Sergio Marchionne was due to retire as the CEO of Fiat Chrysler in 2019, what he was looking forward to most was spending time stargazing into the night sky. After undergoing high-risk surgery for a malignant shoulder tumor he suffered complications, severe brain damage, slipped into a coma and today passed away. It was a shock because it was so unexpected. However, Marchionne told friends and colleagues that the surgery was a simple routine operation and he chose to keep the precise details a secret from his Fiat colleagues and the owners of the company, the Agnelli family.
Sergio Marchionne was born in Italy, at the age of 13 he along with his family emigrated to Canada where he would go onto speak fluent French, Italian and English and later earn a degree in commerce, an MBA, and a law degree. Even at this stage of his life, Marchionne showed a tremendous amount of discipline and a hard work ethic.
After working as a tax consultant for various blue-chip companies, attaining the rank of CEO and CFO he was poached by Fiat in 2004, a complete outsider to the inner workings of the automotive industry.
But Marchionne was a natural deal-maker, combining his analytical numerical approach with an instinct to disseminate a good deal from a bad one.
Such an approach saved Fiat from bankruptcy and would lead to the clearance of all debts. He did the same with Chrysler when he merged the two organisations.
The Fiat Chrysler group underscores Marchionne’s philosophy that the automotive industry is stronger and therefore more profitable when it is consolidated.
But not all automotive manufactures necessarily agreed, Marchionne approached GM, Ford, and Toyota and all rejected his attempts to discuss consolidation.
Nevertheless, Marchionne’s tenure at Fiat increased the value of the company 10 times but he had to be brutal in implementing the change necessary to save the underperforming company.
He moved quickly by cutting costs, limiting production to meet demand, ending sales of slow-selling models and dismissing executives who disagreed with his strategy or who were seen to be part of the problem and not the solution.
He also, effectively, sacked Luca De Montezemolo the former President of Ferrari and Chairman of Fiat, the two famously disagreed over the future direction of Ferrari.
De Montezemolo wanted to limit sales to keep Ferrari exclusive, Marchionne wanted to increase production and float the company on the stock markets.
De Montezemolo was forced out of Ferrari, a company which he revived and turned into a profit machine.
Sergio Marchionne then installed himself as President & Chairman of the prancing horse, floated the company and would subsequently revive the F1 squad with a management reshuffle.
Marchionne was known to be a chain-smoking workaholic and was scheduled to attend various meetings the week after his hospital stay on July 5th.
Though a replacement CEO has already been installed, Fiat has lost a visionary leader able to combine an analytical approach with instinctive pragmatism and that is irreplaceable.
Fiat will survive and move on, it’s been around for 100 years, Marchionne will be remembered for being as significant as the founding of the company itself.