Success Stories By Dick Kazan - Valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life
Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable
lessons on how to succeed in business and in life.
The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on February 20, 2007

Could your ideas be bold enough to make history?

Yes they could. Today I’ll tell you about Bob McCurry whose ideas made automotive history, how he got them and how you too could think of or find ideas that could make history.

Beginning as a Chrysler management trainee in 1950, over the years McCurry’s bold ideas led him into Chrysler’s top management. Later he became a Toyota executive vice president at their American headquarters in Torrance, CA, where late in his career, he got some of his best ideas.

Let’s look at a few of his ideas.

Late in 1974, McCurry was stuck with a huge inventory of unsold Chrysler products and he was under tremendous pressure to sell them. But no-one could think of a way to get the public to buy them.

So over the Christmas holidays, McCurry and his team came up with something daring. And three weeks later, he risked his career to implement it.

“Buy a car, get a check!” shouted sportscaster and Dodge spokesman Joe Garagiola in a Super Bowl halftime ad in 1975. Today, car and truck rebates are common but at that time, no-one had ever done such a thing and it set off an explosive response.

After the game, and for days afterward, crowds flooded into Chrysler agencies and claimed their checks by buying every car and truck in sight. Competitors were stunned and quickly adopted the concept of cash rebates, 0% financing, etc. as their own.

In another of McCurry’s bold moves, in 1970, U.S car companies built and sold big cars because big cars made big profits. But McCurry, then general manager of the Dodge Division saw a vast number of potential buyers who wanted fuel efficient, quality small cars and couldn’t get them.

Chrysler and other U.S. car makers ignored the market but not McCurry. He met with Mitsubishi who built quality small cars and who was anxious to come to the U.S.

But Mitsubishi couldn’t come because they had no U.S. dealership network to sell and service their cars. McCurry had a solution. He cut a deal giving Dodge dealers exclusive U.S. rights to Mitsubishi small cars and in 1971, introduced the Mitsubishi built Dodge Colt.

This gave Chrysler quality small cars to sell without having to spend a fortune and years to design and produce them. This turned out to be a financial bonanza for Chrysler, who also invested in Mitsubishi, eventually owning 37% of the Japanese company. Only in 2005 did DaimlerChrysler sell the last of those shares.

But a serious problem developed between Chrysler and McCurry. Instead of offering top quality, Chrysler and the other U.S. car companies were often building shoddy products. He felt this was a colossal mistake but no matter how hard he tried, he could not change their minds.

Then one day in 1978, the brakes failed on his wife Jane’s Plymouth Volare and she almost drove her car into a lake. That was the last straw. He quit his top job and left behind his big salary.

Looking for a car company that valued quality as he did, McCurry found it in Toyota. They hired him to head their U.S. sales division along with Japanese executive Yukiyasu Togo.

Just as he had done with Chrysler, McCurry built extensive personal relationships among his dealers and he often showed up unannounced to inspect dealerships to ensure they were well run and to confirm that customers were pleased. And he listened and he heard new ideas.

Whether at Chrysler or Toyota, many of his best ideas came from customers like you and me who told him what they would buy and dealers who told him what they could sell if it was available. And he got ideas from employees because they knew he would listen and he had the courage to act on them.

McCurry persuaded Toyota to phase out their boxy Japanese style cars and join him in creating new designs for the American market. With him and his team, they developed the Camry sedan, which became the best selling car in the U.S.

And despite Detroit’s skepticism that a small-car maker like Toyota could ever become successful building a high-end luxury car line for the American market, he convinced Toyota to try it.

You’ve probably heard of what McCurry helped them create, the Lexus luxury line. It became a tremendous success, highly respected and copied in Detroit and by car makers everywhere.

In 1993, when McCurry retired as vice chairman of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., they introduced another of his innovations, the small Toyota pickup truck, yet another winner.

What can we learn from Bob McCurry?

1) Be a good listener. Even as you read this newsletter, don’t you have ideas that could make a product or a process better if only others would listen to you.

2) Have the courage to act. The world has plenty of great ideas, as the Silicon Valley has shown us. It needs more people like McCurry brave enough to act on them.

3) Make quality the foundation of your success. As we saw in the 1980’s when U.S. car makers surrendered their leadership to foreign manufacturers, quality really should have been what Ford used to call “Job One.”

4) Keep an open mind. What sounds strange today may become commonplace tomorrow. In the mid-1980’s, the cell phone was an odd concept, as was the Internet 10-years later. And Polaroid laughed off digital cameras until the company wound up in bankruptcy.

At the age of 83, Bob McCurry recently passed away just as Toyota introduced yet another of his ideas. In their San Antonio, TX factory the large heavy-duty 2007 Tundra pickup trucks went into production.

Success Tip of the Week: Listen closely and act on the best ideas. You may have great results or you may fail, but you will find taking bold action on compelling ideas is habit forming and like Bob McCurry, it will lead you to outstanding results.

In the next KazanToday: A tale from ancient Greece with a lesson that could change your life.

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Many of these short, inspirational success stories are about people from all walks of life who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve remarkable results. These stories contain practical advice and a recipe for success for each of these renowned individuals. Some of their stories may help you to avoid some of the costly and time consuming mistakes that many of us make in life and at work. Learn from some of history's greatest winners on how to become a winner yourself, no matter what the obstacle, and no matter how daunting the task before you may seem. Good luck!