Sergio Marchionne, the man credited with saving post-bankruptcy Chrysler by merging the Detroit automaker with Italian-giant Fiat, died Wednesday. He was 66.
Marchionned died after "unexpected complications" during shoulder surgery in Switzerland. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced Saturday that Marchionne would step down immediately as CEO of the Italian-American automaker after it was clear he was gravely ill.
“Unfortunately, what we feared has come to pass. Sergio Marchionne, man and friend, is gone," John Elkann, the great-great grandson of Fiat founder Giovanni Agnelli and the chairman of EXOR, the investment firm that controls FCA, said in a statement.
Sergio Marchionne (left) and John Elkann
"I believe that the best way to honor his memory is to build on the legacy he left us, continuing to develop the human values of responsibility and openness of which he was the most ardent champion," Elkann said. It was Elkann who first hired Marchionne as a board member in 2003 and pushed for his installation as CEO of the Italian automaker a few years later.
Under Marchionne, Fiat bought Chrysler out of bankruptcy in 2009 and the two automakers combined operations.
Born in Italy and raised there and near Toronto, Marchionne was educated in Canada and Europe as an accountant and as an attorney and worked at investment firms in Italy and Switzerland before joining Fiat's board.
Marchionne's background was not in cars, but he placed a strong emphasis on compelling, often controversial products. Under Marchionne, FCA in the U.S. largely cut compact and mid-size sedans from its lineup to focus on trucks, crossovers, SUVs, and performance cars such as the 707-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Demon. In doing so, Marchionne helped FCA pay off its debts.
The CEO was known for his five-year plans, the most recent of which the automaker unveiled in June. He also had a penchant for witty comments, such as suggesting in 2011 that anyone who thought Chrysler could have survived its 2009 bankruptcy without assistance from the U.S. government was "smoking illegal material."
Marchionne was succeeded as FCA CEO Saturday by Mike Manley, who previously headed up the automaker's Ram and Jeep brands.
Manley, who was born in the U.K., is the first Fiat CEO not born in Italy. Manley worked his way up through DaimlerChrysler's sales network in the U.K. before being transferred to the then-German-owned company's headquarters in Detroit to help develop its new cars.
Marchionne is survived by his sons Alessio and Tyler and his longtime partner Manuela Battezzato.