Final Inspection

A Lesson From Marchionne: Be Expressive, Not Offensive


Everyone appreciates an executive who cuts directly to the chase and lays it bare, but that same attitude can be expressed without being offensive.

Being an executive of a multi-billion dollar organization might give you carte blanche on a lot of things, but the tongue is still something to keep in check.

Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne isn’t known for subtlety or sugar-coating, and it’s that kind of take-no-prisoners attitude that’s necessary as both auto makers fight for their survival in Europe and the U.S., respectively.

Having scrummed with Marchionne several times on the Chrysler beat, I’ve built up enough of a thick skin – and maybe a shared sense of cynicism – to deal with Marchionne’s bluntness.

But a few months ago during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit when the chief declared during a reporter roundtable that any future Alfa Romeo product wouldn’t have a “wop” engine, even I was surprised.

For those who weren’t there, let me set the scene: Marchionne was sitting at a podium with a microphone, facing about three dozen journalists. This wasn’t an offhand comment made on the sidelines. It was loud and clear.

The other reporters in the room when Marchionne made that comment were noticeably uncomfortable, making nervous laughter to cover up initial gasps. Naturally in this day and age, the comment spread through Twitter and other social media before the roundtable had concluded, but everyone chalked it up to Sergio being Sergio.

Not so fast, says the Italian American ONE VOICE Coalition, who demanded an apology – albeit, about four months after the comment – from the CEO. Marchionne complied, agreeing in a statement this week that “wop” and other ethnic slurs for Italians have no place.

It’s hard to defend “Sergio being Sergio” when, in a room full of professionals, to let something like that slip. I’d imagine the same discomfort would be felt if Marchionne  were any other ethnicity using a specific insult, even jokingly.

Do we live in a overly policed, too-politically correct society? Yes, I agree that watching every, single thing that we say can lead to overthinking and sugar-coating. There are lines to be drawn there.

But a clear line has to be drawn with ethnic slurs, whether private or public. Everyone appreciates an executive who cuts directly to the chase and lays it bare, but that same attitude can be expressed without being offensive.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

on May 28, 2013

Although people sometimes disdain political correctness, it is the correct way to go, more times than not.

on Aug 27, 2013

It is an inspiration to all and people should learn from him but what decision government will take its all up to them.

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What's Final Inspection?

WardsAuto editors share insights and observations on the global auto industry.


David E. Zoia

As Editorial Director, I oversee much of what goes into, enjoying a ringside seat that lets me observe up close just about every facet of the industry worldwide. I have covered the...

James M. Amend

James Amend is an associate editor at, covering day-to-day business and product news at General Motors. He also leads coverage of regulatory and environmental issues, as well as the...
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