Friday, July 27, 2018

In Memoriam: Sergio Marchionne (June 17, 1952 - July 25, 2018)

News broke this morning that the CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Sergio Marchionne, had passed away on Wednesday from complications related to shoulder surgery. Marchionne made his last public appearance on June 26 of this year and took medical leave soon after for shoulder surgery in Zürich, Switzerland. The surgery was for an invasive shoulder sarcoma, which he had kept concealed from his colleagues. On July 21, when the severity of his situation worsened, Marchionne was replaced at FCA, Ferrari, SGS (Société Générale de Surveillance) and CNH Industrial. He is survived by his partner, Manuela Battezzato, and his two sons, Alessio and Tyler.

For anyone in the automotive world who isn't already familiar with Marchionne, he was the chairman of Fiat since 2004 and oversaw the acquisition of Chrysler. His blunt and outspoken personality allowed him to turn a dysfunctional Fiat and a bankrupt Chrysler into a successful global giant. Known around the world for his classic wool, black sweaters (much in the way Steve Jobs is known for his black turtlenecks), Marchionne was especially well known in the enthusiast community for bringing us such vehicles as the Charger/Challenger Hellcat and Challenger Demon. Under his guidance, Marchionne also brought us a Hellcat powered Grand Cherokee, and third generation Viper, and various Ferraris, Fiats, and many other successful and amazing vehicles.

Marchionne was always an interesting character. As mentioned, he was always very blunt and outspoken. He was never keen on the idea of autonomous cars or electric cars. When asked if an autonomous Ferrari would ever be a possibility, he said "you'll have to shoot me first!" He also implored people to NOT buy the Fiat 500e electric car as it was built simply to satisfy California regulatory requirements and FCA was losing money on it. Marchionne also reportedly spent a good portion of 2015 on a quest to merge with another large automaker to reduce inefficiencies and lower costs. General Motors was one of the targets of this quest, but that obviously never happened.

It's hard to imagine many other people who would be able to pull off what Marchionne did for the automotive world. His recovery of Fiat, acquisition of Chrysler and the subsequent creation of a global car empire are nothing short of amazing. If there were two faults with him, it was the fact that the man was ruthless and a bit of a workaholic, both of which probably weighed on him towards the end of his tenure. Nonetheless, Marchionne spent 14 years at the helm of Fiat and then FCA, making him one of the longest serving chief executives in the automotive industry.

With Marchionne's passing, one thing is certain: the automotive industry just lost one of its most interesting people.