Fiat Chrysler New CEO Shows Company Future Is All About Jeep

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July 22, 2018 4:06 pm Published by

The company is called Fiat Chrysler. But its success depends on another iconic brand: Jeep.

That explains why Mike Manley, a 54-year-old Briton, was picked to replace Sergio Marchionne, the automotive icon who was forced to relinquish the post of chief executive officer after 14 years due to the sudden deterioration of his health.

Manley has been head of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s Jeep brand since 2009, the linchpin in the company’s plan to double profit in the next five years. Already, the Jeep and Ram vehicles he oversaw were responsible for 67 percent of total U.S. volume in 2017, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

Marchionne had been set to retire in April 2019. His unexpected illness accelerated the timeline for a decision on succession that was already seen as a crossroads for the company. Who would run the Italian-American automaker was just the first of a number of pivotal choices — like whether to remain independent — facing Chairman John Elkann, heir to the founding Agnelli family.

Manley will have a lot on his do-list — from electrifying the manufacturer’s lineup to boosting luxury brands Alfa Romeo and Maserati, to raising the profile of Jeep in China. He also faces the test of meeting rigorous fuel-economy standards in Europe and China.

“He’s not a guy with a huge ego. That’s another reason why he’ll be a good leader,” said Rebecca Lindland, an executive analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “But he certainly has to figure out, make some tough decisions on which brands are struggling, and look at electrification.”

The new CEO will start immediately, according to a company statement, underscoring Marchionne’s decline, which prompted the extraordinary board meeting on Saturday. Marchionne, 66, is in worsening health following complications from shoulder surgery, the company said.

Manley joined Chrysler in the U.K. in 2000 when the carmaker was part of Daimler. He was named head of Jeep at the start of Fiat’s five-year acquisition, and led the transformation of the iconic American brand into a cash machine. Analysts estimate that Jeep alone could be worth the entire $30 billion market value of Fiat Chrysler.

Colleagues describe Manley as serious and driven, a ferociously hard worker who inspires loyalty among his top lieutenants. He’s candid, true to his word, and a good listener, but he also does not suffer fools, said David Kelleher, a Philadelphia-area Jeep, Ram and Chrysler dealer who has worked with Manley during his decade-long stint on the company’s U.S. dealer council.

“When he sits in a room, if you’re not a guy that works 80 hours a week, you’re going to have a tough time keeping up with him,’ Kelleher said. “He doesn’t know what a weekend is; he’s very much a protege of Mr. Marchionne.”

At the April general meeting, Elkann and Marchionne both said that Fiat Chrysler is now strong enough to survive on its own and doesn’t need a partner. Fiat reiterated this view on Saturday, saying Manley and his team will implement the business plan presented on June 1 to assure Fiat Chrysler’s “strong and independent” future.

Click here for a timeline of Marchionne’s transformative tenure

With Manley, Fiat’s board also signaled that the Jeep brand was central to plans going forward. The board passed over two other internal candidates — Alfredo Altavilla, a close aide to Marchionne and a Fiat veteran who’s overseen operations across the globe and now runs the automaker’s European business, and Chief Financial Officer Richard Palmer, who is well known to Wall Street and helped combine the company’s operations after the merger with Chrysler.

Jeep Targets

Manley had already been tasked with the biggest job of the five-year plan: Doubling Jeep sales volume by 2022 from the 1.4 million vehicles sold last year. He needs a 40 percent jump this year alone to meet the 2018 marker of 2 million set out by Marchionne.

The new CEO shares with Marchionne a direct style and and a penchant for casual clothing. He had sidestepped the question of whether he was ready to take the top post, always saying he was fully concentrating on his Jeep job.

“If I don’t grow volumes with those opportunities, then we’ll be sitting and having a different conversation next January, won’t we?” Manley said in an interview this year.

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