Meet Sergio Marchionne, American industry's newest no-nonsense star

Forget about Sebring, Dodge. or Jeep. By far the most important name for the future of Chrysler is Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Fiat, who intends to take the reins at Chrysler once the company emerges from bankruptcy, probably in 60 days or so.

Marchionne may be a new name for many Americans, but he is well known in the automotive industry for the way he turned around the situation at his own company. Marchionne took over at Fiat on June 1, 2004, stepping in at a time when the the car maker was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. In fact, Massimo Vecchio, an analyst with the Italian investment bank Mediobanca, told Forbes.com that Marchionne took over when the company "was literally firing one manager a day" and no one at Fiat "wanted to take hard decisions."

Vecchio added that Fiat's "communication from bottom to top in management was slow and wrong. He also changed that ... and reduced the layers of management and gave his role a more direct view of what the business was going."

The slight misapplication of English verbs aside, that should be music to the ears of Chrysler bondholders and taxpayers, because it is exactly what the embattled automaker needs: a stripped-down, more responsive operation, led by someone with a clear vision of what the business can be and a willingness to make the tough decisions to see it through.

Of course, like any good executive, Marchionne also has a rather sizable ego. Vecchio noted "his ego is very big and sometimes people who had clashes with him were basically fired."

How will this iron-fisted approach play in Detroit? We shall soon find out, but the situation can't get much worse. Besides, I seem to remember another CEO of Italian descent charged with bringing Chrysler back from the dead, who also had a certain knack for alienating some people. Iacocca, wasn't it?


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