Insights on Leadership

“Leaders are made, not born.”

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

These are among the many insights on leadership from one of Lehigh’s most successful alumni and legendary business leaders—Lee Iacocca ’45 ’69H.

Iacocca offered additional words of wisdom to the more than 80 Lehigh students who went abroad this past summer to intern at companies through the Iacocca International Internship Program, established as a result of his philanthropy. Many of the students responded to Iacocca’s offer to answer questions submitted via email. More than 80 percent of them had never traveled abroad.

Iacocca’s own experience as a global business leader led to sound advice for the interns.

Talia Dunyak ’16, who worked in Uganda to build sustainable livelihoods for rural citizens, wanted to know if Iacocca thought her international experience with an NGO would 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, conducted engineering research at the University of Science and Technology in China. Reese sought advice 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: “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 $5 million gift to endow international internships in 2011 inspired more than 40 alumni and friends of the university to match his gift with an additional $5 million. As a result, large groups of international interns will experience global learning each year, and in perpetuity.

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.

Story by Jill Spotz