Lee Iacocca’s death reminds us that great careers — and brands — can make a comeback

Published on July 19, 2019

I’ve got to get stop getting fired like this. People will start to think I am a drifter.” Those words were uttered by Lee Iacocca who was fired as the president of Ford Motor in 1978 after 32 years with the automotive company.

With Lee Iacocca’s recent passing at the age of 94, it’s an ideal time to learn about achieving success in your career transition from a legend who made one of the greatest comebacks ever when he revived Chrysler as CEO during the 1980s after being fired by Ford.

In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive. With this quote, Iacocca could be describing any of us who are hit by a corporate downsizing or fired.

For the individual on the receiving end, it could be the most stressful period of their lives. But, as Iacocca states, harness the stress and anger and channel it into your strategic search for your next career opportunity. Your full-time job is securing your next job so focus on the primary objective and transform your anger into positive action.

As you go through life, there are thousands of little forks in the road, and there are a few really big forks – those moments of reckoning, moments of truth. There’s no greater fork than finding yourself out of work, but change is good. As Iacocca states, this really big fork is a moment of truth. Call a time-out, take inventory of your professional and personal life, consult with those who are closest to you in your network and use this fork in the road to start the next new chapter in your career. In other words, don’t just race to another job, but strategically target and prospect your next opportunity.  

Once you take inventory of your life with a focus on your career, you need to do what Iacocca recommends when he says, If you want to make good use of your time, you’ve got to know what’s most important and then give it all you’ve got. You need to prioritize whats most important in the next phase of your career – from the industry to the size and culture of the company to work-life balance, opportunities and compensation. Once you map out those critical priorities, proactively focus your time, effort and relationships on what’s most important in the next part of your career.  

Once you set priorities, you need to mobilize the right people in your network which aligns with Iacocca when he stated, “Pick good people and set the right priorities.” After you have identified the sector and specific companies where you want to take your talents, select the right people in your network to help you get there. It’s not who you know. Rather, its all about who knows who that can help you secure that all-important informational interview at a company youre targeting and prospecting.

Theres no substitute for accurate knowledge. Know yourself, know your business, know your men.” Iacocca could have simply said that theres no substitute for research and the knowledge that comes with that extensive research. Once a contact in your network secures an opportunity for you to interview with someone at one of your target companies, you need to conduct more research than you have ever done in your life. You need to know everything about the company, their business, their competitors and every single thing you can uncover about the executive youre about to meet.

You not only need to know their title and where they went to college, but review every presentation they delivered at a conference and what they do in their free time. Its this type of research which Iacocca describes will not only impress the interviewer, but also motivate them to refer you for an open position at their company.

Whether a formal face-to-face interview or an informal cup-of-coffee meeting, you have to heed two pieces of advice from Iacocca. You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere and Talk to people in their own language.”After youve determined your priorities, set your strategy, mobilized your network and secured an interview, now comes the most challenging part. You need to be able to articulate the value you can deliver to an organization and specifically, the individual conducting the interview. Well before you’re in the hot seat, you must develop your elevator pitch and personal brand narrative.

You need to articulate those in a way that not only exudes confidence, but in a way that will be best received by the interviewer. In other words, you need to read the room quickly and accurately. You must speak in the language the interviewer is seeking. If theyre conducting an interview in a highly formal manner, you need to formalize your responses. If it appears, theyre looking to engage in an informal conversation, you need to be prepared to do the same. The candidate who ultimately wins the position is the one who as Iacocca said gets their ideas across the best and speaks in the language of their audience.  

Finally, whether you secured your next opportunity or are still in the process, throughout your career always adhere to Iacocca’s recommendation when he says, The thing that lies at the foundation of positive change, the way I see it, is service to a fellow human being.” In speaking to many executives who experienced an unexpected transition in their careers, they unanimously agreed that it was their service to others that led to opening doors for them.

Mark Beal is a columnist at Grit Daily. He recently authored his third book, Decoding Gen Z: 101 Lessons Generation Z Will Teach Corporate America, Marketers & Media. A veteran brand marketer, he is a professor of public relations and marketing at Rutgers University. A keynote speaker on such topics as Generation Z; the transition from college to a career; and preparing high school students for college, Mark previously authored 101 Lessons They Never Taught You In College and 101 Lessons They Never Taught You In High School About Going To College

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