Even when you're on the fast track, things can move far more quickly than you expect — or so it turned out for Mike Manley.
As head of Fiat Chrysler's Jeep and Ram brands, the 54-year-old Brit was considered the front-runner to replace CEO Sergio Marchionne when he was set to retire in mid-2019. Then came the news last July that Marchionne had passed away following what had been billed as routine surgery. Manley was hurriedly named his replacement.
"It was a shock to the system," Manley said, during a media roundtable at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this past week. "Even though there had been numerous conversations about succession, it suddenly became a reality," he soberly added during the annual auto show that doubled as his coming-out party as chief executive. "Regardless of the circumstances you're given, you have an obligation to show your leadership."
The transition came at a challenging time for Manley and for Fiat Chrysler. Just the month before Marchionne's unexpected death, the automaker had presented a new five-year plan to analysts and the media during a well-attended session in Milan. Now, Manley would be the one who would have to implement that strategy.
But life in the automotive industry seldom makes it easy to stick with the plan.
Manley's quiet time has given him a chance to slide into that leadership role, shaking up a number of senior management posts while re-examining Fiat Chrysler's global strategy. He is just beginning to outline some of the changes he expects to make in the months ahead.
Six months after assuming the helm, Manley already has had to navigate some fast-moving waters. The Trump administration has enacted tariffs on imported aluminum and steel, as well as on Chinese imports, and may yet enact new duties on car and car part imports from other parts of the world. The shift among consumers from passenger cars to light trucks has also continued to accelerate. Several competitors have announced major production and job cuts, others have formed new alliances, like the one announced this week between Ford and Volkswagen.