Iacocca corresponds with students traveling abroad

“Leaders are made, not born.”

“We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.”

These are among the many insightful thoughts on leadership from one of Lehigh’s most successful alumni and legendary business leadersLee Iacocca ’45 ’69H.

Iacocca has offered additional words of wisdom to the more than 80 Lehigh students who went abroad to intern at companies this summer through the Iacocca International Internship Program, established as a result of his philanthropy. Many of the students responded to Iacocca’s offer to personally answer questions submitted via email. More than 80 percent of them had never traveled internationally. Iacocca’s own experience as a global business leader led to sound advice for the interns.

Talia Dunyak, ’16 is in Uganda working to build sustainable livelihoods for rural citizens. Talia, a senior, wanted to know if Iacocca thinks her international experience with an NGO will translate into a successful future career in mainstream business. “The world is growing smaller all the time," Iacocca told her, "so we need to know our neighbors, how they live, how they think and what they aspire to be. There are so many important skills that you will develop through this internship including problem-solving and cultural competency. You will learn how to understand, communicate, and successfully work with people across cultures. These are all important skills that will transfer to your future business career.”

Nicholas Reese ’17, a civil engineering major, is conducting engineering research at the University of Science and Technology in China. Nicholas sought advice from Iacocca regarding how to acclimate to a foreign lifestyle and make the most of his experience. Iacocca, who has traveled extensively for business over the span of his career, offered the following, “Read all that you can about the area of China that you are visiting including its history, customs, food, and beliefs, so you will not be surprised. Remember, everyone comes away with something different that is important. It is really the people with whom you will meet that make the experience enriching.”

Iacocca’s generous gift of $5 million to endow international internships in 2011 resulted in more than 40 alumni and friends of the university matching his gift with an additional $5 million. As a result of this support, the largest group of international interns will experience global learning each year, and in perpetuity. This summer’s cohort recently departed to almost 30 destinations, including Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Portugal.

Iacocca’s desire to support international experiences at Lehigh stems from his own successful experience as an undergraduate. He earned a degree in industrial engineering in 1945 and received an honorary degree in 1969. Iacocca explained, “My Lehigh experience was wonderful. It is the reason why I have remained involved with the university for more than seven decades.”

Iacocca’s philanthropy includes leading the fundraising effort to obtain the Mountaintop Campus from Bethlehem Steel in the mid-1980s and spearheading the Iacocca Institute and Global Village for Future Leaders of Business and Industry, an annual, five-week summer program in leadership development, which has brought 1,750 young leaders to Lehigh from more than 133 countries.

Lehigh President John D. Simon and Vice President of Advancement Joseph P. Kender Jr. ’87 recently presented Iacocca with the Lehigh Alumni Award, the highest award bestowed on an alumnus, for his longstanding dedication to the university.  “I am continually impressed by the Lehigh alumni whom I have had the privilege of meeting and notice a common similarity among them,” explained Simon. “Lehigh has mastered the ability to prepare graduates to use the knowledge they learn—and apply it in the real world. In short, Lehigh alumni make things happen. The university’s successful international internship program, endowed through the generosity of Mr. Iacocca and many loyal supporters, plays a vital role in the university’s successful education of its students.” 

Lehigh’s international internship program provides students with opportunities to participate in an internship, research, or a practicum experience in organizations throughout the world. The internship is a full-time experience, lasting six to 12 weeks, offering students the ability to gain practical, career-related experience and a heightened global perspective. To date, more than 200 Lehigh students have had the opportunity to travel overseas as an international intern since the program started in 2011.

Story by Jill Spotz