In the second half of the 1970s and into the early 1980s, the automobile industry struggled to overcome economic weakness brought on by a combination of stagflation, rising fuel costs, regulatory pressure from Capitol Hill and intense competition from Japanese and German automakers. While these events negatively impacted each of the Big Three American automakers, Chrysler suffered the most due to its formal organizational structure, the attitude of senior management, the lack of culture within the organization and an emphasis on tasks centered on financial management rather than car design.
Chrysler's formal organizational structure preceding Iacocca's tenure involved each business line operating in separate silos; the 35 operating units had no communication with each other. There was no formal structure in place to supervise the cross-pollination of information and ideas across business units. The lack of cohesiveness and idea generation impeded management's ability to react swiftly to the outside forces that endangered Chrysler's financial health.
In addition to a poor organizational structure, Chrysler suffered from ineffective leadership. Before Iacocca, senior management was saturated with people who did not understand the auto industry. Management consisted of financial experts focused solely on tasks such as monitoring short-term results and Chrysler's stock price as opposed to a long-term vision and effective growth strategies. This led to a shortage of capital for investment in the design and engineering of new products critical to the future of Chrysler.
The example set by senior management trickled down into the informal organization at Chrysler and seriously impacted the tasks that should have been emphasized at the auto manufacturer. There was no company culture worth noting as the separate business lines were not structured to communicate with each other. As a result, Chrysler fell behind the competition in developing new designs, was unable to effectively fix design flaws in current models and was losing customer loyalty in the Chrysler brand. Iacocca's Leadership Style
Lee Iacocca's personality and management style was a perfect fit to turn around Chrysler in the early 1980's. The company was in disarray and needed an authoritarian leader who could shake things up and bring the company back to profitability through a return to the fundamentals of car manufacturing. Iacocca was not afraid to make vast changes, as illustrated in his decision to replace 33 of 35 Vice-Presidents in a three-year period. He leveraged his knowledge of the auto industry and its key players to build a new team at Chrysler. Iacocca hired personnel at Ford, GM and Volkswagen to revamp the marketing, engineering and dealer-relationship divisions. He also made some radical executive decisions such as bringing the head of the labor union onto the board of directors. His actions, while unorthodox, produced results quickly. Most notably, Iacocca...