Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has died this Wednesday morning in Zurich, Switzerland. Few days ago, the manager had been replaced by in-house executive Mike Manley on grounds of serious illness, after an operation that ran into some complications, about a month ago.
John Elkan, president of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) holding company, wrote: “unfortunately, what we expected happened. Sergio, the man and the friend, is gone. I think that the best way to honor his memory is to use him as an example, cultivating humanity values, responsability and open-mindness, of which he was the first sponsor. My family and I will be forever grateful for what he has done and we are close to Manuela and his sons, Alessio and Tyler. I reiterate my call to respect the privacy of Sergio’s family.”
Italian politicians mourned his death this morning, when members of parliament had a minute of silence followed by an applause.
On The Guardian, Ana Nicholls, Director of Industry Operations at the Economist Intelligence Unit, remarked: “The death of Sergio Marchionne marks the passing of one of the greatest turnaround managers of the past century. His legacy is impressive: in saving both Fiat and Chrysler through clever deal-making and sheer hard work he not only ensured the survival two of the most venerable names in the auto industry, but also saved the jobs of tens of thousands of people.”
Moreover, a lot of bipartisan affection towards Marchionne can be seen on social media:
Cordoglio per la scomparsa di Sergio #Marchionne. Da patriota ho contestato tante delle sue scelte in tema di delocalizzazione dell’industria automobilistica italiana ma le sue capacità manageriali sono indiscusse. La mia vicinanza e quella di FdI alla sua famiglia e ai suoi cari
Alcuni uomini nascono per dividere, vengono amati o odiati. Sergio Marchionne era uno di questi. Ha attraversato la più grande crisi dal dopoguerra, ha dato il massimo, con dedizione, coraggio, follia e strategia. Ha guardato avanti e non indietro. La storia gli renderà merito pic.twitter.com/ZNKoTdOLgw
Onore a un uomo che ha fatto tanto e avrebbe potuto fare ancora molto. Un pensiero ai familiari di Sergio #Marchionne e un augurio a chi ha l’onore e l’onere di prendere il suo posto. pic.twitter.com/qtcikRVdx4
However, in the past few days there was also room for controversy, as an Italian newspaper, Il Manifesto, ran the headline “E così Fiat”, a wordplay that in Italian more or less sounds like “and so he was”. The questionable ironic reference was to the controversial battles that Marchionne carried out against the left-wing trade union FIOM, to make labour contracts more flexible.
Who was Sergio Marchionne?
Sergio Marchionne got the assignment in 2004 and spent fourteen years in charge of Fiat, getting popular stateside and abroad for restoring Fiat Group, the biggest Italian company, which in recent years has been also one of the fastest growing groups in the automotive industry.
At that time, the company did not produce net growth and was not paying dividends already since 2002. In 2007, he launched the new model of Fiat 500, declaring that he wanted “Fiat to became the Apple of the future. And Fiat 500 will be our iPod”.
In 2009, he came even more to prominence when he successfully managed to convince Barack Obama and the U.S. government and trade unions to form a strategic alliance between the historic Turin-based car maker company and the American counterpart Chrysler, saving thousands of jobs in Michigan and other American states.
In 2012, after several successful consolidation efforts, he remembered that “success is never permanent, you got to earn it day after day”. Following this trail, in 2014, he concluded the merger between Fiat and Chrysler, forming the seventh-largest automobile holding company in the world: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
Sergio Marchionne was born in Chieti, Abruzzo, following the relocation of his parents from Istria after World War II, when the region was then occupied by the Yugoslav army. At the age of thirteen, he emigrated with his family to Toronto, Canada. For this reason, the manager has a dual Canadian and Italian citizenship, speaking both Italian and English fluently.
Known for his informal negotiation style and clothing (he rarely wears ties, as he has got “way too much work to do”), in 2007 he declared that “Italy is one of the greatest countries, but also one with the most untapped potential that I know. A country that does not love itself. On the headlines, you can only read about arguments and disputes that don’t have any impact on Italy and on the future of young people. If we don’t stop these debates, we won’t go very far”.