Great deals require great men to make them happen, but great men can also cause great deals to unravel.
IF PSA Group merges with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, PSA's Carlos Tavares would lead the combined company as CEO while FCA Chairman John Elkann would assume the same role, reports said.
Tavares has the strength needed to make a merged FCA and PSA succeed, but such an accomplishment risks making him a target within his own organization.
We saw this with Carlos Ghosn. Without his determination the Renault-Nissan alliance would have quickly failed, but Ghosn's force-of-nature stature upset shareholders in French and Japan. Without Ghosn holding them together, Renault and Nissan are drifting farther apart
Fiat got Chrysler because of the vision and the deal-making skills of Sergio Marchionne, who merged the two entities, rescuing Chrysler from Chapter 11 bankruptcy and making it profitable again. A decade prior to this he led turned around Fiat, which was on the brink of failure.
Despite his legendary skills as a negotiator, Marchionne was often abrasive, aloof and insulting to those who didn't live up to his expectations or questioned his genius. This made him persona non grata as he desperately sought to seal another megadeal. From early 2015 until his sudden death in July 2018, Marchionne tried to find a merger partner for FCA -- with General Motors being the preferred target -- but no one wanted to listen to him.
Tavares did a remarkable job turning around Renault as chief operating officer but he became restless as Ghosn's No. 2. He wanted more and got it when then-struggling PSA made him CEO.
Tavares quickly fixed PSA and, as if that wasn't challenging enough, he bought Opel/Vauxhall from GM and turned around the chronic money-loser at the speed of light.
There is no doubt that Tavares’s track record makes him the ideal person to successfully lead a merged PSA and FCA, which would seal his reputation as one of the greatest CEOs in automotive history, but therein lies the danger.
The single-largest shareholder of a merged PSA-FCA would be the Agnelli family, which is led by John Elkann, who spent 14 years being overshadowed by Marchionne. The last three years of the relationship between the two were very tense.
One of the big questions about this deal is whether Elkann and Tavares could peacefully coexist.
When there are tensions at the top, they reverberate down into the entire organization and then trouble really starts.