Reflecting on time interviewing Sergio Marchionne, chairman and CEO of the Chrysler Group and CEO of Fiat S.P.A.
A constant force in constant motion. Those are the words I think of when reflecting on my day spent with Sergio Marchionne, chairman and CEO of the Chrysler Group and CEO of Fiat S.P.A.
One of the Automobile Industry’s most innovative and unique CEOs passed on July 25 in Switzerland at a youthful age of 66 after complications from shoulder surgery. Look back at the reporting following Marchionne’s death and you’ll see praise for his business leadership rejuvenating the Chrysler Group around the Jeep brand as well as questions surrounding the Detroit-based automaker’s future growth with an emphasis on customer traction in China.
My aim with this personal post is to emphasize Marchionne’s creativity and the inspiration his creativity ignites.
I’ve been a writer my entire life; starting in media; then making a creative shift to content marketing and strategy.
Most of my media work revolves around interviews with artists, business leaders and celebrities. These interviews are common and orderly affairs like scheduled office meets; coffee interviews and project site visits often tailored to 30-minute blocks of time.
I remember my time spent with Sergio for the Fast Company story, We’re Detroit Kids, well, as being a lot like Sergio. Fast-paced. High Energy. Constant Movement. I also remember the trio of Detroit-based, automobile industry reporters staying focused on labor issues, while I spoke to Marchionne in Columbus, Ohio about the workplace culture impact of Chrysler’s famous Super Bowl ads ‘Imported from Detroit’ and ‘Halftime in America.’
What’s it like to get Sergio to deliver a quote that would become the marquee headline for the story? Well, it’s a fun moment with somebody who speaks his mind and does not shy away from questions about company challenges past and present.
It’s also satisfying to deliver a creative business story unique from the most of the day-to-day, Chrysler coverage. My Fast Company piece is the story of a 93-year-old American automaker at death’s door; a once-thriving Midwest city plunged into economic ruin and powerful storytelling building a return to greatness for both company and city.
Yet, there’s a value added here; one that continues to resonate with how I create, live and work.
Imagine spending a whirlwind day with Sergio. What would you do with the opportunity? What would you ask? What would you say? In my case, I can safely say that a magazine assignment turned into a lifetime of inspiration for honest messaging and taking creative risks.
There’s something else I continue to think about from my day interviewing Sergio and my current time building an interactive marketing product at a coworking space.
Clad in his trademark black jeans and bulky sweater Sergio looks the part of a startup founder more than some corporate CEO.
Spending a day with him and his entourage of Chrysler staff, he also displays the hustle of an entrepreneur sprinting towards his first MVP.
Watching him command the stage of a massive Ohio State University auditorium in Columbus, alongside John C Jay, global creative director at Portland, Oregon-based ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, one sees the confidence of someone willing to take the good risks necessary to help his company grow. He’s also somebody who wants to make things; new cars; new ideas of what the care of the future can be; take these things to market and see if they can be successful.
There’s something else worth remembering about Sergio. He’s a true, hybrid leader with a liberal arts education and eclectic career journey leading him to Chrysler and Fiat. His background is different from other automobile CEOs and this difference speaks to his success. He’s also someone who walks the factory floors and relates with his rank-and-file workers. He’s inclusive; not exclusive to certain schools and income brackets.
The same sense of the unexpected reflects Sergio’s untimely death from surgery complications this summer in Switzerland.
We’ll never learn what Sergio had in mind for his final, pre-retirement spin at Chrysler and Fiat, but his creativity and work ethic continue to inspire.
One thing is certain. There will be new Chrysler and Fiat autos and new Super Bowl ads to promote them but there won’t be a Sergio insisting that they be honest, frank and free of sympathy
In a writing career with plenty of signature moments, spending a day with Sergio continues to inspire me to keep taking risks; continue to be a maker and push the boundaries of storytelling.
The Story: Remembering a Day Spent with Sergio Marchionne, chairman and CEO of the Chrysler Group and CEO of Fiat S.P.A.
The Idea: One Day with Sergio Marchionne Delivers Lifetime of Inspiration
The Takeaways: Lessons from Sergio Marchionne include: Game-changing Success requires Creative Risks. Be Honest in Your Messaging. Build Diverse Experiences and Become a Hybrid Leader.
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