Sergio Marchionne – The Leadership Secret

Before Marchionne’s arrival, FIAT wasn’t doing exceedingly well. Managerial theories claim that in order to perform a turnaround it is required to stop the sales, decrease investment, cut costs and decrease labour. However, this wasn’t the case: the exceptionality of it was the group of leaders who in a few months had made the heart of a company beating again through extraordinary vision, dedication and conviction.

Marchionne has created a new style combining leadership and management: a style that involves managing a group of leaders by planning, problem solving, deciding with the group on the spot; doing this the leader, Marchionne in this case, leads a group of leaders and not just a group of ordinary managers. This new style of leadership needs three elements to be exceptional: the group, its members and its leader. A group to be exceptional needs a meaning, a challenge worth considering: in the words of Marchionne: “We are here and we do it because we have a mission”. The group has no pyramidal structure with defined charges, each one is judged according to how he does his job; it is not a democracy, it is a community based on merit and passion. The group is also an aristocracy because being part of a group of exceptional managers defines you as such; you do not participate in it for money or for ego but to be part of the mission.

Group meetings are moments of positive tension in which each member submerge his whole self to face and solve the problems of his colleagues and the company. In these moments the leader must be recognised as the most intelligent in the room. In the words of a member of the GEC: “During the meetings the tension is palpable, it is as if the reality was deformed and everything went faster. You realise it when Sergio leaves: it’s like going from a 45 engine rpm to a 33, everything slows down”. The monthly meetings of the committees impose the group’s rhythm with a system similar to a pressure cooker. The leaders are transformed from water to steam and “cook the problems” more quickly, the CFO measures the cooking times and the HR checks gaskets’ endurance and activate the vent valve when there is too much pressure. The leader decides the dish to cook and states its ingredients.

“All the 300 thousand people of Fiat Chrysler watch their leaders uninterruptedly. The leader must be honest in his work for the best of the company and must be an example, always. If you betray them once, you’re finished. You have lost the confidence you inspire. As a CEO, I have only two rights: choosing the leaders to work with and the values ​​that drive the company” said Marchionne.

Sergio Marchionne died on the 25th of July this year. He is internationally known for leading the profound renewal of FIAT. His role, being the CEO of Fiat (now FCA), is because of Umberto Agnelli, who before his death recommended to call him in the company and so it was done. Umberto got to know Marchionne because of his exceptional results at SGS, Société Générale de Surveillance, a Geneva-based insurance company.

Sergio Marchionne was one of the three most important and innovative managers of the last twenty years in this sector. As a boy, after the death of his father, a “carabiniere” marshal, his mother emigrated from Chieti (Abruzzi) to Toronto (Canada) to an aunt who traded in fruit and vegetables. “I grew up in the red band uniform of the Arma and I always found useful the values ​​with which I grew up and that were the basis of my education: seriousness, honesty, sense of duty, discipline, the spirit of service” he said.

In July Marchionne was recovered in Zurich, unfortunately he was in danger of life. Marchionne has left a company that has achieved the incredible result of the cancellation of debt and the start of a life of success.

But why did the death of Sergio Marchionne strike the Italians so much? Is it because he was a famous Italian in the world? He was not the only one, fortunately. Is it because his death was premature and sudden? His, was not the only one, unfortunately. Is it because his fame went beyond the automotive industry? Italy is full of small and big celebrities, coming from the most diverse environments; but the emotion seen after his death has hardly been seen. If the death of Sergio Marchionne has deeply affected the sensitivity of Italy – a nation that in these times loves to show itself to be insensitive, lying to itself – the reason has to be another, perhaps simpler, deeper and more difficult to confess. Marchionne was a successful man, rich and envied, who suddenly died, leaving everything behind. Probably, we instinctively asked ourselves a question: if everything is so fast and drastic, are we using our life well? Other people commented on his death saying: “We are struggling to do, to accumulate, to excel. And then look there, it disappears all in a moment”. This is the observation that our time is limited, and we must use it well. “Be like the gardeners: invest your energies so that everything you do will last a lifetime and even more” said Sergio Marchionne two years ago, speaking to University students in Rome.

Why has it been up to Sergio Marchionne to remind us of all this? Because, according to the standards of the world, he had a lot – power, fame, money, admiration – and suddenly very much that he had to give up. There are cases in which, to console ourselves, we say that death appears as a liberation. In this case, however, it appeared as an intense subtraction that made everyone more humble, in an era proud of his arrogance.




Bertoldi, B., & Kaplan, R. (2018, July 26). Il segreto della leadership: il «metodo Marchionne» caso di studio ad Harvard. Sole24Ore.

Severgnini, B. (2018, July 27). Usiamo bene la nostra vita? Ecco perché la sua morte ci ha colpito. Corriere della Sera.

Stevens, F. (2018, July 23). La lettera di Grande Stevens «Per me era come un figlio, è diventato un fratello». Corriere della Sera.



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