One of the automotive industry’s most respected figures, Sergio Marchionne breathed his last in July this year. The home of Fiat said ‘Ciao’ last Friday to the man who was instrumental in turning around the Italian automaker’s fortunes while also saving Chrysler along with it.
The Italian-Canadian CEO of Fiat passed away in July, aged 66, succumbing to complications caused by surgery, leaving behind his 14-year-old legacy of helming Fiat and later Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles. In the world of Italian business where people are resistant to change and high-level executives often bow down in front of politicians, Sergio Marchionne stood out by a mile, clashing with trade unions as well as politicians publicly to protect the interests of his ward, Fiat.
The trained accountant and lawyer was praised by some of his staunchest competitors in the business for his knack of making deals which kept investors on board. Under his watchful patronage, Fiat swelled more than tenfold in value, helped by the spin-offs of truck and tractor maker CNH Industrial and luxury supercar maker Ferrari. Marchionne also pulled Fiat out of Confindustria, Italy’s premier business group, preferring to negotiate directly with unions instead of pursuing national wage bargaining.
Perhaps the biggest triumph of Sergio Marchionne was the huge gamble he took deciding to marry Fiat and Chrysler just over a decade ago. At the time, Fiat was ailing and Chrysler was bankrupt, leading many to believe the partnership was a total shipwreck. Today, FCA is the world’s seventh-largest carmaker.
On September 14, more than 2,000 people including the townsfolk of Turin, FCA employees, politicians, as well as corporate executives gathered in the town’s cathedral to pay homage to the man who masterminded two major corporate turnarounds. Fiat’s founding Agnelli family were present at the memorial service, including FCA chairman John Elkann. Former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi and Pirelli chief Marco Tronchetti Provera also attended the funeral.
“You have taught all of us to think differently, to have the courage to change and to do. And not to be afraid. Dear friend, rest in peace,” Elkann said in an address that was unusually emotional for the Agnelli scion. Though FCA no longer has the kind of presence in Turin comparable to two decades ago, the town still remembers Marchionne as the man who revived Fiat’s fortunes. He took hard decisions to benefit the company, which included streamlining the group, taking a knife to costs, slashing the total number of car platforms, and setting up joint ventures to share development and manufacturing. “Without him, there would have been no future for this company,” said Giuseppe Tavano, an FCA transmission worker.
“We hope the new manager will continue his legacy and the company does not abandon Italy. That would be a real shame,” said Liliana Ferrero, a 67-year-old Turin citizen. FCA appointed Jeep chief Mike Manley as its new CEO. The Englishman has since pledged he will see through a strategy Marchionne proposed to him in June to keep FCA “strong and independent.”
A second memorial service will be held in Sergio Marchionne’s honor on September 27 at FCA’s U.S. headquarters near Detroit in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
Images Credit: Bloomberg