'I COULDN'T JUST PLAY GOLF ALL DAY'
(FORTUNE Magazine) – After 47 years in the auto industry, Lee Iacocca, 69, has embarked on several post-retirement careers. He remains a Chrysler consultant, for which he receives $500,000 a year and access to the company's aircraft. He gives six speeches a year at $60,000 each. He serves on the board of Kirk Kerkorian's MGM Grand and Ronald Perelman's New World Communications, a group of seven television stations. He has taken up golf again after a four-decade layoff, and has cut down to one cigar a day. Somehow, he also finds 1 1/2 hours every day to work out and has lost ten pounds. He owns homes in Detroit, Aspen, Sienna, Italy, and Indian Wells, California, where he talked in April with FORTUNE's Alex Taylor.
-- On keeping busy: The best part of not working is not having the rigidity of the 12-hour days. The auto business is tough. On the other hand, I couldn't just play golf all day -- it would kill me. I just have to be involved. I started a merchant bank that looks at the fastest-growing business in the world -- gaming. The capital investment isn't what it is in the auto business, and there aren't a hell of a lot of unions. I talk to Kerkorian a lot -- he owns 9% of Chrysler, you know. I also opened the Will Rogers Follies at a theater that I own in Branson, Missouri, and I played Wiley Post in the show last Saturday night. I had 12 lines.
-- On the auto industry: This year and next will be boom years in the auto industry, no doubt about it. Look at all the people who sat out the market in 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992. Boy, there are a lot of them. So you make hay while you can. You should be going for market share now like mad. Like mad. If you get a car buyer and he stays loyal, you can cut your advertising budgets three years from now because you won't have to get a conquest sale. In this decade, Chrysler ((should aim to)) turn out the best-trained salesmen and mechanics in the industry. The last year I was at Chrysler we spent $30 million on the Customer One program ((to teach dealers how to make customers feel at ease)). We studied how Disney and Ritz-Carlton do it, and it was a good course. But when it was over, I said, ''We're spending $30 million to tell our dealers to be polite and to smile.'' After all these years, can't we just get them to be nicer? We treat women like lepers. They've got all the money, they're doing all the buying, yet we've still got these salesmen living in the Dark Ages who say, ''What do they know about buying a car?''
-- On the U.S. vs. Japan: I think U.S. manufacturing is getting pretty productive. We learned a lot from the Japanese. We've gotten close to them, but we're not there yet. I wouldn't say Chrysler is up to Toyota's level, not by any stretch of the imagination. What's happening to the Japanese now couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of guys. When we were down, they made hay. During each OPEC crisis, they gained five points of market share. So what goes around, comes around. Now we are going to grab five points from them.
-- On the NAFTA battle: I spent 60 days last year working my tail off getting President Clinton the votes for NAFTA ((the North American Free Trade Agreement)). I got to know Clinton pretty well. He's got a good sense of humor, and he's pretty loose. He is pretty outspoken, and so am I. When I met him, I said, ''Everybody told me I was joining the Titanic because you are not with it. Well, this had better be your No. 1 priority. There is more at stake than NAFTA, Mr. President. If you don't knock off Ross Perot on this one, % you're going to have this guy biting on your ankles for four years.'' Clinton listened to me. I really think I got his mindset right. Then I said, ''Can I see your schedule for the next three months?'' I said, ''The Democrats aren't going to be for you because NAFTA goes against the unions, and Richard Gephardt ((Congressman from Missouri)) won't be for you. I want to know if you are going all-out because ((House Minority Whip)) Newt Gingrich says if you don't get out there, Republicans will be left holding the bag.'' I asked him for his schedule for the third time. On the way out he put his arm around me and said, ''I told you three times you could see the schedule. You know, Lee, you're okay, but you just don't know how to take yes for an answer.'' Gingrich and I collared Republicans one on one, selling them, making deals with them, whatever. It was the right thing to do: right for the U.S., right for Mexico.
-- On the Clintons: The night NAFTA passed, Clinton said, ''Hillary and I want you to come over to the White House and stay in the Lincoln Room tonight.'' These are little things he didn't have to do. There were other people more important than me. I have nothing against Hillary Clinton. She was very nice to me that night. She showed me to the Lincoln Room. She didn't tuck me in, but she saw me to the room and wanted to talk a little bit about health care. A very smart woman, very engaging. But I've lived long enough to know that if my wife were in Chrysler meetings, everybody would have played to her. I would never know what they thought because of their fear of pillow talk later on.