Globetrotting CEO Marchionne, who took the helm of Fiat in 2004, was revered in the auto industry for transforming an Italian also-ran into a globe-spanning giant by taking over bankrupt Chrysler, and for creating shareholder value by spinning off Ferrari, among other units. He always insisted his successor would come from inside- so it was no surprise when British manager Mike Manley, who helped boost Jeep to global success and get Fiat a foothold in Asia, was named his successor as Marchionne's health failed.
As detailed in this profile ("Driving Success") I wrote of Marchionne in 2010, he spent his twenties sweeping up academic credentials (B.Com, MBA) and professional designations (CGA, CA, LL.B).
By this year, Mr Marchionne had managed to wipe out the group's near-$13bn (£10bn) debt pile, something he described as a "healing" process for two companies that for so long were associated with failure. He also was replaced as CEO of the Ferrari sports vehicle company and as chairman of CNH industrial.
"It's a 2019 issue", Marchionne said. "Due to medical privacy, the Company had no knowledge of the facts relating to Mr. Marchionne's health".
The company said on July 21 that Manley would take over after Marchionne's condition took a sudden turn for the worse.
"Marchionne's leadership will remain our benchmark in the automotive industry", said Carlos Tavares, CEO of PSA Group. The moves, made as the companies announced second-quarter earnings, sent their shares down sharply. CEO Jamie Dimon was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2014, the company provided employees and shareholders with details of his diagnosis and treatment plan, drawing praise from investors including Warren Buffett. That ultimate deal eluded him. Fiat Chrysler's board and management said they know nothing about it. He could parry questions from the Italian press in one press conference, and deliver sly put-downs of his rivals in English during the next. He built the dysfunctional companies into the world's seventh-largest automaker. Born in Britain and based at the former Chrysler headquarters in suburban Detroit, Manley is expected by bankers and analysts at least initially to follow a five-year plan laid out by Marchionne and other executives in June.
Under Marchionne's leadership, Fiat Chrysler's value increased more than 10-fold.