‘I hire people brighter than me and then I get out of their way.’ Nine of Lee Iacocca’s best quotes on leadership

The quotable CEO died on Tuesday at the age of 95.

‘I hire people brighter than me and then I get out of their way.’ Nine of Lee Iacocca’s best quotes on leadership
Lee Iacocca [Photo: Harry Langdon/Getty Images]

Lee Iacocca, the straight-talking CEO who is credited with saving Chrysler from near-bankruptcy in the 1980s, has died. He was 94.


Iacocca, the son of Italian immigrants, started working at Ford Motor Company in 1946 and quickly rose through the ranks, and he was eventually named president in 1970. He was a major figure in the development of the Ford Mustang, the first vehicle of its kind, and helped the company soar to record profits. Despite that, he was fired by Henry Ford Jr. in 1978 on the grounds that the family scion “just did not like him,” according to the New York Times. In his 1984 biography, Iacocca described his firing as like getting “kicked off Mt. Everest.”

He was then hired by Chrysler Corp. in 1978 and became the company’s CEO in 1979, helping bring the company back from the brink of bankruptcy by convincing the U.S. government that Chrysler was an integral part of the national economy and should be saved. The Treasury Department gave him the requested loan, and Chrysler repaid it quickly and early. “We at Chrysler borrow money the old-fashioned way. We pay it back,” he said in a speech in 1983. Chrysler’s recovery and the advent of the Chrysler minivan helped cement Iacocca’s legacy as a CEO, as did his forthright way with words.

His 1984 book, Iacocca: An Autobiography (which he wrote with William Novak), became a runaway best seller. The eminently quotable tome includes some of Iacocca’s very wise words on leadership and innovation and how the two frequently go hand in hand.

Here are nine of his most repeated quotes:

  • “I hire people brighter than me and then I get out of their way.”
  • “In my book, if you’re not No. 1, you’ve got to innovate.”
  • “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.”
  • “Motivation is everything. You can do the work of two people, but you can’t be two people. Instead, you have to inspire the next guy down the line and get him to inspire his people.”
  • “We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.”
  • “Start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees, motivate them and reward them. If you do all those things effectively, you can’t miss.”
  • “Decisiveness is the one word that makes a good manager.”
  • “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.”
  • “Any supervisor worth his salt would rather deal with people who attempt too much than with those who try too little.”

About the author

Melissa Locker is a writer and world renowned fish telepathist.