Marchionne. pictured at the Detroit auto show, will remain Fiat-Chrysler CEO.

Photo credit: Bloomberg
LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE

Succeed Sergio? You'd have to be a bit crazy

Larry P. Vellequette covers Chrysler for Automotive News.
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Many journalists went into the Detroit auto show with questions about CEO succession at various automakers.

Why didn't Ford's Alan Mulally trade Mustang 50.0 for Windows 8.1? Would Mark Reuss or Dan Ammann be team players for new coach Mary Barra at General Motors?

Fiat-Chrysler tried to cut off speculation by announcing that CEO Sergio Marchionne would stick around for "at least" three more years. There would be no unsightly jockeying for position to take the top job, at least not publicly.

That got me thinking: I bet there won't be much jockeying for Marchionne's job in private, either. With the possible exception of anybody named Tavares or Piech, who would want it?

Set aside for a moment the constant intercontinental travel, the grueling hours and the stress of keeping tens of thousands of people across the globe marching toward the same goal.

Who would really want to follow this guy, to spend the pinnacle of their career being compared to a workaholic turnaround specialist with a string of success stories under his belt?

I spoke privately with a number of Chrysler executives. And to a person they stand in awe of the physical stamina and intellectual prowess of their globe-trotting, sweater-wearing boss -- a man several years older than many of them.

Many cringe at the notion that they might one day be asked to fill the same Italian loafers. Some day, one of them will.

The only saving grace they might feel is that the Fiat-Chrysler that one of them will inherit will not be the same company it is today, or was in 2009. One of Marchionne's greatest achievements has been the creation of a cross-pollinating management structure and collaborative culture that will make Fiat-Chrysler much easier to run in the future.

For that alone, his successor should be thankful.

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

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