Auto industry legend CEO Sergio Marchionne dies at age 66

  • "It is with the deepest sadness that EXOR has learned of the passing of Sergio Marchionne," FCA Chairman John Elkann, from the Agnelli family, said in a statement.
  • Marchionne was replaced as CEO of the carmaker last weekend.
  • Marchionne was born in 1952 in the Italian town of Chieti, about 120 miles east of Rome.

Former Fiat Chrysler (FCA) CEO Sergio Marchionne, who played a pivotal role in two corporate turnarounds, has died at the age of 66.

"It is with the deepest sadness that EXOR has learned of the passing of Sergio Marchionne," FCA Chairman John Elkann, from the Agnelli family which has a controlling stake in the auto group, said in a statement Wednesday morning.

“Unfortunately, what we feared has come to pass. Sergio Marchionne, man and friend, is gone. I believe that the best way to honor his memory is to build on the legacy he left us, continuing to develop the human values of responsibility and openness of which he was the most ardent champion."

Marchionne was replaced as CEO of the carmaker last weekend and also stepped down from his dual role as CEO of Ferrari, the race car manufacturer spun off from Fiat more than 2 years ago. The company said at the time that his condition had worsened after he fell gravely ill following complications during surgery in a Zurich hospital.

In an emotional letter at the weekend, Elkann hailed Marchionne's tenure, sought to reassure employees about the future, and rally them around newly appointed CEO Mike Manley.

Tributes from top industry execs poured in throughout Wednesday, with Bill Ford calling Marchionne "one of the most respected leaders in the industry."

"His extraordinary leadership, candor and passion for the industry will be missed by everyone who knew him. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this difficult time,” Ford added in a statement.

Mary Barra, chairman and CEO of General Motors, said Marchionne had created a "remarkable legacy in the automotive industry."

Fiat Group turnaround

Marchionne was born in 1952 in the Italian town of Chieti, about 120 miles east of Rome.

His father served in the Italian military police known as the carabinieri, and one of Marchionne’s very last official duties was to hand over a Jeep in a presentation to the security force.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne attends a press conference at Chrysler headquarters October 1, 2009 in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
Bill Pugliano | Getty Images
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne attends a press conference at Chrysler headquarters October 1, 2009 in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

He emigrated with his family to Toronto, Canada, in his teenage years and as a result, spoke fluent English, French and Italian.

The Italian-Canadian became a graduate of the University of Toronto where he received a degree in philosophy, as well as the University of Windsor where he completed his MBA and Bachelor of Commerce degree. He earned his law degree in 1983 at the Osgoode Hall Law School of York University.

Marchionne is known to have played a central role in the turning around of the struggling Fiat Group into one of the most successful companies in the automobile industry.

Appointed CEO in 2004, Marchionne became the company’s fifth chief executive in just two years. He embarked on a program of reform at the debt-laden firm, balancing the counter demands of powerful politicians and Italy’s strong unions.

Chrysler merger

With the support of U.S. and Canadian governments, the Fiat Group entered into a strategic alliance with the bankrupt U.S. automaker Chrysler. Within two years Chrysler had exited Chapter 11 and returned to profitability.

In 2014, the two firms merged to become Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and in the same year Marchionne announced that the joint company's near $13 billion debt pile had been wiped out.

Italian-listed shares of Fiat Chrysler fell around 5 percent on Monday following the news that Marchionne would not return to work. They fell a further 10 percent Wednesday after the firm revealed its second-quarter profit had slipped by more than a third from last year, and that it was lowering its full-year revenue and operating profit targets.

—Reuters contributed to this article.