Sergio Marchionne, one of the most interesting and pragmatic automotive executives in the world, became the new CEO of Ferrari today. What does it mean for the storied brand? Change is coming.
The CEOs of big corporations are usually well-polished PR machines who never deviate from the script. In many ways, they're really kind of boring. Then there are CEOs of big corporations who are fantastically frank and make the job of a journalist much more fun because they cut through the bullshit and tell you what they're actually thinking.
He's not afraid to tell you what he thinks
Sergio Marchionne, who is also the CEO of Fiat Chrysler (and mastermind of the deal that brought those two companies together), is the latter. He's not afraid to tell you what he thinks, and when he has an idea, he's happy to shout it from the rooftops. Last year, Marchionne sent an unsolicited email to GM CEO Mary Barra. It laid out his vision for a megamerger of the two automotive giants, laying out how the companies could save billions by joining forces.
Barra and the GM board were uninterested, but Marchionne isn't so easily rebuffed. He used his company's next earnings call to argue for consolidation in the industry, saying that he was eager to find a merger partner for FCA. Marchionne said last month that the only candidates for a merger with FCA are Ford (which quickly rebuffed his public overture), Toyota, and Volkswagen. VW, of course, has its own issues to deal with.
The entire merger discussion, which is still ongoing, gives a hint to Marchionne's worldview: brutal pragmatism, combined with a taste for showmanship, and a Trump-esque ability to manipulate the press and get his message out.
For Ferrari, Marchionne plans to use the brand — the world-famous prancing horse and the Ferrari name — on other luxury goods besides sports cars to generate more revenue. Ferrari World amusement parks, clothing, luggage, watches, and more could all be in the cards.
But don't worry about Ferrari joining the ranks of Bentley, Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce, and all the other cool kids on the block: Ferrari won't be building an SUV anytime soon. Marchionne said earlier this year that Ferrari, which puts a limit on the number of cars it builds to preserve the brand's famous exclusivity (which also puts a damper on growth), absolutely would not build an SUV. "You have to shoot me first," he said. To the point as always, Sergio.