The Last American CEO Details the Turbulent Times of Automotive Giant AMC and Its Leader Joe Cappy


"The Last American CEO" is the story of Joe Cappy as he navigated the financially drowning American Motors Company (AMC) through a period that would have destroyed almost any other company. Surviving ownership under strained circumstances with a French company and the eventual purchase of his business by Chrysler, the book details the whole journey, both the successful and bad parts, giving readers a glimpse at an automotive C-suite executive like never before.

the last american ceo

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The Last American CEO is the journey of the last CEO of American Motors Corporation (now owned by Chrysler), Joe Cappy. Cappy experienced a whirlwind life that was nothing like that of the average CEO, although his career didn’t start out that way. What started out as an interest in trying a new career direction, ended up becoming a journey during which he survived corporate backstabbing, rumors and the Renault Fuego. It is a journey that includes a 47-year legacy spanning three big car companies, resulting in the wisdom of an executive who has been through it all.

What is The Last American CEO About?

Th book focuses on the journey of AMC from a failing business to a French-owned company and them back to an American-owned company with its purchase by Chrysler. The book highlights how the decisions of leaders, good or bad, are influenced by and have the power to influence more than they realize. As AMC tries to stay afloat, the company swings between bankruptcy and profitability even while international investors are debating whether the company should be sold to the highest bidder. During it all, the book never strays from the person in the middle, Cappy, whose ability to withstand this wild ride comes from a willingness to use humor, teamwork and transparency to survive.

As shared in the book, AMC, a combination of smaller auto businesses, began as a desperate attempt to revive the auto business in the 1950s. Unfortunately, due to leadership decisions that didn’t work, AMC reached a failure from which the company could not recover. As a result, the company got a little help from French investors. And that’s where things got really complicated.

It’s time to introduce Cappy.

Cappy was an up-and-coming “numbers guy” who audited deals for the auto industry. His work exposed the excessively high fees that dealers were paying for warranties, helping to recover millions in the process. As a result, Cappy’s work got the attention of the “higher ups” and he progressed higher and higher up the career ladder. When he reached AMC, he thought he had reached a career pinnacle. Instead, he found out that his journey was just beginning and nothing would prepare him for what was to come.

Co-author Jason Vines is a communications consultant and crisis management consultant with an extensive PR background in the automotive industry including work for Chrysler, Ford and Nissan. Vines is credited with helping to promote some of the biggest launches in the automotive industry including the Jeep Cherokee.

Cappy, also the subject of the book, has served not only as CEO of AMC, but vice president of Jeep-Eagle (under Chrysler), and CEO of Dollar Thrifty Group.

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What Was Best About The Last American CEO?

The best part of The Last American CEO is the corporate biography of Cappy. Despite the sensationalism that might draw one’s attention to the book — just look at the Amazon description! —  readers who focus on the key story will come away with a deeper understanding of the struggles of a CEO.

In short, if you’re tired of the same old CEO biographies, The Last American CEO is one you will want to check out.

What Could Have Been Done Differently

While the book does great justice to the corporate legacy of Cappy and the people who worked with him, it suffers a little in format. To be specific, the content doesn’t always flow easily and can get bogged down in the details. To provide an example, Chapters 3 and 4 detail Cappy’s story while the following chapter delves into the backstory of AMC. The stories in these chapters relate to each other, but it may be a little confusing if you don’t follow along carefully.

Why Read The Last American CEO?

If you are interested in the backstory behind those car commercials for Chrysler, Jeep and Ford, The Last American CEO might offer the perfect story for you. The book delves into the mindset of a C-suite level executive as he tries to navigate car sales, a demanding and conflicted board of directors, and a highly competitive auto industry. Written by a communications expert and former CEO with a combined half a century of experience in the automobile industry, this book draws out the sensational aspects of Cappy’s story while providing a much-deserved nod to his legacy in the industry.

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Charles Franklin Charles Franklin is a Book Reviewer for Small Business Trends. He has a background as a professional reviewer, and is also a content provider and customer relations professional.

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