MILAN, ITALY.- Fiat Chrysler shares were volatile Monday as investors expressed worry about the exit of ailing CEO Sergio Marchionne, whose driven and creative management style has been the company’s fortune.
Shares in the Italian-American carmaker closed down 1.5 percent after a harder 4 percent opening tumble in the first trading since Marchionne’s grave health condition was disclosed over the weekend. Trading was volatile, particularly after news that the head of the big European operations, who had been considered one of Marchionne’s potential successors, was quitting. Ferrari, where Marchionne was also replaced at the helm, closed down about 5 percent.
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The Fiat Chrysler board on Saturday named long-time Jeep executive Mike Manley as CEO, unexpectedly accelerating a transition that was planned for early next year. The company said the 66-year-old Marchionne suffered complications from shoulder surgery in Zurich, Switzerland, last month that worsened in recent days, and that he could not resume his duties.
No other details were released. Marchionne will be a hard act to follow. Analysts credit his industry vision and ability to strike deals and take risks for increasing the market value of Fiat by tenfold since he took over in 2004. And while he was due to retire in 2019, most expected him to stay on in some role to guide the company.
“Some of us assumed he’d remain as chairman and be there to phone in his instructions,” Max Warburton, an analyst at market research firm Bernstein who often publicly tussled with Marchionne on conference calls about the company’s earnings. “Marchionne ran FCA in a command and control style, with constant firefighting measures. There is no operating manual to follow,” he said.
Marchionne engineered both the turnarounds of Italian carmaker Fiat and Chrysler, which Fiat acquired in 2009 in a deal with the U.S. government, creating the world’s seventh-largest carmaker out of two formerly dysfunctional entities.
He created shareholder value for the Fiat-founding Agnelli family with successful spinoffs of Fiat’s heavy vehicle maker CNH Industrial and of the iconic Ferrari super sports car company. But his goal of another big merger failed to find any takers.