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A Strong America

Lee Iacocca and American Patriotism: We Need More Leaders Like Him

Auto exec worked tirelessly to deliver success for his companies and believed in our country's potential

The nation is still mourning the loss of Lee Iacocca (shown above left), one of the most brilliant business leaders in U.S. history, at the age of 94.

The Pennsylvania-born auto executive and corporate leader passed away last week due to complications from Parkinson’s disease.

Iacocca is known for catapulting the success of Ford and for bringing Chrysler back to life. He’s also known for his hard work, determination and grit.

Just as importantly, Iacocca was a proud American and patriot — so much so that President Ronald Reagan appointed him to head the foundation to raise funds for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Related: Lee Iacocca, Auto Industry Icon, Is Gone at Age 94

As a former Hollywood actor, Reagan knew the power of imagery. And what better way to motivate people in a major fundraising effort than by bringing in a successful business leader who also espoused the values of freedom and capitalism? On July 4, 1986, the restored Statue of Liberty was unveiled after Iacocca helped raise over $500 million for the effort.

Iacocca credited the generosity of grandparents to schoolchildren and a commitment to the restoration of those great monuments of freedom. In comments he made about the unveiling, he said he felt overwhelming pride in our country.

Thirty-three years later, patriotism and pride in America are shrinking. A recent Gallup poll found that only 45 percent of adults identified as “extremely proud” to be American.

Related: Democrats Ashamed of Our Country, Gallup Finds

What has changed since Iacocca led one company back from the brink of bankruptcy and American citizens to care about restoring monuments to our great history?

Everything.

Iacocca worked tirelessly to guarantee success for his companies and his employees on the front line. He proved it at Chrysler, when his hard-nosed actions to stop an inevitable bankruptcy saved over 500,000 jobs. He didn’t do this by denigrating the system or pointing to past mistakes. He did it by recognizing and embracing the full power of the American dream and spirit.

Corporate leaders today should rip a page from Iacocca’s rule book and plaster it on their boardroom walls. Too many executives today are turning their backs on what America stands for by refusing to celebrate our history (even when the historic context may not be a perfect fit for the present day).

A prime example? Nike pulled its Betsy Ross flag-themed sneaker from the market because a liberal activist-athlete (and paid spokesperson), Colin Kaepernick, felt that design was offensive.

Really? The same flag was used at the second inaugural of former President Barack Obama — yet there was no stir back then (see the photo just below here).

If Nike had actually done its homework, the company would have known the facts and gone ahead with the launch, knowing that its customers and America’s capitalistic economy — not a whiny celebrity — are what drive their profits.

Related: Nike Under Fire: The Betsy Ross Flag the Company Pulled Was Used at Obama’s Inauguration

In his autobiography, Iacocca shared this thought: “The great issues facing us today are not Republican issues or Democratic issues. The political parties can debate the means, but both parties must embrace the end objective, which is to make America great again.”

This passionate quote had nothing to do with President Donald Trump — Iacocca’s book came out 35 years ago (one of its chapters was even called, “Making America Great Again”). Yet the philosophy of wanting to unite and uplift all Americans for the betterment of the country is the same. With the current U.S. unemployment rate at 3.6 percent — a 49-year low — and over 156 million people working, we are on the right path right now.

For what it’s worth, Iacocca also wrote this in his autobiography: “I don’t want the government interfering in the operations of my company — or any company, for that matter. Believe me, the existing regulations are bad enough.”

And he wrote this: “Government planning doesn’t have to mean socialism. All it means is having a game plan, an objective. It means coordinating all the pieces of economic policy — instead of setting it piecemeal, in dark rooms, by people who only have their own vested interests at heart.”

Iacocca’s life and his beliefs remind us that we need to look at the red, white and blue — and not be divided by red and blue states, especially since our economy is booming and our nation is positioned for historic growth.

Related: Trump Communicated a Powerful Message That Long Will Be Remembered

It’s time for the next generation of business executives to follow in the footsteps of Iacocca. It’s time for corporate leaders to bravely step up and salute all of the opportunities America offers its people.

When this happens, patriotism will once again flourish.

John Di Lemme is president and CEO of DDG, Inc. (www.GiantGoals.com), a strategic business consulting firm based in West Palm Beach, Florida. As a global turnaround specialist, he has generated over $100 million for his corporate and entrepreneurial clients.