Sergio Marchionne will be replaced immediately at carmakers Fiat Chrysler and Ferrari, and at truck and tractor maker CNH Industrials, after suffering serious complications following surgery several weeks ago, the companies announced.
Jeep boss Mike Manley will take over as chief executive of FCA because Mr Marchionne is unable to return to work, FCA said following a board meeting on Saturday.
“Fiat Chrysler Automobiles communicates with profound sorrow that during the course of this week unexpected complications arose while Mr Marchionne was recovering from surgery and that these have worsened significantly in recent hours,” a spokesman said.
“The Board of Directors of FCA, meeting today, firstly expressed its closeness to Sergio Marchionne and his family and underlined the extraordinary contribution, both human and professional, that he has made to the company in these years.”
At Ferrari, Louis Camilleri, a board member and former chairman of Philip Morris International, will become CEO while John Elkann will become chairman.
CNH named Exor executive Suzanne Heywood as chairman to replace Mr Marchionne.
Mr Marchionne’s sudden departure brings an abrupt end to an illustrious career that has seen him transform Fiat from a lossmaking minnow into a global automotive giant, merging with Chrysler and spinning off Ferrari and CNH to create billions of pounds for the controlling Elkann family and other shareholders in the process.
The company said the departure would have no impact on the midterm plan announced in June to more than double profits by 2022, and invest €9bn into electric cars.
Mr Manley, whose Jeep and Ram brands had been central to the financial success of FCA over recent years, was heavily involved in crafting the new strategy.
But analysts previously questioned whether Mr Marchionne’s eventual successor would divert from the plan once in post.
Mr Marchionne, 66, had planned to step back from FCA in April next year, taking a place on the board of controlling shareholder Exor, though avoiding day-to-day management. He had expected to remain Ferrari CEO and chairman until 2021.
A qualified accountant and lawyer, Mr Marchionne joined Fiat’s board in 2003, shortly after the death of its patriarch Gianni Agnelli. He had been spotted by Italy’s de facto royal family after his rapid turnround of Swiss testing and certification company SGS.
A year later he was made CEO at the request of John Elkann, Agnelli’s then 28-year-old heir.
FCA’s succession, long in the planning, had been expected to be between Jeep and Ram boss Mike Manley, CFO Richard Palmer and Europe boss Alfredo Altavilla. There are concerns among analysts that choosing one successor risks losing the unsuccessful hopefuls.
In his closing speech at FCA’s capital markets day in June, Mr Marchionne paid tribute to the team who helped deliver a four-year plan many considered to be infeasible at its inception in 2014.
Between 2014 and this year, FCA wiped out its $12.5bn debt mountain.
“Emerging from the shadow of debt represents a fundamental change in how the company is perceived,” Mr Marchionne said.
“It is a significant milestone in the process of healing of a structural weakness that has burdened us for too many years.”
The company’s next plan, to 2022, was to raise adjusted profits from €6.6bn to €16bn, and margins from 6.3 per cent to 11 per cent, as well as moving into new business areas such of financing fleets of self-driving cars.
It also plans to invest up to €9bn into electric cars, with the aim that 60 per cent of cars sold in Europe will be electric or hybrid.