What is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles without Sergio Marchionne, the man who handcrafted it?
Moving forward after Marchionne's planned retirement in 2019 was always going to be a tough task for FCA. But Marchionne's unexpected death last week eliminated the chance to choreograph a smooth transition, and CEO Mike Manley's tenure got off to a rocky start as the company lowered its guidance for the year and shares dropped as much as 16 percent in the hours afterward.
Wall Street's reaction might not have been entirely about the company missing second-quarter earnings expectations or changing its outlook; it also seemed to reflect the uncertainty created by FCA losing one of the most strategic and coveted CEOs in automotive history.
Marchionne, 66, was one of few auto CEOs listed as a risk factor in regulatory filings, because of his company's dependence on the charismatic Italian-Canadian executive, who died in Switzerland weeks after suffering complications during surgery.
"A light has gone out, a very bright light," Morgan Stanley automotive analyst Adam Jonas said on FCA's earnings call last week. "But he kindled a lot of other lights, and the company's in good hands."
However, keeping all those lights shining for FCA without Marchionne could be as challenging for Manley as completing the company's five-year plan through 2022.
While turning around Fiat S.p.A. and Chrysler Group to eventually create FCA, Marchionne consistently promoted from within and empowered "the kids," as he called his young stable of executives, to make their own decisions.
They either reaped the rewards or suffered the consequences, which many times led to executives leaving to pursue "other interests." It made top lieutenants who stayed, including Manley, extremely loyal.
"If Sergio wants me to go sweep up cigarette butts in the parking lot, I'm going to go sweep up cigarette butts in the parking lot," Reid Bigland, then FCA's head of U.S. sales, Canada and Alfa Romeo North America, said in 2015 interview.