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Former FCA chief Sergio Marchionne dies aged 66

Sergio Marchionne died following post-surgery complications in Switzerland

Sergio Marchionne, chairman and CEO of FCA and head of Ferrari, has died following complications post surgery in Switzerland. He was 66.

The highly regarded company chief was due to step down from the role next year, but he was suddenly replaced four days ago by Jeep and Ram boss Mike Manley following news of Marchionne’s failing health.

"Clearly this is a very sad and difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and colleagues," Manley said. "There is no doubt that Sergio was a very special, unique man, and no doubt he will be sorely missed."

Praised for dragging both the Fiat and Chrysler group of brands from the brink of disaster to FCA’s current position as the world’s seventh-largest automaker, Marchionne’s Canadian/Italian background helped him bridge the cultural gap between Europe and North America.

His 14 years in the auto industry are littered with momentous achievements, not least of which was forcing GM into paying US$2b for breaching a contract that would have seen the US giant take over Fiat’s North American operations - money that was quickly sunk into product development - as well as striking a deal with then-President Barack Obama to allow Fiat to take control of Chrysler in the USA.

From there, he rapidly grew the Jeep and Ram brands to new positions of strength in the USA, before relaunching the Alfa Romeo brand globally.

His impact on the company cannot be overstated. In 2003, when Marchionne took over Fiat, the company had lost more than six billion Euros. By 2005, Fiat had turned a profit (helped in no small part by GM's sizeable payment). And when Fiat took over Chrysler, the US company was staring down bankruptcy. This year, the FCA group finally eliminated its mountain of debt, and entered a net-cash position for the first time. The market value of Fiat (including Ferrari, which was spun-off completely in 2016) rose more than 10-fold under his leadership.

“Unfortunately, what we feared has come to pass. Sergio Marchionne, man and friend, is gone," said John Elkann, chairman of FCA and CEO of Exor - FCA's biggest shareholder.

"I believe that the best way to honor his memory is to build on the legacy he left us, continuing to develop the human values of responsibility and openness of which he was the most ardent champion."