Timing of Marchionne's departure remains murky

Tight race for top job at Fiat-Chrysler

Timing of Marchionne's departure remains murky

Marchionne, 61, says his successor is in a group of five people.

General Motors has a new leader in place, and Ford has one waiting in the wings.

But as the CEO succession spotlight turns to Fiat-Chrysler it is still anybody's guess who will replace Sergio Marchionne, and what kind of management structure the company will install when the indefatigable Italian steps down.

With Chrysler in a federally imposed quiet period because of its initial public offering, the company is officially mum on who comes next or when. Chrysler spokesman Gualberto Ranieri declined to comment.

But one thing is clear: Whomever is chosen will have some big and well traveled Italian leather loafers to fill, and much work still to be done.

Fiat and Chrysler still are not fully integrated and have separate management structures that report to a 20-member steering committee called the Group

Executive Council. Marchionne, 61, is head of Fiat and Chrysler, Fiat-Chrysler's North American region, as well as other Fiat-owned companies.  That structure could remain as it is, or the top jobs could be split among two or more people.

The latest word on Marchionne's replacement came in an interview with the French weekly magazine Le Point, published in October. Marchionne said that his "successor is among" the 20 members of Fiat-Chrysler's Group Executive Council, according to a translated copy of the interview.

Pressed for more clues, Marchionne would say only that his successor is "in a small group of five people."

The Fiat-Chrysler Group Executive Council meets monthly, either in Italy, the United States, or occasionally in Brazil or China, and approves strategies and investments for both automakers and associated operations.

About half of the council is made up of Chrysler executives, though several wear multiple hats in Marchionne's management structure. The remainder come from Fiat's top executive ranks.

Waiting in the wings?
4 key players in the Chrysler-Fiat succession derby. From left, Altavilla, key man at Fiat; Bigland, sales star; Manley, Jeep success; Palmer, finance wiz.

At least four among the 20 stand out as potential successors to Marchionne, based on their success in the organization and their experience.

• Mike Manley, 46, has matched or exceeded Marchionne's brutal travel and work schedule over the last five years, while leading the Jeep brand to record global sales. He also has boosted Chrysler-Fiat's presence in the important Asia-Pacific region, for which he has responsibility.

• Alfredo Altavilla, 50, widely considered Marchionne's right-hand man at Fiat, is responsible for operations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. He has been with Fiat since 1990 and has headed Fiat operations in several regions of the world and in different parts of the company.

• Reid Bigland, 46, has distinguished himself as head of U.S. and Canadian sales, with nearly four years of consecutive monthly sales gains in both countries. Bigland also seamlessly took over the reins of the highly profitable Ram brand in April when former Ram boss Fred Diaz went to Nissan. Bigland is a former CEO of Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp.

• Richard Palmer, 47, an Englishman who is CFO of both Chrysler and Fiat, understands Chrysler and Fiat's interdependent operations and finances. Palmer has been a CFO with Fiat or a subsidiary since 2003.

Marchionne has hedged on when he might step aside. At the 2012 Detroit auto show, he was unequivocal in an interview with Automotive News: "No earlier than 2013, no later than 2015."

Yet just a year later, that firm date seemed to slip.

"I could be here in 2016," Marchionne said in a January 2013 interview. "I'm not going to do anything else after this from an executive standpoint. I've had my fill of turnarounds. I've done more than most human beings should."

This year, at a meeting of Exor, the Agnelli family investment company that controls Fiat and Fiat Industrial, Chairman John Elkann said Marchionne would likely stay beyond 2015.

"Marchionne has spoken about 2015 as the date of his exit [from Fiat] because he thinks many things will have been completed by then," Elkann told the meeting. "But having spoken to him, I'm convinced that he will stay with us for many more years."

High-powered 20 group
The Chrysler-Fiat Group Executive Council has 20 members who share decision making for the 2 automakers. Sergio Marchionne has said his successor is on the council.
Sergio MarchionneCEO, NAFTA
Alfredo AltavillaEurope, Middle East, Africa, Business Development
Cledorvino BeliniLatin America
Mike ManleyAsia-Pacific, Jeep brand
Riccardo TarantiniSystems & castings
Eugenio RazelliComponents, Magneti Marelli
Olivier FrancoisFiat, chief marketing officer
Harald WesterChief technology officer, Alfa Romeo/Abarth/Maserati
Reid BiglandRam
Pietro GorlierParts and Service, Mopar
Lorenzo RamaciottiDesign
Stefan KetterChief manufacturing officer
Scott GarberdingGroup purchasing
Doug BettsQuality
Bob LeePowertrain coordinator
Mark ChernobyProduct portfolio management
Richard PalmerCFO, Fiat and Chrysler
Linda KnollHuman resources
Alessandro BaldiChief audit officer and sustainability
Michael KeeganGEC chief of staff
Source: Chrysler-Fiat

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.

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