The Italian Almanac

Sergio Marchionne

A Most Influential Man

Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has become the first Italian to feature in Time's annual list of the world's most influential people. Marchionne earned his place for guiding Chrysler's return to health since Fiat took management control of the US carmaker under a 2009 US government bailout package, having previously turned around the Italian auto giant's fortunes.

''Without Sergio Marchionne, America's No. 3 automaker would almost surely not exist today,'' Time said. ''His vision for what a Chrysler-Fiat alliance could achieve, his success at turning around the faltering Italian company and his limitless energy were all critical to President (Barack) Obama's decision two years ago to keep Chrysler afloat using taxpayer dollars''.

The 58-year-old Italian-Canadian was appointed CEO of Fiat in 2004 and was soon winning praise for a ''spectacular rescue'' of a group many analysts doubted could survive. Commentators said the fact he was educated in Canada, where his family moved to when he was 14, and started his career there enabled him to tackle Fiat's problems with an Anglo-American mentality, axing bureaucracy and switching its prime focus from engineering to markets and profits.

Marchionne has also been credited with creating a new model of relaxed, hands-on involvement for top Italian business managers that has proved effective across the Atlantic too. ''Invariably cloaked in a black sweater and alternately charming and bullying, the Italian-born, Canadian-bred Marchionne, 58, swept into Chrysler with no matter too large or too small for his relentless focus,'' Time said.

''Symbolically, he moved the CEO's office from splendid executive-tower isolation to the fourth floor of the engineering building, elbow to elbow with key execs. Substantively, he overhauled Chrysler's tired product line. ''While the final verdict on Chrysler has yet to be rendered, early signs are promising. ''The company turned an operating profit in 2010. And Marchionne's beloved new models have garnered some much needed positive reviews''.

Marchionne began his business career in 1983 in Canada as a fiscal and legal expert with Deloitte Touche. He had spells in important positions at a number of Canadian companies before moving to Switzerland with the pharmaceuticals group Alusuisse Lonza in 1994. At Alusuisse he moved up to the position of managing director before leaving in 2000 to head up the Lonza group when it separated from Alusuisse. In 2002 he became managing director at Societe Generale de Surveillance, a leader in the field of inspections, testing and certification.

Before taking the top job at Fiat, he had been an independent member of its board from May 2003.