Sergio Marchionne, the former CEO of Fiat Chrysler and Ferrari, had died at the age of 66.
Marchionne – a prolific chain-smoker – was undergoing surgery to remove a malignant tumour in his shoulder when he suffered an embolism, causing ultimately irreversible brain damage. It is a tragic end to Marchionne’s story.
Marchionne was born in 1952 in Chieti, a town located barely 10 miles from the coastal city of Pescara which would act as a one-off host of the Italian Grand Prix on its daunting 25-kilometre street circuit when he was five years old.
The son of a local policeman, his family emigrated to Canada when Sergio was thirteen. Raised in Toronto, where his family had relatives, he became fluent in English and French. He attended St Michael’s College School before completing his undergraduate studies in philosophy at the University of Toronto. Marchionne was quite the student and earned further degrees in commerce and law before completing his MBA.
His accountancy and law qualifications earned him a role with Deloitte & Touche. In 1985, he moved to the packaging firm Lawson, serving as Group Controller and then Director of Corporate Development. He moved to a number of Vice President and Chief Financial Officer roles, returning to Lawson in 1992 before it was taken over by Alusuisse Lonza (Algroup), the Swiss chemical and pharmaceutical company.
Marchionne began to forge a reputation as a turnaround specialist. He became Algroup’s CEO in 1997 and spearheaded the Lonza Group when it was spun off. In 2002, he became CEO and Managing Director of SGS S.A. – then under control of the Agnelli family – and shortly after he was elected as an independent member of the Board of Directors of Fiat. In 2004 he became its CEO.
Fiat was in enormous trouble amid huge debts and he began to restructure, laying off thousands of employees and overseeing major productivity gains. The Global Financial Crisis opened the door for Marchionne to take control of the Chrysler company, following its bail-out by the US government, merging it into the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles empire.
By 2014 FCA had staged such a recovery that it was floated on the New York Stock Exchange. He spun off Ferrari, becoming its Chairman and CEO. He was due to retire next year but intended to remain at Ferrari, for whom he played an important (and rather stubborn) role negotiating Formula 1’s next round of rules and commercial agreements to be implemented in 2021.
Marchionne earned a reputation for his blunt and outspoken manner, arguing that the global car market had too many brands. He once described Kimi Räikkönen as a “laggard” after an underwhelming run of Grands Prix by the 2007 World Champion.
What happens to Ferrari and Fiat Chrysler’s leadership structure remains to be seen. His position as CEO has been taken over by Louis Camilleri and the role of chairman will go to John Elkann, the current FCA chairman and grandson of Fiat founder Gianni Agnelli.
Marchionne is survived by his former wife Orlandina, his current partner Manuela Battezzato and his two adult sons, Alessio and Tyler.
Image via New York Times