevant in any industry, including the auto industry. Consumers are always interested in both brand new and improved technologies, which auto dealers and everyone in the auto industry must keep up with in order to run successful businesses. A major component of meeting business goals is being able to adapt to new concepts, which allows the auto industry to continue offering customers unique products and accessories. Keeping up with innovation gives industry professionals an advantage over their competitors and leads to process changes within organizations that result in new business as well as customer retention.

“You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your ideas won't get you anywhere.” 

Iacocca said there is no doubt many people have great ideas, but if they do not know how to communicate them to others, the potential may go untapped. Solid communication has always been a staple of successful business, as it gives everyone involved a clear and concise view of what an innovative idea is, why it is important, and how it can help the business and/or customers. In addition, being able to relay ideas to others also gives the opportunity for useful feedback and collaboration.

“The most successful businessman is the man who holds onto the old just as long as it is good and grabs the new just as soon as it is better.”

Innovation is great and necessary, but Iacocca always noted that old ideas and processes do not become obsolete just because new ones arise. The auto industry – especially dealers – has a lot of established procedures and strategies that have worked for many years, and a balance between old and new needs to be created. Of course, if a new idea is proven to be better than an old one, successful people and businesses need to quickly embrace it. However, certain things may be best unchanged for the moment, and businesses should always be working to achieve an equilibrium between old and new. 

“The ability to concentrate and to use your time well is everything if you want to succeed in business--or almost anywhere else for that matter.”

We hear a lot about “time management,” and Iacocca agreed it is critical for success. The auto industry is always changing and has innumerable moving parts, which can make it hard to keep up. While it can definitely be difficult, those in the industry can find ways to prioritize what is most important while also making sure to stay aware of new innovations. There are many different strategies automotive professionals and dealers can utilize such as advanced scheduling and analytics programs as well as distributing work across teams as efficiently as possible. 

“The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”

Iacocca even brought some psychology into his insights, stating that one’s mindset has a significant impact on his or her life. This extends to the auto industry, as dealers and other auto professionals must keep a positive mindset regarding growth, change, and innovation – even though they can be scary. Being open and welcoming to new ideas, processes, and technologies can help an organization navigate innovation and keep up with the latest developments in the industry. 


These quotes are just a few illustrating the long legacy of wisdom that Lee Iacocca left for leaders and other innovative professionals to learn from. While always maintaining humility and charisma, he transformed the auto industry and encouraged dealers and other organizations to cultivate innovation while also leaning on proven solutions. Overall, with all of the great enlightenment Iacocca gave throughout his cherished career, it’s no wonder the Harvard Business Review once referred to him as “the first modern example of a charismatic business leader.” 

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Kimberly Hurley
Kimberly Hurley
Kimberly Hurley is a contributing writer and investigative journalist for CBT News, with over a decade of experience specializing in automotive, healthcare, and manufacturing. She enjoys working with industry professionals throughout the world to develop engaging, and accurate content.

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