Sergio Marchionne, CEO who steered Fiat Chrysler's turnaround, dies at 66

Sergio Marchionne speaks during a news conference June 1. (Piero Cruciatti / AFP/Getty Images)

Sergio Marchionne, the former chief executive officer of Fiat Chrysler and architect of the automaker’s dramatic turnaround, has died. He was 66.

His death was confirmed Wednesday by Exor NV, the holding company of Fiat’s founding Agnelli family, just days after Marchionne was replaced as CEO. His health had declined suddenly following complications from shoulder surgery.

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Selected as CEO of Fiat SpA in June 2004, Marchionne took the Italian manufacturer from the brink of bankruptcy to the New York Stock Exchange, where he rang the bell on Oct. 13, 2014, to mark the debut of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, the London company created when Fiat bought the Detroit automaker.

Marchionne, who described himself as a corporate fixer, was Fiat’s fifth CEO in less than two years when he took over. He replaced Giuseppe Morchio, who quit after the billionaire Agnelli family refused to give him the joint title of chairman and CEO when then-Chairman Umberto Agnelli died of cancer.

Marchionne was handed a company that lost more than $7 billion in 2003. By 2005, he had returned the company to a profit by wringing about $2 billion from an alliance with General Motors Co., laying off thousands of workers, introducing new models and slashing the time it took to get a new car to market to just 18 months, from four years.

In 2009, President Obama’s administration announced that Fiat would take control of Chrysler LLC, rescuing the American company from bankruptcy.

“I don’t care what a tough guy he was to work for, he saved our company,” said Cass Burch, a Chrysler and Jeep dealer in Georgia. “He deserves a bronze statue.”

The deal gave Marchionne “a huge sense of responsibility,” he said in a 2011 interview. His office on the fourth floor of Fiat’s Turin headquarters was adorned with a black-and-white poster of the word “competition” and a Picasso print bearing the motto, “Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.”

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Marchionne’s direct manner and frumpy demeanor — he was rarely seen wearing anything but jeans and a black pullover sweater — made him stand out in buttoned-down Italy. He knew how to move fast and enjoyed driving his half-dozen Ferraris.

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