Sergio Marchionne (Italian: [ˈsɛrdʒo marˈkjɔnne]; June 17, 1952 – July 25, 2018) was an Italian-Canadian businessman, widely known for his turnarounds of the automakers Fiat and Chrysler, his business acumen and his outspoken and often frank approach, especially when dealing with unpalatable issues related to his companies and the automotive industry.
Noted for his keen observations of the automotive industry, Marchionne's insights ranged from frank criticism of his company's own products to a highly-regarded 2015 presentation titled Confessions of a Capital Junkie, extolling the benefits of industry consolidation.
Marchionne was widely recognized for turning around Fiat Group to become one of the fastest growing companies in the auto industry, in less than two years. In 2009, he was instrumental in Fiat Group forming a strategic alliance with the ailing US automaker Chrysler, with the support of the U.S. and Canadian governments and trade unions. Less than two years later, following its emergence from Chapter 11, Chrysler returned to profitability, repaying all government loans. In 2014, Fiat and Chrysler merged into a new holding company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, now the seventh-largest automobile manufacturer in the world.
Following complications from surgery, Marchionne resigned from all of his positions in July 2018 and died a few days later. The American business channel CNBC described Marchionne as a "legend of automotive industry", while the British newspaper Financial Times considered him as having been "one of the boldest business leaders of his generation".
Marchionne was born in Chieti, Abruzzo, Italy, the son of Concezio Marchionne, from Cugnoli (Abruzzo), and Maria Zuccon from Carnizza (today Krnica, Croatia) near Pula in Istria. His father served as a Carabiniere in Istria, where he met his future wife. Marchionne's grandfather, Giacomo Zuccon, was killed in September 1943 by Yugoslav Partisans near Barban in Istria, while his uncle Giuseppe Zuccon was killed by the Nazis the same year. In 1945, when the region was occupied by the Yugoslav army, Marchionne's parents moved to Chieti in Abruzzo, where Sergio was born.
From 1983 to 1985, he worked as an accountant and tax specialist for Deloitte & Touche in Canada. From 1985 to 1988, he was Group Controller and then Director of Corporate Development at the Lawson Mardon Group in Toronto. In 1989, he moved to Glenex Industries where he worked for two years as Executive Vice President.
From 1990 to 1992, he was Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer at Acklands Ltd. Between 1992 and 1994, he served as Vice President of Legal and Corporate Development and Chief Financial Officer of the Lawson Group, which was acquired by Alusuisse Lonza (Algroup) in 1994.
From 1994 to 2000, he worked at Algroup (Alusuisse Lonza Group Limited) based in Zurich, where he became Chief Executive Officer in 1997. He then took the helm of the Lonza Group in Basel, after its spin-off from Algroup, serving first as Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director (2000–2001) and then as Chairman (2002).
In February 2002, he became Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of SGS S.A. of Geneva where, in March 2006, he was appointed Chairman. Marchionne was elected as an independent member of the Board of Directors of Fiat S.p.A. in May 2003, until being appointed CEO in 2004.
Marchionne immediately issued a public apology, stating "I regret the remark and consider it inappropriate" and going on to explain that "As the only parties willing to underwrite the risk associated with Chrysler’s recovery plan, the two governments [U.S. and Canadian] levied interest rates that, although appropriate at the time, are above current market conditions."
In July 2011, following the purchase of the ownership interests held by Canada and the US Treasury, Fiat’s stake in Chrysler increased to 53.5% and in September 2011, Marchionne was also elected Chairman of Chrysler. Fiat and Chrysler officially merged under Marchionne's leadership on August 1, 2014.
Marchionne last appeared in public on June 26, 2018 in Rome, when he presented a Jeep to the Carabinieri, Italy’s military police. FCA subsequently announced Marchionne had taken medical leave for shoulder surgery at the University Hospital of Zürich in Switzerland — adding on the day of surgery that he would not return due to post-surgical complications. After further serious complications, on July 21, 2018, Marchionne was replaced at FCA, Ferrari, SGS and CNH.
He died on July 25, 2018, at age 66, most likely from complications related to underlying cancer. Some reports claimed he had suffered from an invasive shoulder cancer. He was survived by his partner Manuela Battezzato, his two adult sons, Alessio and Tyler, and his former wife Orlandina.
Marchionne wearing his classic black woolen sweater
Marchionne earned a reputation for an outspoken and often blunt approach. In a 2009 Forbes interview, Massimo Vecchio, an analyst with Mediobanca, commented on the contrast and Marchionne's controversial management style:
He's got a lot of American in his management style. The only thing that matters to him is results. If you don't deliver, you are out. He is quite ruthless. When Marchionne took over the company [Fiat], he was literally firing one manager a day but there was a leadership problem and nobody wanted to take hard decisions. The communication from bottom to top in management was slow and wrong. He also changed that. He reduced the layers of management and gave his role a more direct view of what the business was doing. And of course his ego is very big and sometimes people who had clashes with him were basically fired. Looking at his style from outside it seems awful, but he delivered.
Despite the buttoned-down business world in which he worked, Marchionne disliked having to think about his wardrobe, and became known for wearing black sweaters and jeans — keeping a supply of both in each of his residences. On June 1, 2018, Marchionne wore a necktie to celebrate the FCA debt repayment. Reporters noted that he had not been seen wearing a tie since 2007.
2015, Marchionne was awarded the Hennick Medal for Career Achievement at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University by The Hennick Centre for Business and Law.
2015, Marchionne SAE Foundation Industry Leadership Award, when being was CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and Chairman of CNH Industrial N.V.. The award of 2016 has been recognized to Mark Fields, Chief Executive Officer of Ford Motor Company.
2019, World Car Person of the Year, presented at the Geneva Motor Show on March 5, 2019
2019, Inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame on July 18, 2019