Lutz’s most famous boss, Iacocca, gets mixed reviews. Lutz applauds Iacocca for his focus, inspiration, boldness and other attributes, but writes that despite Iacocca’s public image, “there was a side that was vulnerable and insecure.”

Although Lutz led development of some of Chrysler’s hottest cars and trucks, when Iacocca reluctantly faced retirement in 1992, the word got out that his job was open to “ABL,” or “anyone but Lutz.”

There’s a faint comparison to Henry Ford II’s firing of Iacocca in 1978 because, he reportedly said, “I just don’t like you.”

While Lutz writes that he had some board support, “Lee fought it vehemently. I was too ambitious, volatile, unpredictable, undiplomatic, emotional and way too prone to saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. In short, I was too similar to Iacocca.”

Iacocca instead hired Bob Eaton, then chairman of GM of Europe, as Chrysler’s CEO. Despite being passed over, Lutz stayed on as president and chief operating officer until he retired in 1998.

“Icons and Idiots” is a chronological walk-through of Lutz’s adult life and those whose leadership had a significant influence on him, for better or worse.

He starts out with his prep-school teacher in Switzerland where Lutz was born (later becoming a U.S. citizen), Georges-Andre Chevallaz, whose “intense dedication and drive for excellence laced with humor had a profound mark on me.” Chevallaz later entered politics and wound up president of Switzerland in 1980.

Returning to the States in 1954, Lutz set his sights on becoming a Marine Corps aviator and eventually flew jets for five years, though he never saw combat, having served between the Korean and Vietnam wars.

But first he had to complete boot camp at steamy Parris Island, SC, where he came face-to-face with tough Staff Sgt, Donald Giusto, his senior drill instructor, who over 12 weeks stripped away his civilian trappings and molded him into a Marine.

“He taught the values of duty, honor, and commitment (and) of perseverance under hardship, of mental and physical pain as a necessary milestone in the achievement of a goal,” says Lutz.

After five years of active duty, Lutz enrolled in the University of California-Berkeley and earned his MBA in 1962.

Always fascinated by cars, speed and design, he had Ford in mind. However, his father, an international banker, knew then-GM CEO Fred Donner, and Donner arranged an interview at GM. Lutz was hired for $8,000 a year and assigned to GM Overseas Operations as a senior analyst in the forward planning department – his first job in the auto industry.

No one told his boss, Bob Wachtler, that he’d been hired, which got things off to a turbulent start. Still, when Wachtler barked his expectations, “It was a classic example of honest, no-holds-barred leadership communication. No pretense, no sugarcoating,” Lutz writes.

In the end, Lutz concluded that “GM and I owe him a great debt.”

Lutz’s next superior was Ralph Mason, who headed GM’s Adam Opel subsidiary in Germany. He soon discovered that Mason and his wife were heavy drinkers, but in due time came to appreciate “a core of toughness and courage that sometimes appeared when least expected.”

Despite his shortcoming, Mason “presided over a remarkable period of design and engineering creativity,” and market share and profitability also increased, Lutz explains.

His next boss was Erberhard von Keunheim, then-CEO of BMW. A baron and aristocrat, von Keunheim hired Lutz as executive vice president-sales and marketing, the company’s No.2 post, for 10 times what he’d earned at GM.

They clashed repeatedly, and Lutz departed after three years. Yet, under 23 years of the baron’s leadership, BMW went on to record “miraculous” results, Lutz writes.

“While violating many of the traits of a good leader and ruling by secrecy, fear and deft maneuvering, and a sorry lack of trust for his team, the aristocrat-cum-street-fighter has to go down as one of the most successful automotive CEOs of all time, based on the wealth he created for stockholders,” Lutz concludes.

Lutz next was recruited to join Ford’s International Operations in 1974 as managing director of Ford of Germany. His ultimate boss was FIO chief Phil Caldwell, who later rose to parent Ford’s CEO.

Lutz criticizes Caldwell for an excruciating emphasis on detail in both his personal and corporate dealings. “The feeling of unease in his presence never left me,” Lutz writes.

Although Caldwell was the antithesis of a “car guy,” as personified by Lutz, he had “one powerful sense of purpose that overrode his many quirks and foibles: He was undeviatingly focused on making Ford the quality leader of the world, surpassing the then-seemingly unbeatable Toyota.”