Lee Iacocca with Thomas Roman ‘98

Lee Iacocca '45 speaks with Thomas Roman ‘98, a participant in the Global Village.

$5 Million Gift from the Iacocca Family Foundation

The gift will endow the Iacocca Institute and support Lehigh’s global initiatives.

The Iacocca Family Foundation has made a $5 million gift to endow the Iacocca Institute and support global initiatives.

The Lee A. Iacocca Institute Endowment Fund will be established as a matching gift of $4 million. An additional $1 million match will support Lehigh’s overall global initiatives. Ultimately, when the match is fully realized, the Iacocca Institute will benefit from philanthropic investments totaling $8 million, while the university’s global initiatives will receive $2 million. 

“This generous gift will continue the Iacocca Institute’s unparalleled successes in training the global leaders of the future and further the tremendous legacy of the late Lee Iacocca ’45 and his vision of international educational leadership,” said Lehigh President John D. Simon ’19P.

That, according to Iacocca’s daughter and president of the Iacocca Family Foundation, Kathryn Iacocca Hentz, is exactly what her father would have wanted. “He felt it was important to get people together, to have them communicate and work together, because that’s how you understand someone else’s culture. Our board is very excited about this, and we believe it will, over time, make a real difference to everyone who comes through the door at Lehigh—and then the world they go out into.”

Lee Iacocca with daughters Kathryn Iacocca Hentz and Lia Iacocca Assad

Lee Iacocca with daughters, from left, Kathryn Iacocca Hentz and Lia Iacocca Assad

Cheryl Matherly, vice president and vice provost for international affairs, said the endowment will continue “the rich tradition that Lee Iacocca began when he funded the Iacocca Institute, Global Village and the Iacocca International Internship program, at a time when universities were not really thinking about experiential international learning.

“So many of the programs that make Lehigh a globally engaged institution have come from his vision. I can't think of a better way to recognize and honor Lee’s legacy of Lehigh as a global institution than by securing the future of the Iacocca Institute and the other intensive intercultural leadership programs for which it has been a catalyst,” she said.

The Iacocca Institute leads innovative programs that combine immersion in an extremely diverse living community with learning experiences in leadership, entrepreneurship, and more. It provides year-round online and summer residential programs for adults and high school students from the United States and around the world.

The institute’s flagship program, the Global Village, was launched with Iacocca’s help in 1997 and has more than 2,250 alumni representing 141 countries. It is an intensive, five-week program on the campus of Lehigh University that teaches adults business, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills while preparing them to thrive in a global community.

“The endowment expands our capacity to be a center for global leadership innovation, to create environments and experiences that start a lifelong journey for participants in a global network,” said Kira Mendez, director of the Iacocca Institute. “It changes their view of who they are in the world and what they can do.”

A Lehigh Legacy

Lehigh was of lifelong importance to Lido “Lee” Iacocca ’45, a dedicated philanthropist, visionary automaker and influential business leader who was considered one of the greatest CEOs of all time. The Allentown native graduated in 1945 with a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering.

He was a visionary in understanding that global experiences impact individuals' lives, as well as the business world.

Lia Iacocca Assad

Iacocca was president of Ford Motor Company, where he was the driving force behind the Mustang in the mid-1960s. He then became chairman and CEO of Chrysler Corporation, and was responsible for the company’s turnaround from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. He retired in 1992.

He led the fundraising campaign to acquire the Mountaintop Campus from Bethlehem Steel while simultaneously starting the Iacocca Institute, originally dedicated to increasing the global competitiveness of American organizations before evolving to focus on challenging the next generation of young global leaders. In honor of his contributions, Lehigh established four Iacocca chairs in 1991, one in each of the colleges at the time, as well as the Iacocca Scholarship.

In 2011, Iacocca returned to Lehigh at the age of 86 to deliver a challenge to Lehigh alumni, parents and friends. He would match, up to $5 million, any gifts in support of international internships–real-world global work-abroad opportunities to enrich the student experience. The challenge was met in 2015.

Iacocca served as an honorary trustee of the university and was an honorary co-chair of GO: The Campaign for Lehigh. He received the Lehigh Alumni Award, the highest honor bestowed on an alumnus, and the distinguished Alumni Award from Lehigh’s department of industrial and systems engineering in 2010. He passed away in 2019.

Iacocca’s daughter and Lehigh trustee Lia Iacocca Assad said her father was proud of his lifetime association with Lehigh, both as a student and a philanthropist. “He was a visionary in understanding that global experiences impact individuals' lives, as well as the business world.

Story by Cynthia Tintorri

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