Fiat group's Sergio Marchionne (top) and Nissan's Carlos Ghosn are each adding the job of running a new automaker to their existing responsibilities.
Sergio Marchionne: Good luck.
Carlos Ghosn: Be careful.
Running a big automotive company is like riding a bull. It's possible to hang on, but you have to know what you're doing, keep your mind on the goal while you're being bounced around and allow your colleagues to do their jobs.
As the head of Fiat group, Sergio Marchionne did a good job pushing General Motors to the brink over GM's foolish commitment to buy Fiat Auto. Marchionne, an Italian-Canadian accountant, lawyer and finance guy, was fully prepared for that kind of corporate battle.
But now Marchionne has taken over the car business. He fired the experienced former Volkswagen executive Herbert Demel as CEO of Fiat Auto and installed himself.
Marchionne will soon learn that the car business really is different. It is about: huge investments; tiny margins; constant and complex product development; fickle consumers; and an ugly marketplace with competitors willing to lose money.
It is not something that public accounting, corporate controlling and service businesses necessarily prepare you for.
Marchionne's task is complicated by the catastrophe that Fiat Auto has been under its previous three chiefs since 2001.
And now, the CEO has no automotive experience.
So, to Marchionne: Good luck. Be sure you let your teammates do their jobs.
By contrast to Marchionne, Carlos Ghosn may know the car business better than anybody in the world. The man is a marvel, and his turnaround of Nissan Motor will live forever in automotive history.
But now he's about to take over Renault -- not instead of Nissan, but in addition to Nissan. OK, Carlos Ghosn is focused. He's knowledgeable. He's organized. He can probably do that.
But he's also holding onto responsibility for Nissan's North American operations.
Is that a bridge too far? At some point, you have to let your executives do their jobs.
To Ghosn: Be careful.
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