(Newser) – “Who the hell is this guy?” was an analyst’s reaction to Sergio Marchionne when the latter joined the auto industry in 2003. Fifteen years later, Marchionne has earned a description from the Wall Street Journal as “one of the last larger-than-life car-maker CEOs,” though that comes with sad news: The chief of Fiat Chrysler has died at the age of 66 after complications following shoulder surgery. He’d stepped down as CEO over the weekend as his condition deteriorated. As the head of Fiat, Marchionne made the bold (and successful) decision to merge his struggling company with an equally struggling Chrysler at the height of the recession. Despite initial raised eyebrows at that move, the new conglomerate’s stock prices have almost quadrupled over the past four years, and initial detractors now hail Marchionne as an unconventional innovator.
Marchionne was defined as much by his business acumen as his personal quirks: He liked to drive fast cars—he once totaled a $350,000 Ferrari, per Bloomberg—chain-smoked Muratti cigarettes and guzzled espressos, and wasn’t often seen wearing anything but a black sweater and jeans. “I have the same clothing everywhere I live,” so he didn’t have to spend the “three seconds” making a decision on what to wear, per a 2011 interview. Marchionne, who was born in Italy and moved to Canada as a teen, was also known as a workaholic, per the Journal, often carrying multiple cellphones and working every day of the week. “I don’t care what a tough guy he was to work for, he saved our company,” a Chrysler and Jeep dealer in Georgia tells Bloomberg. “He deserves a bronze statue.” Marchionne leaves behind two children, Alessio and Jonathan, with his estranged wife, Orlandina.
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