Sergio Marchionne, saviour of Fiat, dies
The former chief executive of carmaker Fiat-Chrysler, Sergio Marchionne, has died in hospital in Zurich aged 66.
He was replaced four days ago when his health worsened following complications from surgery on his right shoulder.
Mr Marchionne, who was also Ferrari's chairman, had led the combined company for more than a decade and planned to step down next year.
Mr Marchionne has been succeeded by Briton Mike Manley, head of the Italian-American firm's Jeep division.
"Unfortunately, what we feared has come to pass. Sergio Marchionne, man and friend, is gone," said group chairman John Elkann, a member of the Agnelli family that controls the company.
Mr Elkann praised Mr Marchionne's "values of humanity, responsibility and open-mindedness".
He added: "My family and I will always be grateful for what he has done."
The manager, known for his folksy, colourful turns of phrase and for his dark cashmere sweaters no matter the occasion, was the darling of the automotive analyst community.
Even when expressing doubts at his audacious targets, they expressed admiration for his adept deal-making. That included getting GM to pay $2 billion to sever ties with Fiat, key to relaunching the long-struggling Italian carmaker, and the deal with the US government to take Chrysler without a penny down in exchange for Fiat’s small-car technology.
Marchionne joined Fiat after being tapped by the Agnelli family to save the company. Fiat had for generations been a family-run enterprise, and having someone at the helm from outside Italy’s clubby management circles even a dynamo like Marchionne was an enormous change.
Other key corporate moves included the spinoff of the heavy industrial vehicle and truck maker CNH and of the Ferrari supercar maker. Both deals unlocked considerable shareholder value for Agnelli family heirs led by John Elkann. Elkann came into his own under Marchionne’s stewardship, taking over as chairman in 2010 having been tapped more than a decade earlier by his grandfather, the late Gianni Agnelli, to run the family business.
Marchionne was handed an automaker that lost more than €6bn in 2003. By 2005, he had returned the company to a profit by wringing some $2 billion from an alliance with General Motors Co., laying off thousands of workers, introducing new models, and slashing the time it took to get a new car to market to just 18 months, from four years.
In 2009, US President Barack Obama’s administration announced that Fiat would take control of Chrysler LLC, rescuing the American company from bankruptcy.
“I don’t care what a tough guy he was to work for, he saved our company,” said Cass Burch, a Chrysler and Jeep dealer in Georgia. “He deserves a bronze statue.”
The 66-year-old, who died from complications following surgery, was a consummate dealmaker, known for his nonstop work habit and razor sharp mind.
A poker player, his entourage told of sleepless transatlantic flights where their chain-smoking boss always wanted to play — and win — another hand of cards.
The same passion defined his improbable rescue of Fiat via an audacious merger with Chrysler that saved both companies and created the world’s seventh largest car group.
He persuaded General Motors to pay $2bn to escape its alliance with a near bankrupt Fiat in 2005 before swooping on a distressed Chrysler in 2009 and executing a full takeover of the group in 2014.
He was demonised by Beppe Grillo, founder of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement for his closure of plants and job cuts. At one political rally in Milan, Grillo led the crowd in a chant: “F**k you, Marchionne”.
In private, Marchionne was acutely aware of the ravages that globalisation had on those left behind.