Marchionne still goes his own way with tell-all strategy

Jason Stein is publisher and editor of Automotive News

Some called the concept audacious (eight brands, 14 speakers and 19 PowerPoint presentations -- in one day?). Others compared the 10-hour session to a "hostage situation." And most couldn't believe the detail -- "there are 87 pages in the Fiat brand presentation!" said one Twitter follower.

As if Sergio Marchionne and his ubiquitous black sweater haven't done enough to shake up fashion, last week he showed us how to open up a little more, how to let our secrets flow.

Future powertrains? Fiat Chrysler execs told all.

New segments? New models? Dropped models?

Check. Check. And check ya later, Dodge Grand Caravan.

Marchionne didn't open the kimono, he used it as a rally towel.

His team didn't peel back the curtain, they burned it.

They talked about market share targets, r&d funding, Jeep surges, Fiat disappointments and ambitions to have Alfa volumes as big as Audi.

And that was before the morning espresso was cold.

The everything-on-the-table, no-state-secrets, Marchionne-tell-all PowerPoint was something ripped straight from no one's playbook ... except his own in 2009.

Only this was different.

Five years ago, the same open-house concept was used to reassure the world (perhaps themselves) that Chrysler and Fiat had a real plan, especially after the Daimler-Cerberus raid on the Chrysler product cupboard. It was meant to reassure and convince and convey to the world that this deal could really, truly -- no! really! -- work.

This Marchionne Marathon -- by all accounts -- was just as full, just as complete and bull-like in its determination.

And, oh, how unique.

Most automakers keep their playbooks secret for as long as possible. They don't tip their hands because they don't want to give rivals the time to devise strategies to derail those plans.

You are not supposed to lay out a plan right down to these details: a 60 percent rise in sales, a description of architectures, engine sizes and an increase in net profit fivefold.

And you are not supposed to tell your opponent everything, and then tell them you are going to steal their market share.

The Marchionne Way is the anti-auto CEO.

So, why do that?

The answer, like many of his answers during the day (and night) was simple ... and complex.

He needed to demonstrate to analysts and investors that Fiat Chrysler has a well-organized plan to deliver results -- and profit. Down the road, that will mean a much stronger showing in the IPO stage.

He also needed a new covenant with tens of thousands of Fiat Chrysler employees. This was all about accountability -- holding his team to shared goals that were out in the open. Everyone is fully exposed. There is nowhere to hide.

Even beyond the open playbook, five years after the last five-year plan, Marchionne still brings qualities that are so unique -- so refreshing.

Last week, he used words like "spreadsheet capitalism." He quoted philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He read a passionate letter from the daughter of a Chrysler line worker. And he played Bob Dylan over the loudspeakers as warm-up music.

And he appeared to be deeply moved when he talked about the people on both sides of his organization -- how they have been profoundly shaped by their near-death experiences, and how that puts Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in a unique position to succeed in this latest plan despite the obstacles.

Yes, the odds are high. But so is the potential victory.

The playbook is open.

Are you going to doubt him now?

You can reach Jason Stein at jstein@crain.com -- Follow Jason on Twitter: @jasonstein



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