The script was simple for Sergio Marchionne: he would retire his post as boss of Fiat Chrysler next year then focus his attention on Ferrari as chairman and CEO, but fate intervened and within a bat of an eyelid removed him from all his positions of command in the organisation due to health reasons.
No official statement has been released with regards to Marchionne’s condition which worsened after he was recovering from surgery but it is clearly severe and permanent enough for the FCA to act swiftly by fast-forwarding his succession plan, with Exor chairman and CEO John Elkann taking over as Ferrari chairman and appointing Louis Camilleri as the new CEO at Maranello.
Exor is a holding company, whose principal investments include Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, CNH Industrial and Ferrari, which is controlled by the Agnelli family whose patriarch Gianni Agnelli appointed Elkann heir to the business empire he built around the automotive industry last century.
The Ferrari ‘retirement plan’ Marchionne had wished for is also no longer an option for the 66-year-old who would have had a far more hands-on role with the team next season had the ‘script’ not been altered.
The company announced on Saturday, “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. As a consequence, Mr. Marchionne will be unable to return to work.”
42-year-old Elkann, who replaces Marchionne as Ferrari chairman, released a heartfelt tribute to him in a statement which stopped just short of being an obituary for the man associated with the conglomerate since 2004.
John Elkann statement on Sergio Marchionne dated 21 July 2018:
“I am profoundly saddened to learn of Sergio’s state of health. It is a situation that was unthinkable until a few hours ago, and one that leaves us all with a real sense of injustice. My first thoughts go to Sergio and his family.”
“What struck me about Sergio from the very beginning, when we met to talk about the possibility of him coming to work for the Group, even more than his management skills and unusual intelligence, were his human qualities, his generosity and the way he understood people.”
“Over the past 14 years together we have lived through successes and difficulties, internal and external crises, but also unique and unrepeatable moments, both personal and professional.”
“For so many, Sergio has been an enlightened leader and a matchless point of reference. For me, he has been someone with whom to share thoughts and in whom to trust, a mentor and above all a true friend.”
“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.”
“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.”
“The succession plans we have just announced, even if not without pain from a personal point of view, mean we can guarantee the maximum possible continuity, preserving our companies’ unique cultures.”
“It has been my privilege to have had Sergio at my side for all these years.”
“I would ask everyone for their understanding in these circumstances and to respect Sergio’s privacy and that of those who are dear to him,” concluded Elkann’s statement.
Overview of Marchionne’s tenure at the helm of FCA and associated subsidiaries:
June 2004: Marchionne, then serving as CEO of goods inspector SGS SA, is appointed CEO of Fiat. He pledged to complete a turnaround plan initiated by his predecessor to end years of losses, and soon announced plans to revamp Fiat’s organization to make it more efficient.
February 2005: Marchionne extracts $2 billion from General Motors to end a dispute over the ownership of their Fiat Auto joint venture, and announces plans to terminate other alliances with the U.S. carmaker.
June 2009: Fiat takes ownership of Chrysler assets, pledging to reopen factories idled during its bankruptcy. Marchionne commits no cash, instead pledging to share engineering resources and technology with the struggling U.S. company.
January 2011: Fiat spins off its industrial assets as a precursor to creating a global automotive company, combining its own operations with Chrysler’s.
September 2014: Marchionne ousts long-time Ferrari chief Luca di Montezemolo and takes up the posts of chairman and CEO of the Maranello concern which includes the iconic Ferrari Formula 1 team.
October 2014: The merged Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV makes its debut on the New York Stock Exchange. Shortly afterward, the company announces a spinoff of luxury brand Ferrari.
October 2015: Ferrari NV, with Marchionne as chairman, begins trading in New York with a market value of about $10 billion. That success came after GM rebuffed attempts by Marchionne to instigate a merger that would create the world’s largest automaker.
April 2017: Marchionne puts major merger attempts on hold to focus on cutting debt at Fiat Chrysler.
June 2018: Marchionne unveils a five-year plan for Fiat Chrysler, aimed at doubling profit and restoring dividends for the first time since the 2014 merger. The company also plans to invest 9 billion euros ($11 billion) in electrifying its fleet through 2022.
July 2018: With his health faltering, the 66-year-old is replaced with Manley, who led a successful global expansion of the Jeep brand. Marchionne’s worsening condition accelerated the succession.
With regards to Ferrari and Formula 1, it was well known that Marchionne was staunchly opposed to the prospect of Liberty Media dumbing down the sport, even threatening to pull the Italian team out of the sport at one point.
However, it has since been reported that he had softened his stance and was even on board with the previously taboo subject of budget caps.
This season the Canadian businessman of Italian descent was instrumental in Alfa Romeo returning to the top flight, albeit in a marketing capacity at this stage, and also had plans for a Maserati to return to Formula 1 in some form.