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Former Fiat Chrysler CEO Marchionne dies at 66

Milan

FORMER Fiat Chrysler chief executive Sergio Marchionne, one of the auto industry's most tenacious and respected auto chiefs, has died, succumbing to complications from surgery.

Marchionne was one of the auto industry's most demanding and tenacious chief executives and he rescued Fiat and Chrysler, two of its most storied brands.

The gruff 66-year-old spent 14 years at the wheel of Fiat Chrysler, the group he built. He was replaced as boss last weekend after his condition worsened.

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In Italy, where his turnaround of Fiat earned him legendary status, he was treated like a rock star. The former philosophy student and accountant almost never wore a tie and preferred casual sweaters, half-joking that it saved him time on dressing.

A heavy smoker until giving up the habit a year ago, he was known for working extraordinarily long hours before falling ill. He demanded others keep a similarly gruelling schedule, earning him a reputation from friends and foes alike for being stubborn and arrogant.

"I feel like I live in a tunnel. He is not just demanding; he wants all your life devoted to him," said one banker who worked with Marchionne on various deals in recent years.

Some could not keep up with his round-the-clock approach.

Another banker who worked with Marchionne said he would receive emails from him at all hours, even in the middle of the night.

In his last public appearance on June 26, wearing his signature sweater, Marchionne appeared fatigued and out of breath as he presented a Jeep Wrangler to Italy's paramilitary police, the Carabinieri, at a ceremony in Rome.

Days later, he went to Switzerland to undergo what Fiat Chrysler (FCA) described as a shoulder operation. FCA has not said what happened after he left the operating theatre, except that he suffered complications that suddenly worsened on Saturday.

In an emergency board meeting at the weekend, FCA chose the head of its Jeep division, Mike Manley, as his successor. On Wednesday, FCA chairman John Elkann announced that the longtime CEO had passed away, saying: "Sergio Marchionne, man and friend, is gone."

Marchionne has done what many thought impossible, most notably his huge gamble just over a decade ago when he set in motion the marriage between the then-ailing Fiat with bankrupt US rival Chrysler. It is now the world's seventh-largest carmaker and is debt-free.

In the clubbish world of Italian business, where change often happens slowly and chief executives bend to the prevailing political wind, Marchionne stood out as an exception, taking on trade unions and rowing publicly with politicians.

He pulled Fiat out of Confindustria, Italy's top business group, determined to negotiate directly with unions rather than pursue national wage bargaining via Confindustria.

"Those of us watching have received an education in management, finance, politics, oratory and what's possible via sheer force of will," Bernstein analyst Max Warburton said.

However, his shrewd dealmaking kept investors on board and earned him accolades, even from competitors. REUTERS