MILAN — Sergio Marchionne, a charismatic and demanding CEO who engineered two long-shot corporate turnarounds to save both Fiat and Chrysler from near-certain failure, died Wednesday. He was 66.
The holding company of Italian automaker Fiat’s founders, the Agnelli family, announced Marchionne had died after complications from surgery in Zurich. At Fiat Chrysler Automobiles headquarters in the Italian town of Turin, flags flew at half-mast, while in Rome the parliamentary committee for labor and finance observed a minute of silence.
“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, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, 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 surgery on his right shoulder last month, and the company said last weekend that complications meant he would not be able to return. No details were released.