Notes from ‘Iacocca: An Autobiography’


Iacocca: An Autobiography is a book that talks about the American Legend Lee Iacocca’s personal and professional story. Here are some notable quotes/ideas from the book that I thought are worth sharing.
1. “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. If you want to make good use of your time, you’ve got to know what’s most important and then give it all you’ve got. Anyone who wishes to become a problem-solver in business has to learn fairly early how to establish priorities. Setting priorities and using your time well aren’t things you can pick up at the HBS, but they are the ones you have to develop on your own.”
2. “There are two important things about a candidate that you just can’t learn from one short job interview. The first is whether he is lazy, and the second is whether he has got any horse sense.”
3. “The real action at business happens in marketing or sales where you get to work with people rather than machines.”
4. Learning the skills of any craft takes time and effort. We need to practice them over and over again until they become second nature. Mistakes are a part of life; you cannot avoid them. All you can hope is that they will not be too expensive and that you do not make the same mistake twice.
5. Many customers do not know what they want. So, a part of the salesperson’s job is to help them find out.
6. “The only thing you’ve got going for you as a human being is your ability to reason and your common sense. That is the only real advantage we’ve got over the apes.”
7. “Setbacks are a natural part of life, and you’ve got to be careful how you respond to them. If I had sulked too long, I probably would have got myself fired.”
8. “The discipline of writing something down is the first step towards making it happen. There’s something about putting your thoughts on paper that forces you to get down to specifics. That way, it is harder to deceive yourself – or anybody else.”
9. A quarterly review system works for several reasons, esp in a big company. One of them being it keeps people from getting buried. This can improve the working relationship between the manager and his boss. In a way it is self-regulating.
10. “Having some expertise in one area does not translate into skill or experience in another.”
11. “You are responsible for gathering as many relevant facts and projections as you possibly can. However, at some point, you’ve got to take that leap of faith. First, because even the right decision is wrong if it is made too late. Second, because in most cases there’s no such thing as certainty. When you do not have all the facts, you sometimes have to draw on your experience. After a certain point, when most of the relevant facts are in, you find yourself at the mercy of the law of diminishing returns. That is why a certain amount of risk-taking is essential, and you can always correct your mistakes as you go along.”
12. “Despite what the textbooks say, most important decisions in corporate life are made by individuals, not by committees. My policy ahs always been to the democratic all the way to the point of decision. You always need committees, because that is where people share their knowledge and intentions. However, when committees replace individuals then productivity begins to decline.”
13. “In addition to being decision-makers, managers also have to be motivators. The only way to motivate people is to communicate with them.”
14. “Some basic techniques of public speaking – Start by telling the audience what you are going to tell them. Then tell them. Finally, tell them what you’ve already told them. The most fulfilling thing for me as a manager is to watch someone the system has labeled as just average or mediocre come into his own, all because someone has listened to his problems and helped him solve them. The reason they are following you is not because you are providing some mysterious leadership. It is because you are following them.
That is what Bob Hope is doing when he sends an advance man to scout his audience so that he can make jokes that are special to them and their situation. Clearly, public speaking does not mean impersonal speaking.” – Music.
15. “You might be able to do the work of two people, but you cannot be two people. Instead, you have to inspire the next guy down the line and get him to inspire his people.”
16. “He cannot get along with people? Then he is got a real problem because that is all we’ve got around here. No dogs, no apes – only people. Moreover, if he cannot get along with his peers, what good is he to the company? Then there’s the prima donna. Nobody like this type, although if he is sufficiently talented, he may be tolerated.”
17. A person with a strong ego – knows his own strengths. He is confident. He has a realistic idea of what he can accomplish, and he moves purposefully toward his goal.
A person with large ego – always look for recognition and that can be destructive.
18. “The biggest problem facing American business today is that most managers have too much information. It dazzles them, and they do not know what to do with it all.”
19. In particular industries, being ahead of your time is a great advantage. However, in the car industry, coming out with a new product too early is just as bad as being too late. We can only sell what people are willing to buy.
20. “In the next few years, Americans would have more money than ever before to spend on transportation and entertainment. Disposable income was on the rise.”
21. “When it comes to naming a car it is always a battle because the choice is subjective and the process can get pretty emotional.”
22. “When the product is right, you do not have to be a great marketer.”
23. “Whenever you are trying to promote a brand name, your first task is to make clear where the brand is available.”
24. “Success is one company does not always guarantee success in another.”
25. “There are only two ways to make more money: you can sell more goods or spend less on overhead.”
26. “The speed of the boss is the speed of the team.”
27. “In Europe family money still meant something. People still cared who your grandparents were.” – Collectivistic culture to a certain extent and not entirely individualistic like the US.
28. “Mushroom Treatment – throw manure at people and keep them in the dark.”
29. “When you die, if you’ve got five real friends, you’ve had a great life.”
30. “All I had to do was review my history and my autobiography was staring me in the face.” – Music
31. “In any dynasty, the first instinct is self-protection. Anything good, or bad, that might affect the dynasty becomes a potential problem in the mind of the man who heads it.”
32. “I am not a high spender, but I appreciate the achievement a high salary represents.”
33. “You think making money is hard? Wait until you try giving it away.”
34. At the lowest point in your life, you will realize that things can only get better from then on.
35. “Problems always lead to other problems. When you have a guy who is not very sure of himself on the job, the very last thing he wants is a guy backing him up who is sure of himself. As a result, one incompetent manager brings along another. Moreover, all of them hide behind the overall weakness in the system.”
36. “Each guy has to have a management development plan early in his career. He has to be given enough time on a job to prove that he really learned that particular area.”
37. “You do not want to overdo specialization, because if you carry it to extremes, you’ll never have general managers. Still, not everybody should be trained for general management.”
38. “And if morale becomes low, the place becomes a sieve. All kinds of secrets start flowing out. When guys are upset and worried about going bankrupt and losing their jobs, then you’ve tripled your chances for leaks.”
39. “California is really the mirror into the future. Sometimes, we do not like everything we see when we gaze into that mirror, but we’d be crazy if we did not take a good, hard look.”
40. People, product, profits – in that order. Without people, we cannot do much with the other two.
41. “Easy to manufacture – that is the key to quality. Everything you do for quality improves your productivity.”
42. “I have seen many men die only a few months after they retire. Sure, working can kill you. However, so can not working.”
43. When it comes to firing employees, people get laid off for wrong reasons, sometimes. They could be victims of bad management.
44. “Always think in terms of other person’s interests.”
45. “It is the old Catch-22. Want a loan? Show us that you do not need it, and then we’ll give it to you. If you are rich, if there’s money in the bank, there’s always plenty of credit. However, if you do not have the cash, then you cannot get any.”
46. “Credibility is something you can earn only over time.”
47. “People are hungry to be led.” – Just like how dogs are?
48. “Because the word ‘diabetes’ rarely appears on the death certificate, the public underestimates the severity of the problem.”
49. “The mass media tend to focus on the very rich and the very poor, but it is the middle class that gives us stability and keeps the economy rolling. If the middle class is content, we’ll never have a civil war or a revolution.”
50. “Let future generations worry about it. We will not be around then.” However, the future has arrived, and some of us are still around. Today we are all paying the price for our complacency. – Global Warming
51. “Thirty and out makes me furious. It is a crime to retire a guy just because he is worked thirty years. At fifty, he is juts hitting his stride. By then he has a wealth of experience and a variety of skills. No matter how sophisticated something like paid personal holidays sounds, there’s no logical way you can pay a guy just to stay at home.”
52. “Freedom is just the ticket of admission, but if you want to prosper and survive, there’s a price to pay.”