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Sergio Marchionne

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This past Wednesday, the world lost one of the automotive industry’s most impressive magicians. Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler, passed away at age 66.

Marchionne had been quite ill over last weekend, but was said to be recovering before his condition took a dramatic turn for the worse. According to Italian media outlet Lettera 43, he informed the public that he went to Zurich for a checkup but was in fact being treated for an invasive shoulder sarcoma. He had been living with serious thyroid dysfunction for some time, but only recently did it come to light that the cancer in his shoulder was so severe. Despite being treated with cortisone for pain, the tumor became unbearable, but because of its position, surgery was incredibly risky.

The brusque CEO acquired a bankrupt Chrysler and joined it with the failing Fiat in 2009 to reinvigorate both brands and launch Fiat Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep into the global force that we know today.

Not unlike another another industry giant, Marchionne was known for his simple wardrobe, in this case it was black sweaters, that he relied on to avoid having to waste time on mundane decisions. He was always working, and he always said exactly what was on his mind, for better or worse, which kept his public relations staff quite busy.


As a dual citizen of Italy and Canada, he began his career as an accountant at Deloitte and Touche, so when he was hired on to Fiat, he found that that the company was losing upwards of $1 million a day on wasteful spending and middle management. He promptly eliminated a vast majority of Fiat’s bloated pensioners and hired younger, more innovative thinkers to usher the brand into the 21st century. He famously told a Telegraph reporter in 2005 that “we are now the Apple of carmakers; the new [Fiat] 500 is our iPod.”

His candor was not always to positive effect, though. He referenced the chopping off of employees genitals in response to the failure of one vehicle, and another time, he said, “You would have to shoot me” before an autonomous Ferrari would ever be built. Despite the occasional controversy, he always reflected a strong work ethic and intelligence.

When bean counters become CEOs, there is often a tone-deafness to consumers’ desires. But Marchionne never forgot how fun it was to drive an amazing car. He was a car guy through-and-through, so much so that he crashed his Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano at high speed in a Swiss highway. He owned such magnificent beasts as the Challenger SRT8 and the Maserati Quattroporte as well. He married the business of Italian supercars with American muscle, and for that, we will always be grateful.

~Trey Fennell



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