TURIN, Italy (AP) — The heir to Fiat's founding family paid an emotional farewell to Sergio Marchionne, the late CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles telling mourners Friday that "he taught all of us ... to have the courage to change."
In a eulogy at a packed Turin Cathedral, John Elkann, his voice cracking, echoed Marchionne's indefatigable work ethic in his eulogy, saying "never take a break or a deep breath after a victory, because life doesn't stop."
Marchionne, who turned around both Fiat and U.S. carmaker Chrysler to create the world's seventh-largest carmaker FCA, died suddenly on July 25 at the age of 66 after complications following shoulder surgery in a Swiss hospital.
His deteriorating health, revealed just days earlier, forced three publicly traded companies — Fiat Chrysler itself, Ferrari and CNH Industrial — to scramble to install new leadership.
It was later disclosed that he had been receiving treatment for an undisclosed illness for a year.
Marchionne had been planning to step down as FCA CEO next year, and had outlined a new five-year business plan for the company in June. But he had been expected to continue on at Ferrari and was due to update the sports car company's business plans this month. That will fall next week to his Ferrari successor, former chairman of Ferrari sponsor Philip Morris International, Louis Camilleri, who also attended the memorial along with FCA's new CEO, Mike Manley.
Italian workers clad in assembly line jumpsuits emblazoned with the names of Fiat's brands stood in the aisles while black-suited executives spanning decades of Fiat's often difficult history packed the pews. Mourners also included two former prime ministers, local officials and family members, among them his companion, two grown sons and relatives from Marchionne's native Abruzzo.
Marchionne, who emigrated to Canada as a teen with his family, has been buried alongside his parents and his sister in Toronto.
During his 14-year tenure as CEO, Marchionne catapulted Fiat, which for decades had relied on government subsidies and the domestic market, into a global car company following the Chrysler merger. His time at the helm drew upon both his Italian sensibilities and Anglo-Saxon education.
The archbishop of Turin, Monsignor Cesare Nosiglia, said that Marchionne had used his considerable talents for the greater good, helping secure the future of the Italian car company that had created Turin's destiny as an industrial city.
"Sergio Marchionne was entrusted with a glorious treasure, in a moment when it was most compromised," Nosiglia said. "His work, in Turin as in America, was for everyone an impetus to not give up hope. He helped us to understand that we need to continually come to terms with our history, but that we should not be afraid of the new, of updating our horizons."
Workers bussed in from all corners of Italy remembered how Marchionne would visit factory floors, taking time to exchange a few words, paying attention to the smallest details and sprinkling his addresses with philosopher quotes and classical music. They said his death, at a delicate moment for the Italian plants with the relaunch of premium brands Alfa Romeo and Maserati still underway, was a shock.
"Marchionne was always appreciated by workers because he gave hope," said Marco Ferraro, an 18-year employee at an engine factory near Naples.
Ferraro especially praised him for relaunching Alfa Romeo with models worthy of its racy history, including the Giulia sedan.
"Marchionne can be compared with the Giulia, as a symbol of Italy, and of strength."