Sergio Marchionne was easily the busiest automotive CEO in generations. He traveled constantly. He worked endlessly. He noodled, he argued, he debated, he contemplated, he engaged -- really whatever verb you'd like to use for heavy decision-making -- without end.
But let's be honest, now that we've had four months to deal with what happened at the end of July: Marchionne's frenetic, nonstop pace extracted much too heavy a toll on the man himself.
With the appointment Thursday of two outsiders to key executive roles -- Mark Stewart as COO of FCA North America and Niel Golightly as global chief communications officer -- Marchionne's successor, FCA CEO Mike Manley, has made it abundantly clear that he has learned another tough lesson from his late boss.
The role Stewart assumes is no entry-level job. Marchionne himself was COO for FCA in North America until his death in July, when it became one of many titles unfortunately thrust upon Manley.
Under FCA's byzantine management structure, the COOs for each of the company's regions are responsible for almost everything that occurs there. And since North America is now FCA's most profitable region by far -- the profit margin in the region surged to 10.2 percent in the third quarter -- driving the performance of the company as a whole, the North American COO job is absolutely vital.
Marchionne viewed Fiat Chrysler's cross-connecting executive matrix -- the management structure that has the same executives shouldering multiple key global roles -- as a key strength, a way to make and implement decisions "at the speed of light."
That may be true, but no other automaker ever copied it, and with good reason: It's exhausting, maybe even life-draining.
At 51, Stewart is just a few months younger than FCA CFO Richard Palmer, Tim Kuniskis, head of the Jeep and Alfa Romeo brands, and Reid Bigland, who heads FCA Canada, U.S. sales and the Ram brand. Palmer, Kuniskis and Bigland will all have turned 52 by the end of February, while Manley is only 54. While Stewart's year as an executive at Amazon will grab the headlines, his long background with Tower Automotive and later as an executive with TRW and ZF TRW are what's likely to help him most in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Manley already has a full plate of issues to deal with at FCA: straightening out operations in China, righting the profitability ship at Maserati and boosting profitability out of Europe and Latin America. The last thing he needs to worry about is North America.
Luckily for him, FCA's North American operations are running about as well as they could right now, as evidenced by that hefty profit margin.
That means it's as good a time as any to pass the baton.