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'Mexcian standoff' helps fuel Chrysler turnaround

If you’re rooting for Chrysler, you have to be thrilled that SergioMarchionne is heading up the automaker, as well as its parent company,Fiat.

If you’re rooting for Chrysler, you have to be thrilled that Sergio Marchionne is heading up the automaker, as well as its parent company, Fiat.


Not only has Marchionne successfully orchestrated a turnaround at Fiat, and is making great headway on Chrysler, he’s also quirky. What a bonus.


And to make sure everyone understands he is cut from different cloth, he dresses the part. No white shirt, tie and business suit for Marchionne. Wherever he goes, you can find him sporting a nice black sweater and a nice pair of black slacks.


The clothes match his public persona, which I would call “laid back intense.” While always calm and confident and clear-speaking in public forums, you get the impression that when released from the burden of appearing tactful, like when in private discourse with colleagues, he might be even more clear-speaking, as in, not mincing words at all. He’s rumoured to be to be temperamental and impatient on occasion with certain “not with the program” co-workers.


But other co-workers have nothing but praise and admiration for him, including fellow “half-Canadian” Ralph Gilles. Gilles is the CEO for the entire Dodge brand, as well as Chrysler’s design chief. Soon after he was born in New York, his family moved to Montreal where he lived until being accepted by Detroit’s College for Creative Studies. The Italian-born Marchionne immigrated to Toronto with his parents, when he was 14. He went on to complete undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto, an MBA at the University of Windsor, and a law degree from York University’s Osgoode Hall.


Marchionne is well known for his prodigious workload, often logging 18-hour days, seven days a week. Commenting on this output, Gilles once remarked, “Sergio invented an eighth working day.”


Others have noted Marchionne seems only to sleep is when he is jetting between Detroit and his “other” job in Italy, which is overseeing Fiat, and its illustrious stable of marques (Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, etc.).


In a recent speech at the Automotive News World World Congress, Gilles noted the new “matrix” management structure that Marchionne introduced into Chrysler. The top four executives each have two jobs; CEO of one of the brands (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram), and one that encompasses the entire company (design chief, marketing chief, sales chief, international operations chief). “We call it a Mexican standoff… We can’t screw each other.”


But Gilles noted that Marchionne’s greatest contribution was instilling a new “can do” attitude: “You just can’t tell us it can’t done anymore.”


Marchionne is also known for having an eclectic office at Chrysler’s HQ in Auburn Hills. For one thing, it’s not on the top floor where the top brass usually hang out, but on the lower engineering floor. From what we hear, it’s also messy, filled with classical music CDs, and has an infamous Dodge poster on the wall with this message: “Give a Shit.”

 
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