FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne replaced with Mike Manley after sudden, extreme illness

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne replaced with Mike Manley after sudden, extreme illness

Marchionne's health deteriorated rapidly following minor surgery.

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Outgoing FCA US LLC CEO Sergio Marchionne, center; then-Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, left; and then-Jeep Brand President and CEO, now interim FCA CEO Mike Manley celebrate the production launch of the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee during a ceremony at Jefferson North Assembly Plant in 2010. Marchionne was replaced suddenly as CEO by Manley during the weekend after sever complications from surgery.

Cleveland, Ohio – Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) CEO Sergio Marchionne resigned suddenly over the weekend as his health deteriorated rapidly following shoulder surgery.

“(FCA) communicates with profound sorrow that during the course of this week unexpected complications arose while Mr. Marchionne was recovering from surgery and that these have worsened significantly in recent hours,” the company’s board said. “As a consequence, Mr. Marchionne will be unable to return to work. The Board of Directors of FCA, meeting today, firstly expressed its closeness to Sergio Marchionne and his family and underlined the extraordinary contribution, both human and professional, that he has made to the company in these years.”

Though Marchionne had planned to retire next year, the sudden departure of the executive who shepherded massive restructuring of Fiat, merging it with Chrysler in 2009, will be a loss.

FCA Chairman John Elkann, great grandson of Fiat founder Giovanni Agnelli, said he recruited Marchionne to run the company in 2004 because if his vision as a leader.

“He taught us to think differently and to have the courage to change, often in unconventional ways, always acting with a sense of responsibility for the companies and their people. He taught us that the only question that’s worth asking oneself at the end of every day is whether we have been able to change something for the better, whether we have been able to make a difference,” Elkann said. “And Sergio has always made a difference, wherever his work took him and in the lives of so very many people. Today, that difference can be seen in the culture that he introduced in all the companies he has led, a culture that has become an integral part of each and every one of them.”

Mike Manley, a longtime FCA executive who has seen Chrysler through two owner ship changes (from Daimler Chrysler to Cerberus Capital Management-owned Chrysler LLC to Fiat Chrysler) has already taken over as interim CEO. The company’s board of directors plans to meet in the coming days to elect Manley to the board and name him executive director of the company as well.

Manley has led FCA’s Jeep and Ram truck businesses in recent years and has been credited with the successful product revivals of both brands. United Auto Workers union officials said during the weekend that they look forward to working with the new FCA chief.

Following Marchionne will be a tough act for Manley.

FCA’s former CEO had an almost immediate impact on Fiat after joining in 2004. At the time, the Italian automaker was struggling in Europe against better-financed competitors, and a long-term corporate strategy that favored selling Fiat to a bigger competitor wasn’t helping.

An attempted merger with General Motors failed when the Detroit-based automaker decided it didn’t want most of Fiat’s assets. Marchionne won a $2 billion settlement from GM for breaking the deal and plowed those funds into new product development – eventually creating a revived Fiat 500 subcompact car that was a massive hit in Europe.

Throughout 2008, Marchionne was one of the only voices in the automotive industry preaching doom and gloom as a global financial crisis began to take shape. He criticized competitors for not having enough cash on hand to weather the coming storm.

In 2009, GM and Chrysler filed for U.S. government-back bankruptcies. GM rebuilt its management structure and remained independent, but members of then-President Barack Obama’s administration did not think Chrysler had the financial or technical resources to restructure itself, so the government made merging with Fiat a condition of the federal bailout.

In created FCA, Marchionne didn’t offer any cash, only vehicle designs, technical support, and promises to invest in U.S. production.

In 2014, Marchionne took FCA public, and the following year, he held a $10 billion initial public stock offering for Ferrari, separating it from FCA.

About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 18 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.

rschoenberger@gie.net