Sergio Marchionne, who has died today aged 66, leaves behind a legacy like few others. He has steered the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles company he helped create through turbulent times, leading the merger of the two firms, and attempting to balance the Italian and American sensibilities of them.
Under Marchionne, Jeep has developed into a truly global brand, Alfa Romeo and Maserati have grown and Ferrari has been spun off as its own company. Conversely, the Fiat and Chrysler brands have both struggled, arguably hamstrung by a lack of clear vision.
While there have been successes and failures, and big questions remain for the future, Marchionne leaves FCA in a reasonable shape — free of debt, with a number of strong brands and some decent products, and it's positioned to grow. He’s also left the company with a clear vision: at an event in June, FCA unveiled its next five-year plan, highlighting ambitious strategies and model launches for all of its key brands. It will now be up to Mike Manley — who, as the boss of Jeep and Ram, would have been a key figure in these plans — to spearhead that strategy.
Heading into that event, several financial analysts questioned why Marchionne was launching a five-year plan that he wouldn't be part of, since he was set to step down next year — the year when the plan was due to start. Marchionne addressed such questions directly in his closing remarks.
“Whatever you think of the progress that has been made at FCA to date, and to the extent you think there is some level of logic and coherence to the five-year plan we put in front of you, there is an enduring element,” he said.
“It is one that most ensures success of the plan going forward, and actually has nothing to do with the industrial, commercial and financial elements of the business. It is about our culture and the leadership that lives it.”
Marchionne drew a comparison with improvisational musicians who couldn’t read traditional sheet music. Noting that much of the car industry is focused on method and process, he added: “While we fully understand that processes and procedures are important, at FCA we are, and always will be, about the music.