| 9:25 AM EST

Turnaround Master Sergio Marchionne Dies at 66


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Sergio Marchionne, who revived Fiat SpA, then did the same for bankrupt Chrysler Corp. and turned the merger of the two into an auto industry success story, has died of complications from surgery.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV Chairman John Elkann made the announcement earlier today, vowing to continue the “human values of responsibility and openness of which [Marchionne] was the most ardent champion.”

Marchionne reportedly underwent surgery three weeks ago for invasive shoulder sarcoma and suffered an embolism during the risky procedure that put him in a coma. The grim prognosis prompted FCA on Saturday to name Mike Manley, head of its Jeep operations, as permanent CEO, effective immediately.
 

The hard-charging whirlwind was best-known for his black sweaters, which he bought a dozen at a time and wore incessantly. Marchionne worked nonstop, toting multiple cell phones and jetting constantly between Europe and the U.S. to direct the empire he built.

He was born in Italy but raised in Toronto. He was educated in law, business and accounting. He began his career in Canada, then moved to Europe. A demanding and blunt-talking workaholic, Marchionne was recruited in 2004 to save Fiat from collapse after successfully turning around SGS AG, the Geneva-based global testing, verification and certification company.

In five years he transformed Fiat from a company doomed to collapse to a thriving carmaker. In 2009 he launched a three-year strategy to acquire control and eventual full ownership of bankrupt Chrysler. He proudly paid off Chrysler’s government-backed loans years before they were due.

More recently, Marchionne has championed the notion that survival in the increasingly capital-intensive global auto industry will come only through consolidation. But he was unsuccessful in wooing such carmakers as General Motors and Ford as a would-be merger partner.

The experience prompted him to refocus on bolstering FCA’s balance sheet, strengthening the profitability of its product lineup and positioning it as a more attractive business partner.

Marchionne had intended to present the company’s next business plan today and retire in April. He was 66 years old.