Famed Fiat, Chrysler, and Fiat Chrysler chief executive Sergio Marchionne, who worked his way up to the top of Fiat, turned its heavy losses into profits before masterminding a successful merger with the bankrupt remains of Chrysler Corporation, has died at the age of 66.


FCA Chairman John Elkann wrote in a public statement, “Unfortunately, what we feared has come to pass. Sergio Marchionne, man and friend, is gone.”

According to various published reports, Marchionne had surgery to remove or treat a growth in his shoulder, and suffered a stroke resulting in a coma. The chances for recovery were poor enough that the company appointed a new CEO, Michael Manley , earlier this week.


Sergio Marchionne had a highly successful career , in some ways resembling that of Walter P. Chrysler himself. Chrysler was best known as a turnaround artist, despite his engineering background; he saved multiple automakers from dissolution, and, indeed, Chrysler Corporation was simply the old Maxwell Motors.

Sergio Marchionne was born on June 17, 1952 in Abruzzo, Italy; the family migrated to Toronto, Canada, when he was 14, resulting in his fluent English and Italian, and dual Canadian and Italian citizenships. His undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto was followed by an MBA from the University of Windsor in 1980 and a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from York University in 1983. He worked at an accounting firm, became Group Controller for Lawson Mardon Group, then vice president at Glenex Industries. From there he worked at a number of different companies in leadership roles, joining Fiat's board of directors in 2003.


When Marchionne first took over Fiat in 2004, many analysts and pundits claimed his numbers and projections were impossible. Quarter after quarter, though, he was able to “make the numbers,” strengthening the Italian automaker. Some of his decisions then should sound familiar: allowing some cars to leave production and letting some brands run on fumes, while focusing on other cars and brands to keep profits strong.

The next step was working out a deal with the United States and Canadian governments and other interested parties, to take over Chrysler Group as part of a controlled bankruptcy. Many at the time were calling for Chrysler to either be dissolved entirely, under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code, or to be combined with General Motors (also in bankruptcy). Its owner, Cerberus Capital Management, had been trying to sell it to a Chinese company, if possible, and anyone else, if not.


Chrysler continued for some years, as Sergio Marchionne’s decisive and sometimes harsh actions worked to turn the company around. He cut in some places, but he also invested a great deal in others. Unlike Daimler, Cerberus, and even Chrysler itself, Marchionne was willing to risk large sums of money on rebuilding existing plants with brand new machinery, rather than keeping old robotics and tooling going long past their normal lifespan. He also showed no desire to move production to Mexico or China, and brought back a vast amount of parts and components production not only into the company, but into the United States and Canadafrom Mexico and China — from 2009 onwards.

He also insisted on putting more money into the cars, particularly the interiors, to make them more attractive to buyers, and approved risky engine projects, including the 6.2 Hellcat and two new series of four-cylinders; and brought the “Pentastar” V6 to fruition. Former-Chrysler-Corp sales rocketed during his reign; so did those of Maserati, which started using Chrysler designs as the rough basis for new cars and engines.


Sergio Marchionne gave annual press conferences in Detroit, during which members of relatively small media were able to ask him questions directly; unlike most executives, he willingly gave full and honest answers most of the time, and did not seem to mind difficult questions. He also was willing to say what he thought about analysts who doubted his projections; some seemed to actually be laughing at his plans in 2009-2010. In 2018, with those projections being met or exceeded, Marchionne had gained a great deal of credibility and respect.

Sergio Marchionne in Tipton

Sergio Marchionne was said to deal directly with people, and expected everyone to lead; he demanded long hours and hard work of leaders, though, and he himself was said to work almost constantly. He left the Chrysler executive suite in the penthouse empty, sitting on the same floor as engineers.

Marchionne was to retire from being CEO this year, with his primary goal of eliminating net debt achieved. He would have remained on the board and in charge of Ferrari, but would not have had to maintain two homes on different continents.