Eric Mayne's Blog

"Ser-gio! Ser-gio!"


Hero worship is enveloping Chrysler's Sergio Marchionne.

At the auto maker's Jefferson North assembly plant in Detroit, site of last week's ceremonial production launch of the '11 Jeep Grand Cherokee, the loudest cheers were reserved for the humble, self-effacing CEO. Louder than the ovation that welcomed dynamic UAW leader General Holiefield. Louder even than the enthusiastic greeting for Davesergio.gif Bing, Detroit mayor and NBA Hall-of-Famer.

As workers chanted, "Ser-gio! Ser-gio!", Andrew Brown, a 17-year veteran at Jefferson North, made sure I knew how Marchionne is regarded by hourly employees.

"He talks like no other CEO -- straight-forward," Brown yelled over the din. "He doesn't talk about this place as 'the plant.' He calls it, 'The House.'"

But instead of basking in the glow of such exaltation, Marchionne seems happier to shine the spotlight on others. On leaders such as Holiefield, whom he greeted with a bear hug and a solid slap on the back. On the throngs of workers such as Brown. And on a management team in which he has placed total trust -- actually a double-edged sword, but that's a topic for another blog.

The closest comparison to this kind of adulation I've ever witnessed occurred in October 2001. That's when Bill Ford announced to thunderous applause he was replacing Jacques Nasser as CEO of the company founded by his great-grandfather.

Ford employees saw in Bill Ford the promise of a new direction, fueled by their energy and guided by a stakeholder whose investment could not be measured in mere dollars and cents. Only now, nearly 10 years later and under the day-to-day management of former Boeing chief Alan Mulally, is the auto maker realizing the dreams Bill Ford envisioned.

Will it take a decade for Marchionne to rejuvenate Chrysler? ... Can Chrysler wait that long?

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