The invitation had called for black tie, but when Sergio Marchionne showed up before an elegantly dressed New York City audience to receive the Dwight D. Eisenhower Global Leadership award from the Business Council for International Understanding, he was in his work clothes: a black sweater. It is the uniform of a self-described "simple, homeless, ever wandering, metal basher " who has neither the time nor inclination to make decisions about clothing. As CEO of Fiat and Chrysler, the Man in the Black Sweater is far too busy managing the continuing transformation of two auto companies once headed for the junk yard.
Marchionne took the keys to Chrysler from President Obama's auto industry task force in the depths of the financial meltdown in 2008. Chrysler had originally been considered a lost cause but Marchionne's plan was a last shot at survival. He'd already rescued Fiat from industrial chaos. The combination of Fiat, a small car, small engine specialist and Chrysler, famous for minivans, large sedans, Jeeps and trucks, was a perfect fit. Fiat needed Chrysler's product range to help it become a more global company; Chrysler needed, well, everything. Says Marchionne: "We are in the process of creating a single, global car company that will be managed in a very multi-national, multi-ethnic manner.
This year Chrysler will hit sales of $55 billion. It has paid off its government loans six years ahead of schedule. Thousands of jobs in Michigan, Ohio and elsewhere have been preserved. In 2012, Chrysler is planning debut its first joint production car with Fiat, the Dodge Dart, a collaboration that will set the tone for the future.