Lee Iacocca was born Lido Anthony Iacocca on October 15, 1924 to Nicola and Antonietta, both of whom were Italian immigrants. In 1945, Lee graduated from Lehigh University, in Bethlehem, PA. He then went on to receive a master’s degree in engineering from Princeton University in 1946. Hired as an engineer by the Ford Motor Company, he quickly proved that he was better suited for sales. It was this shift that sparked an illustrious beginning for Lee and ushered in monumental achievements for Ford, including the undertaking of the Fairlane committee and the production of the 1964 Mustang. Lee, then known to some as the “Father of the Mustang,” was made President of Ford on December 10, 1970.
In 1979, he joined forces with Chrysler and advanced to the position of CEO. With Chrysler facing bankruptcy, Lee appealed to the federal government for aid, and paid off the federal government seven years early, at a profit of $350 million to the U.S. government.
On the heels of his success, President Ronald Reagan asked Lee to undertake a private sector fundraising effort to restore both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. In the largest restoration project of its kind in American history, $170 million in individual and corporate donations were devoted to the Ellis Island main building project alone.
Lee met the love of his life, Mary McCleary, in 1948. Mary worked as a receptionist at the Ford Motor Company’s Philadelphia office. Soon thereafter, at the age of 23, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. After eight years of dating, Mary and Lee were married on September 29, 1956 and made a home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
Lee’s family was always of paramount importance. He and Mary had two daughters, Kathryn and Lia, who truly completed the Iacocca family. Despite his busy professional life, Lee was determined to balance his responsibilities at the office with those at home. In 1983, Lee suffered a personal and devastating blow. His beloved wife, Mary, died from diabetes complications after battling the disease for 34 years. She was only 57 years old. A year later, in 1984, The Iacocca Family Foundation was founded by Lee in memory of his late wife. The same year he published his autobiography, Iacocca, and gained celebrity status, selling seven million copies. He donated the proceeds from this book to his newly formed Foundation. Lee’s daughter, Kathryn, became actively involved with this cause, becoming the Foundation’s President. Under Kathryn’s guidance, the Foundation has funded innovative and promising research programs and projects that will one day lead to a cure. Today, Lee and his daughters, Kathryn and Lia, continue tirelessly in the pursuit of the Foundation’s mission.
Lee approaches diabetes with the same tenacity as he did running his businesses. He says, “Any of you who know me know that I love a challenge.”