Marchionne Was Ill for More Than a Year; Hospital Speaks Out

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Former Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, who died Wednesday at the age of 66, underwent treatment for a serious, unspecified illness for more than a year, a Swiss hospital revealed Thursday.

The sudden change in the executive’s health threw Fiat Chrysler and Ferrari into a frenzied search for new CEOs on Saturday. It’s reported that Marchionne hadn’t informed either automaker of his condition, with their boards of directors only finding out from Marchionne’s family on Friday after his condition rapidly deteriorated.

Though Italian media claims Marchionne suffered from a rare but aggressive form of cancer, the reason why the executive sought treatment at University Hospital Zurich remains, officially, a mystery. People close to the late auto industry titan told Bloomberg that the cancer story is false. While those sources didn’t go into detail, they did say the “proximate” cause of death was cardiac arrest following surgery.

Prior to the company’s Saturday statement — in which it announced Marchionne’s grave condition and Mike Manley’s appointment to CEO — Fiat Chrysler only mentioned Marchionne’s health on July 5th. On that day, FCA said the CEO underwent a shoulder operation that required a “short period of convalescence.”

In the wake of Marchionne’s death, both FCA and the Zurich hospital found themselves bombarded with questions. How much did FCA know? What, if anything, went wrong at the hospital? While the automaker answered media queries independently, the hospital issued a statement.

“Mr. Sergio Marchionne was a patient at USZ. Due to serious illness, he had been the recipient of recurring treatment for more than a year,” the hospital’s statement read. “Although all the options offered by cutting-edge medicine were utilized, Mr. Marchionne unfortunately passed away.”

Speaking to Reuters, an FCA spokesman claimed the company was in the dark about Marchionne’s illness.

“The company was made aware that Mr. Marchionne had undergone shoulder surgery and released a statement about this,” the spokesperson said.

“On Friday July 20, the Company was made aware with no detail by Mr. Marchionne’s family of the serious deterioration in Mr. Marchionne’s condition and that as a result he would be unable to return to work. The Company promptly took and announced the appropriate action the following day.”

Marchionne’s illness and death raises the question of when exactly an ailing CEO should inform the company and its shareholders of their condition. Of this question, there’s no clear answer.

[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • 28-Cars-Later 28-Cars-Later on Jul 27, 2018

    Swiss health-care is interesting, felt like something out of the 1960s when I was there. The saying I heard later was the Germans innovate but the Swiss perfect, sounds about right. Shout outs to Dr. Rickenmann and Dr. Smith.

  • TW5 TW5 on Jul 27, 2018

    No surprise. FCA has been cagey about their business to avoid hostile takeovers for years. If Marchionne had a serious health problem, as seemed likely after his successors were appointed hastily, he would have avoided disclosing it for as long as possible. Whether or not this violates agent-principal contracts or fiduciary responsibility is debatable since some people would have wanted him to conceal, while others who prefer takeover would have wanted him to announce.

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