Energy Matters

No Retirement for Auto Mogul Iacocca.

A Day in the Life of Los Angeles EV Global Motors founder and owner Lee Iacocca

Lee Iacocca pedals up the driveway of his Bel Air estate astride one of his new company's electric bikes, disappearing behind a perfectly manicured hedge, as his chief of staff Alan Himelfarb says, almost reverentially, "There he goes..."p/P>

His longtime personal assistant Irene Di Vito adds, "Sometimes we're afraid he won't come back."

Iacocca does come back, of course, reappearing from behind the hedge, wisps of gray hair blowing in the wind and a broad smile across his face. It's the kind of lighthearted moment that the 74-year-old icon doesn't seem to get enough of these days - even though he "retired" from Chrysler six years ago

"I've worked harder the last Couple months than I worked the last two years at Chrysler - by a lot," he says. "Not quite as hard as we worked when we were going bankrupt, but that's a different kind of work. That's fighting for your life. This is not that. This should be happy times, fun, discovery of new markets and new products. You're not selling hearses or coffins here. You're selling (an electric bike) that, when a guy's on it, he likes it."

Two years after launching his start-up electric bike company, EV Global Motors, the first bikes were shipped out to dealers on March 10. And while he finally got a good night's sleep last night, he's still recuperating from jet lag, having arrived from the Bahamas on business late Tuesday night. At the press conference the day before, he seemed to be going through the motions.

"Yesterday I should have stayed home; I felt weak," he says. "Due to the jet lag, I woke up at 2 in the morning and couldn't get back to sleep."

Iacocca, father of the Ford Mustang and the minivan, is not about to replicate the hard-driving days when he ran Ford and Chrysler.

"I've had my 50 years of building, and quality problems and the manufacturing and assembly line, and a zillion purchasing buyers, and all the unions. I've had enough of that," says Iacocca.

On hand this morning are Himelfarb and Di Vito - his inner circle.

Di Vito, who has been Iacocca's personal assistant since he first moved to Los Angeles four and a half years ago, is charged with screening the deluge of business proposals he receives. Himelfarb is essentially EV Global's head of operations, having been with Iacocca since the launch of the company in March 1997.

On tap for this morning is a meeting with a contractor candidate - Scott Cronk, an engineer and founder of Electric Motorbike Inc., a Northern California maker of electric motorcycles.

Iacocca is considering contracting with Electric Motorbike to conduct tests on a Taiwan-made electric scooter that EV Global wants to import. The tests would determine whether the scooter meets federal and state standards for braking, lights, safety features, etc.

Less than an hour after meeting Cronk for the first time, Iacocca calls in the young engineer/entrepreneur to hammer out a deal. That's the beauty of what Iacocca calls his virtual corporation: no unions, no board meetings, no shareholder votes. Just Iacocca quizzing a supplier and cutting a deal.

The meeting finished, Cronk, Himelfarb and Di Vito depart; Iacocca adjourns to his parlor.

"I know I'm in a bad way because of the last few weeks of this traveling, and a lot of problems getting the bike launched," says. "I probably haven't been on the treadmill in two weeks."

Not that Iacocca is a strict fitness buff.

"I have two scotches a day, every so often a third one," be says. And a Havana cigar every morning at 10:30, but not lately. Having given up his daily cigar for kent, Iacocca is looking forward to puffing again come Easter.

"What really gets me is air travel," he says. "Japan, China, Taiwan - I went so many times. I just don't want to do that anymore, .so I get people to do that for me."

Another thing that's getting old: public speaking. "I've given up giving speeches, but in a weak moment, I took a speech for April 15 in Phoenix for Andersen Consulting," he says.

That, among other things, will require him to spend some time this afternoon at EV Global's Westwood headquarters office, about three miles from his home. ("I've tried to (bike) from my house," he says. "Well, it's terrific if I can meander through the UCLA campus, but if I go up to Sunset on the hills and then swing left at Veteran, I'm going to get killed.")

Once there, Iacocca plans to make five or six "important" calls, including one to his former speechwriter. Iacocca remains on the "A-list" of the Washington Speakers Bureau, along with Colin Powell and George Bush.

"I'm up to my ass in bicycles, so I don't need any extracurricular activities, but speaking is easy," Iacocca says. "And I don't even want to tell you what they pay me. People wouldn't understand; it's a king's ransom."

When he's in town and not busy with EV Global, Iacocca relaxes around his Bel Air mansion, doing both The New York Times and Los Angeles Tunes crossword puzzles each morning.

He bought the estate and moved to L.A. four and a half years ago. "My wife at that time was a California girl, who thought Detroit was a tank town," Iacocca says. "I thought (buying and moving into the Bel Air estate) would solve the problems. We got here, and five weeks later we got divorced."

Iacocca also owns a home in Palm Springs, not far from his youngest daughter, her tennis-pro husband their two children. (His other daughter lives in Boston and runs a diabetic research foundation funded by the royalties from her father's best-selling books.)

"My kids grew up with guards on the property around the clock," he recalls. "That's not good for kids, but despite that they grew up very normal."

1999 Los Angeles Business Journal