Fiat and Chrysler savior Sergio Machionne dies at 66

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Sergio Marchionne, a charismatic and demanding leader who engineered two long-shot corporate turnarounds to save both Fiat and Chrysler from near-certain failure, died today. He was 66.

The Exor holding company of the Fiat founding family Agnelli announced Marchionne's death in Zurich in a statement.

"Unfortunately what we feared has come to pass,'' Fiat heir John Elkann said. "Sergio Marchionne, man and friend, is gone.''

Marchionne built the dysfunctional companies into the world's seventh-largest automaker almost by personal force of will, living on a corporate jet crossing the Atlantic to push employees to accomplish what most people thought was impossible amid a devastating global recession.

Marchionne, who was Italian and Canadian, had revived Fiat by 2009 when he was picked by the U.S. government to save U.S.-based Chrysler from its trip through bankruptcy protection after being owned by a private equity company.

"It's highly unlikely that Chrysler would exist today had he not taken that gamble,'' said Autotrader.com analyst Michelle Krebs. "The company was in such bad shape, being stripped of any kind of resources by the previous owners.''

Marchionne met most of his goals, even though at times he was doubted by nearly everyone in the automobile business. But he didn't live long enough to complete his last two: personally hand over the reins of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to a hand-picked protege and lay out plans for transforming supercar maker Ferrari.

Marchionne had shoulder surgery in summer 2018, and the company said last weekend that complications meant he would not be able to return.

The manager, known for his folksy, colorful 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 U.S. 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. -AP