Job-hopping is not a new phenomenon in automotive circles, although the pace clearly is accelerating as the age of loyal worker bees comes to an end.
Some of the more notorious job changes: Lee A. Iacoccca from theMotor Co. to Corp. in 1978, and the late Semon E. (Bunkie) Knudsen from Corp. to Ford a decade earlier.
Robert A. (Bob) Lutz, who retired in 1998 as's vice chairman also moved a lot. He started his career with GM in New York, moved on to its Adam Opel AG subsidiary in Germany, then to AG and subsequently , where he rose to chairman of Ford of Europe.
Most famous is Mr. Iacocca, whose subsequent record at Chrysler during a 14-year run at the top stands out. Unlike Mr. Knudsen, who spent only 19 months at Ford, Mr. Iacocca was a 32-year Ford veteran when HF II abruptly axed him in July 1978.
A rising star at Ford — he was 36 in 1960 when he was elected a corporate vice president in charge of the Ford Div. — Mr. Iacocca rode the success of the Mustang he shepherded to market in 1964 up the corporate ladder. After HF II showed him the door, Mr. Iacocca actually stayed on Ford's payroll until October that year, relegated to a dingy office in a Ford parts depot.
Mr. Knudsen personally was recruited by HF II during a secret visit to his mansion in Bingham Farms, MI, near Detroit.
The son of William S. (Big Bill) Knudsen, a one-time high-ranking Ford executive who reportedly was fired by HF II's grandfather, founder Henry Ford, paradoxically left to join GM in 1922 and served as GM's president from 1937 to 1940.
The younger Mr. Knudsen rose quickly through the ranks, heading up Chevrolet and Pontiac and seemingly charted on a course toward the presidency.
But when GM's board met in January 1968, that prize instead went to Edward N. Cole.
Miffed at being passed over, he was ripe for the plucking. To a startled Detroit automotive community, he was installed as Ford's No. 2 executive, gliding over a batch of internal candidates, including the irrepressible Lee Iacocca, by then executive vice president in charge of Ford's North American Operations. Mr. Knudsen was 57 at the time, Mr. Iacocca was 44. HF II hired Mr. Knudsen because he reportedly wanted to spend more time on outside activities and needed a strong executive with plenty of automotive savvy and success to handle the operating side. Implicit in his decision was his reluctance to hand over the reins to Mr. Iacocca.
Messrs. Knudsen and Iacocca publicly downplayed reports that they couldn't co-exist. “He said something about ‘the organization not pulling together,’” Mr. Knudsen said the day after he was fired, giving the only hint that his presence had created an internal turf war.
After the Knudsen debacle, Mr. Iacocca looked forward to taking over triumphantly as his replacement. But HF II instead formed a troika of presidents, each reporting to him. Mr. Iacocca got North American Operations, Robert Stevenson international operations and Robert J. Hampson head of Philco-Ford and tractor operations.
Moving ahead to early 1978, Mr. Iacocca likely saw the writing on the wall when a few months before he was fired, HF II once again realigned top management, splitting responsibilities among himself, Mr. Iacocca and Philip Caldwell. The latter had previously been Mr. Iacocca's subordinate; now it was the reverse.
Typically, HF II was tight-lipped about Mr. Iacocca's firing, saying something like “I just didn't like him.”
When Chrysler Chairman John J. Riccardo came calling, Mr. Iacocca moved across town on Nov. 2, 1978, as president. Mr. Riccardo took early retirement as Chrysler's financial plight worsened in 1979. Mr. Iacocca took the reins and with a flourish ushered the company through a federal bailout, product revival and string of profitable years.