Sergio Marchionne, an Exemplary Leader

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In December of 2011, Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat and Chrysler, was awarded the Dwight D. Eisenhower Global Leadership award from the Business Council for International Understanding (BCIU). BCIU recognized Marchionne for his unprecendented success at turning around two automotive car makers in the last decade; first Fiat, then Chrysler. No small feat.

In less than two years after taking the reins at each company, both returned to profitability. When Marchionne assumed the role of CEO at Chrysler in 2008, most in the car industry thought he was crazy. Chrysler seemed headed for bankruptcy, but Marchionne and Fiat drove a hard bargain to take control of the company. Marchionne had a compelling vision and saw how Chrysler could complete the Fiat product range to make it a more global company.

Marchionne epitomizes great leadership! Chrysler returned to profitability in the first quarter of 2011, repaid its $6 billion high interest government loan in May…six years ahead of schedule, and hit sales of over $55 billion by the end of 2011. Plants were modernized, Fiat and Chrysler operations were integrated, and the management structure was flattened somewhat. Not only did Marchionne restore Chrysler to profitability, he changed the culture. The company went from being a bureaucratic organization run from the Chairman’s office to an innovative culture focused on quality and execution where the CEO builds the cars with the guys on the floor! Now that’s transformational!

If you are like me, I’m sometimes skeptical about what I read or hear in the media, so I decided to check out the situation at Chrysler with someone on the inside to see if the culture really is different, and this is what I learned from Scott Bahr, a friend that has recently returned to Chrysler after four years away. “Yes, this is a good time to be at Chrysler. Morale is very high, and there is an earnest desire company-wide for people to “push the envelope” toward improvement. Bureaucracies and “old ways” will always be present in an organization of this size, but I am impressed by how much we are developing a culture of not being limited by those things and even openly questioning them. It’s one of the things that won me over to coming back here.” This confirms it for me. I hope it does for you. Sergio Marchionne is a great leader and a man we can all learn from.

To get inspired in your role as a leader and learn how Sergio orchestrated the Chrysler resurgence, listen to his recent interview with Sixty Minutes. It’s about 14 minutes long, but worth your time.

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