In the future close to the top of 2010,

The Red Tea Detox

Sergio Marchionne

obtained a message on one in every of his six smartphones: A colleague up to date him on efforts to repair a door-latch defect on a brand new model of the Dodge Charger.

“I am getting updates each couple of hours on the bloody door deal with,” he advised a Wall Avenue Journal reporter.

Was this a sensible use of time for a sleep-deprived CEO accountable for operating struggling auto makers, Fiat and Chrysler, on two continents? Mr. Marchionne thought so.

“I might suspect that among the points that we’re coping with now and trigger me apoplexy would have most likely been swept beneath the carpet 10 years in the past,” he mentioned, however “should you actually wish to run the enterprise, you want to get entangled on this degree.”

Mr. Marchionne’s technique for reviving and melding Fiat and Chrysler was partly a matter of zeroing in on particulars. The Italian-born CEO of 

Fiat Chrysler Cars

NV, fueled by espresso and Muratti cigarettes, additionally stood out within the auto business as a destroyer of forms and a shrewd negotiator endowed with the vitality to virtually reside on airplanes. He mixed European design aptitude with North American concentrate on shareholder returns.

Mr. Marchionne died Wednesday at age 66. His well being had deteriorated quickly after a latest surgical procedure following what his hospital described as a “critical sickness” lasting greater than a 12 months however not publicly recognized previous to his loss of life. Mr. Marchionne’s loss of life got here days after Fiat Chrysler rapidly turned the CEO job over to

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Mike Manley,

who had headed the corporate’s Jeep model.

When Mr. Marchionne was named chief government of Fiat in 2004, he held nonstop conferences at his workplace in Turin, usually with Bach taking part in within the background. In short particular person classes, he determined which executives had the self-confidence and pace he felt have been required to salvage the corporate. He shortly cleared out tons of who didn’t make the grade.

Inside a 12 months, he used his negotiating abilities to influence

Normal Motors

to pay Fiat $2 billion to remove an obligation that would have required GM to buy Fiat’s auto division. That cash helped Fiat rush out new fashions.

After the U.S. authorities bailed out Chrysler in late 2008, Mr. Marchionne negotiated a deal that gave Fiat management of the U.S. auto maker in alternate for know-how from the Italian agency however no money. He was prepared to tackle Chrysler’s heavy losses when others within the business noticed the corporate as hopeless.

He revived profitability at Chrysler by jettisoning most sedans within the U.S. market and doubling down on SUVs and pickup vans, emphasizing the Jeep and RAM truck manufacturers. At Fiat, he averted a union confrontation by slicing wages as a substitute of closing factories, and scored a significant success with a small, sporty sedan referred to as the Grande Punto.

He was born June 17, 1952, in Chieti on Italy’s Adriatic coast. His father, a policeman, moved the household to Toronto when Sergio was 14. The youthful Mr. Marchionne studied philosophy and enterprise earlier than incomes a legislation diploma from York College in Toronto. He labored for the accounting and consulting agency of Deloitte & Touche after which received senior government jobs at a number of industrial corporations primarily based in Switzerland.

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His efficiency at

SGS Group
,

an inspection and product-testing firm, impressed members of Fiat’s founding household, the Agnellis, who made him CEO of the Italian automobile maker in 2004 regardless of his lack of auto business expertise.

On issues massive and small, Mr. Marchionne trusted his instincts. In 2009, throughout an interview to debate how he would save Chrysler, the CEO observed a reporter’s square-toed footwear and advised him he wanted a style replace. Designers and engineers waited for his blessing on headlamps and car-body curvatures.

His frequent travels meant colleagues couldn’t at all times get a fast reply or a one-on-one assembly. In August 2009, whereas he was unavailable, Chrysler’s gross sales chief made plans for reductions. When Mr. Marchionne returned, he was livid in regards to the plan and berated the gross sales chief throughout a gathering. The gross sales government quickly left the corporate.

He incessantly referred to as in Chrysler executives for Saturday and Sunday conferences, generally lasting from early morning to night. “If he has a defect, it’s one in every of managing by stress,” Giuseppe Volpato, an Italian professor who wrote a e-book on Fiat, advised the Related Press in 2009. “Not everybody can maintain these rhythms for 2 to a few years.”

Initially, his turnaround plan for Fiat Chrysler concerned promoting extra small automobiles within the U.S. utilizing know-how from Fiat, such because the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200. However he quickly killed off these automobiles, which he later referred to as one of many worst investments he ever made.

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“We modified midstream within the U.S. in the course of the plan—like, 18 months after we introduced the plan—as a result of the market had gone utterly the opposite path,” he advised reporters earlier this 12 months.

Mr. Marchionne was recognized to sometimes harangue workers in personal and publicly chide auto business friends. The corporate additionally discovered itself concerned in a number of scandals on his watch, together with federal probes into alleged emissions dishonest and suspected bribery of senior union officers. Fiat Chrysler has denied deliberately violating any legal guidelines and mentioned it’s cooperating with investigators.

Along with these scandals, Fiat Chrysler is racing to meet up with rivals to spend money on future applied sciences reminiscent of electric-powered engines and self-driving automobiles. Mr. Marchionne was lengthy a skeptic of each traits and solely lately recognized them as necessary aggressive areas for the corporate.

Even so, he defied many skeptics just by preserving the businesses alive. Ron Bloom, who was an business adviser within the Obama administration, remembered Mr. Marchionne as an especially aggressive negotiator with an ethical compass who wanted frequent out of doors cigarette breaks throughout talks on saving Chrysler in 2009. “I feel there’s little doubt that with out his involvement there wouldn’t be a Chrysler,” Mr. Bloom mentioned.

Mr. Marchionne’s survivors embrace two sons.

Write to Chester Dawson at [email protected] and James R. Hagerty at [email protected]

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