Chrysler CEO Marchionne: "Leadership Above Knowledge"

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

I don’t think Automotive News [sub] knows what to make of Chrysler. Applying the “anyone with half a brain” test to their ChryCo reportage, we can see that AN possess the requisite 50 percent cranial capacity. And yet, for better or worse , Detroit’s denizens are their homies. So, really, AN’s never too far from the Kool-Aid dispenser. The tension between what is and the hagiography surrounding Chrysler’s tight-lipped Canadian CEO is obvious in this morning’s article about management disco in Auburn Hills (DO the shuffle). “In June, CEO Sergio Marchionne elevated Peter Fong and Michael Accavitti to lofty positions in the new Chrysler Group — Fong as CEO of the Chrysler brand and Accavitti as CEO of Dodge. They lasted only four months before resigning last week. The abrupt changes signal that the hard-charging Marchionne doesn’t play by Detroit’s old-boy rules in his attempt to revive recently bankrupt Chrysler.” Either that or . . . chaos. [Your guess here.] Check this out, revealed in the irony-free subhead “Machionne’s Gospel” . . .

“I prefer to privilege leadership over knowledge. You can build your knowledge, as I am personally doing step by step in the auto business. But you cannot acquire leadership as a skill.”

Casting aside the use of the word “privilege” as a verb—although the jet-loving Machionne and his minions are not bound by any of the pay, perks or benefits restrictions placed on other TARP recipients—you’ve got to wonder about Marchionne’s belief that leadership comes from nature, not nurture. While entirely defensible, this belief tends to emanate from men who believe that they are born leaders. Can you say autocratic?

And the young [Chrysler] leaders must get along with a CEO whom many would define as a workaholic boss from hell. The chain-smoking Italian-Canadian executive has an unwieldy number of direct reports at Chrysler — 25. And that doesn’t include the 30 FIAT S.p.A. and Fiat Auto executives who report to him in Turin, Italy.

Sounds like hard work.

For the past four months, Marchionne has been trying to run Chrysler and Fiat simultaneously, holding major management meetings on weekends. He catnaps on trans-Atlantic flights, and his workdays can extend to 20 hours, weekends included.

Marchionne’s manic style is reminiscent of Jacques Nasser, who also had lots of direct reports and a vision of far-reaching cultural and structural change as CEO of Ford Motor Co. Nasser’s unsuccessful and tumultuous rein at Ford ended in 2001 after nearly three years.

Note to AN: thanks for the heads-up. We get it (even with the usual editorial amelioration). Which is just as well, as we’re paying for it. Right until we don’t. Oh, did I mention that AN also reports that Dollar Thrifty has announced its intention to cut back on purchases from the New Chrysler? Waaaay back.

Chrysler, which had made up 76 percent of Dollar Thrifty’s total U.S. fleet purchases in 2008, will make up about 30 percent of 2010 fleet purchases, said the company, which rents under the Dollar Rent A Car and Thrifty Car Rental brands.

Is that the sound of another nail sinking into Chrysler’s coffin? Still, as recent history proves, you can’t keep a good zombie down. Or can you?

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

More by Robert Farago

Join the conversation
2 of 14 comments
  • AWD-03 AWD-03 on Oct 15, 2009
    pgcooldad Let me see if I can explain those stimulus checks. I gave the government roughly 33% of my income last year. They returned less than 2% of the total amount I gave them. That in no way relates to Marchionne rubbing elbows with politicians and pulling strings that only the truly wealthy can do. He is politically maneuvering for cash, as opposed to the government tossing a tiny portion of the money back to me that I already gave them. Hope that clears it up for you.
  • John Horner John Horner on Oct 15, 2009

    Marchionne is right about at least one thing: Management skills can be learned, but a person either has the leadership gene or they don't. I've never seen someone learn to be a leader, but I have known a number of natural leaders over the years.

  • Lorenzo The unspoken killer is that batteries can't be repaired after a fender-bender and the cars are totaled by insurance companies. Very quickly, insurance premiums will be bigger than the the monthly payment, killing all sales. People will be snapping up all the clunkers Tim Healey can find.
  • Lorenzo Massachusetts - with the start/finish line at the tip of Cape Cod.
  • RHD Welcome to TTAH/K, also known as TTAUC (The truth about used cars). There is a hell of a lot of interesting auto news that does not make it to this website.
  • Jkross22 EV makers are hosed. How much bigger is the EV market right now than it already is? Tesla is holding all the cards... existing customer base, no dealers to contend with, largest EV fleet and the only one with a reliable (although more crowded) charging network when you're on the road. They're also the most agile with pricing. I have no idea what BMW, Audi, H/K and Merc are thinking and their sales reflect that. Tesla isn't for me, but I see the appeal. They are the EV for people who really just want a Tesla, which is most EV customers. Rivian and Polestar and Lucid are all in trouble. They'll likely have to be acquired to survive. They probably know it too.
  • Lorenzo The Renaissance Center was spearheaded by Henry Ford II to revitalize the Detroit waterfront. The round towers were a huge mistake, with inefficient floorplans. The space is largely unusable, and rental agents were having trouble renting it out.GM didn't know that, or do research, when they bought it. They just wanted to steal thunder from Ford by making it their new headquarters. Since they now own it, GM will need to tear down the "silver silos" as un-rentable, and take a financial bath.Somewhere, the ghost of Alfred P. Sloan is weeping.