Harold Sperlich, president of Chrysler Corp.'s vehicle-making operation, will retire next month after more than 30 years in the industry, including a decade with Chrysler.
"Hal's reputation as a leader of the automotive industry is richly deserved, and his contributions to Chrysler have been enormous--his dedication, hard work and talent helped save our company," Chrysler Chairman Lee A. Iacocca said.
Sperlich has long been known as a good "product man who had a great feel for what the public would want, what would sell," said David Healy, analyst with Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. in New York.
Sperlich, 58, worked closely with Iacocca at Ford until Sperlich was fired in 1977 and joined Chrysler as a vice president. Iacocca, who was fired from the Ford presidency two years later, also by then-Ford Chairman Henry Ford II, joined Chrysler as president and later chairman.
Sperlich and Iacocca were responsible for one of the most popular automobiles of the 1960s. "If Iacocca was the father of the Mustang, then (Sperlich) was the nursemaid," Healy said.
Among the products traced to Sperlich is the immensely popular minivan, which he tried but failed to introduce at Ford Motor Co. but succeeded in selling to Iacocca at Chrysler.
Sperlich, who will retire Feb. 4, will remain on Chrysler's board, but he did not outline his plans except to say that he is "looking forward to new challenges."
In his book, "Iacocca," the Chrysler chairman wrote that after joining Chrysler, he asked why Sperlich hadn't told him the extent of the company's troubles. Sperlich responded that he feared Iacocca might have turned down the job.
"He has been a close business colleague and friend for many years, and he will be missed by all of us," Iacocca said Thursday.
Sperlich, who was Chrysler's executive vice president of engineering and product development in 1979, became president of its North American automotive operations in 1981 and president of the corporation in 1984.
In November, 1985, Chrysler was reorganized into a holding company called Chrysler Corp. Beneath that umbrella was a core business called Chrysler Motors. Sperlich was named president of Chrysler Motors under then-Chrysler Vice Chairman Gerald Greenwald, another former Ford executive, who was named the business' chairman.
Sperlich had become less visible in the past year, while Greenwald emerged as the company's primary spokesman under Iacocca.
"To have been part of bringing a great company back to life was a rewarding experience. All the years at Chrysler have been exciting and challenging, but knowing what survival meant to our employees, suppliers, dealers and customers made those tough years especially gratifying," he said.