Lee Iacocca

Yes, there is a secret to duck shooting. Remarkably, it is also the secret of good management, as the flamboyant leader and hip-shooter, Lee Iacocca, who was the top man at Ford and later at Chrysler, recounts in his thought-provoking and wise Autobiography (written with William Novak).

Iacocca had a passion for duck shooting, where constant movement and change are facts of life: ‘‘You can aim at a duck and get it in your sights, but the duck is always moving. In order to hit the duck, you have to move your gun. But a committee faced with a major decision can’t always move as quickly as the events it’s trying to respond to. By the time the committee is ready to shoot, the duck has flown away.’’

Iacocca isn’t against committees, he grants that committees enable people to share their knowledge and intuitions. But when committees replace individuals, productivity begins to decline. As Iacocca told Philip Caldwell, who became the top man at Ford after Iacocca left: ‘‘The trouble with you, Phil, is that you went to Harvard, where they taught you not to take any action until you’ve got all the facts. You’ve got ninety-five percent of them, but it’s going to take you another six months to get that last five percent. And by the time you do, your facts will be out of date because the market has moved on you. That’s what life is all about ?timing.’’

You cannot wait for all the facts before taking decisions, however crucial these may be. At some point you’ve got to take what Iacocca calls ‘‘the leap of faith. First, because even the right decision is wrong if it’s made too late. Second, because in most cases there’s no such thing as certainty. There are times when even the best manager is like the little boy with the big dog waiting to see where the dog wants to go so he can take him there.’’

Indeed, you cannot always have all the facts to enable you to decide. Experience, gut-feeling have then to be relied on. Iacocca was never one of the guys ‘‘who could just sit around and strategise endlessly’’. So he didn’t wholly agree with the new breed of businessmen, ‘‘mostly people with M.B.A.’s,’’ who are wary of intuitive decisions: ‘‘Normally, intuition is not a good enough basis for making a move. But many of these guys go to the opposite extreme. They seem to think that every business problem can be structured and reduced to a case study. That may be true in school, but in business there has to be somebody around who will say: ‘Okay, folks, it’s time. Be ready to go in one hour?’’

It isn’t enough being decision-makers, managers also have to be motivators, writes Iacocca. This was brought home to him by a student of the MIT Sloan School of Management at a seminar. The student asked him who motivated his thousands of workers when he was away from the office. It was, for Iacocca, an important question as he believed that the only way to motivate people is to personally communicate with them. Iacocca recounts how a course in public speaking at the Dale Carnegie Institute trained him to think when he was on his feet, speaking extempore to the audience in front of him.

One of the basic techniques of public speaking that Iacocca says he still pursues is to keep in mind that audiences are always coming in cold. ‘‘So start by telling them what you’re going to tell them. Then tell them. Finally, tell them what you’ve already told them. I’ve never deviated from that axiom. Another technique we learned was that you should always get your audience to do something before you finish. It doesn’t matter what it is ?write your congressman, call your neighbour, consider a certain proposition. In other words, don’t leave without asking for the order.’’

In corporate life, Iacocca advises: ‘‘You have to encourage all your people to make a contribution to the common good and to come up with better ways of doing things. You don’t have to accept every single suggestion, but if you don’t get back to the guy and say, ‘Hey, that idea was terrific,?and pat him on the back, he’ll never give you another one. That kind of communication lets people know they really count.’’

This advice comes from an industrialist who had more than his share of successes. Lee Iacocca rose from the ranks to become President of Ford, only to be dethroned eight years later in a devastating power play and under most humiliating circumstances that nearly shattered him. But like a good husband, he was wise to listen to his wife Mary’s advice. ‘‘Don’t get mad,’’ she reminded him. ‘‘Get even.’’

Iacocca did just that.

Courtesy: Iacocca: An Autobiography by Lee Iacocca with William Novak, published by Bantam Books, Inc., 666 Fifth Avenue, New York.