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That's Marchionne's MO: give people all the rope they need and then yank it if he has to. Or maybe even if he doesn't. It can produce brilliance, as in the company's "Imported from Detroit" Super Bowl commercial featuring Eminem. That was concocted by his chief marketing officer, a poet and genially offbeat Frenchman named Olivier Franois, and 44-year-old Lebanese-American Saad Chehab, whom he plucked from below and put in charge of the Lancia and Chrysler brands. "What I look for in people is the ability to use that space intelligently, not to abuse the freedom," he says. "It's to remain absolutely focused on the objective but not to define the method of execution."
After Marchionne saw a nearly complete version of the commercial--and after listening to lots of Eminem--he pushed his team to devote the entire two minutes of airtime the company purchased for $9 million on one brand and one model, the revived Chrysler 200. He even helped edit the final version hours before it ran. An unabashed Apple admirer, Marchionne has the Steve Jobs gift of absolute focus.
His willingness to buy into Chrysler's people, who were unloved by their former German masters at Daimler and overwhelmed by the financial meltdown as part of private-equity company Cerberus, has made him a cult hero. Many on the 21-person management team that reports directly to him are Chrysler veterans aching to prove that they are not the monumental foul-ups who nearly destroyed the Motor City, the people that some Republican Senators wanted to finish off. The Italians who moved to the U.S. to help transfer Fiat's marketing and technology skills to Detroit have seen this turnaround movie before--and they are sticking around for a Marchionne rerun. Many don't plan to return home. "We burned the ships," says Pietro Gorlier, who runs Chrysler's Mopar aftermarket business, one of the many tattered parts of the company that have been restored.
In fact, with European auto sales heading south with the continent's struggling economy, Chrysler is becoming more vital to Fiat's strategy. There are few regional auto companies left because it's just too hard to compete with globe-straddling giants like Renault-Nissan, Volkswagen, GM and Toyota, which can share platforms, sourcing and costs over a vast scale. Although Fiat sells in 140 countries and produces 2.2 million vehicles annually, it's too small, too small-car-focused and too Eurocentric. Together, Fiat and Chrysler produce 4.2 million vehicles a year. Marchionne figures he needs to make 6 million worldwide to be a player.
Helping Out the Family