Chrysler Corp. Chairman Lee A. Iacocca, riding a wave of personal popularity and corporate prosperity, says he was so troubled at one time by the financial problems of his near-bankrupt company that he contemplated suicide.
At a news conference here last week, Iacocca said the country needed better economic policies to help prevent farmers from committing suicide. Then he added, "I contemplated it myself, I'm not kidding you, a couple of times, when we didn't have any money in the bank" at Chrysler.
It was apparently the first time in public the ebullient Iacocca had ever mentioned the subject of suicide. A member of the Chrysler public relations staff in Detroit, when told of the remarks, said he was shocked. There is no mention of such thoughts in Iacocca's best-selling autobiography.
Later, in a private conversation, Iacocca said that while he never actually planned to kill himself, thoughts of suicide came to him late in 1980 because of Chrysler's monstrous financial problems.
"It was Nov. 10, 1980," Iacocca said. "I remember the day because when they Chrysler executives came in and said we had $1 million" in the bank, when weekly payroll and supplier bills totaled many times that amount. "So what do we do now? We muddled through that winter by selling our tank group for $350 millon to tide us over. Those were the real dark days."
Chrysler's condition has improved dramatically. Iacocca said the company has "already made a bundle of money because of America's cheap gas policies . . . . We're going to make a ton more. The biggest seller today by far in our line is our Fifth Avenue V-8, mainly because they're heavy and burn a lot of gas . . . . We make a lot of money per unit."
Texas bankers and oilmen could not have planned for a major drop in oil prices, he said. "You have to be an idiot to plan that way . . . Our energy policy, what's left if it, simply stated, is stupid." Iacocca suggests a 25 cent-a-gallon gas tax and a $10-a-barrel oil import fee.