Tommaso Ebhardt of Bloomberg News writes about how he spent a decade covering Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne.
Ebhardt writes, “I’ve been chasing Marchionne for about a decade, all over the world. I once drove seven hours over the Alps, then spent hours more in front of a closed door on a frozen Swiss Sunday morning trying to get him to speak, with no success. I got into the Detroit auto show at 6 a.m. via the back door to find him already walking around the carmaker’s stand, hours before his press conference. All he would do is exchange a few words. I fought in the scrum of dozens of reporters following him at every public occasion to ask the first question. My pursuit was so obsessive that when I turned 40 and my friends threw me a surprise party, the cake featured a picture of Marchionne.
“It was not easy for Marchionne’s aides and for everyone at the the Italian-American company. He demanded full dedication and had a constant sense of urgency. That cost him some talented executives. Marchionne could also be brutal, which hurt his relationships with CEOs in the industry and with political leaders.
“‘I don’t have time for BS,’ he used to tell me. The son of a policeman, who moved with his family from Italy to a suburb of Toronto at the age of 14, he joined Fiat in 2004 with no experience in the car industry.
“Sometimes he evaded me but sometimes he gave in. Outside the NYSE on Ferrari’s first trading day as I was interviewing him with Bloomberg Television’s Matthew Miller, he called me his ‘affectionate stalker’ — live on television. In 2012 I figured out he was in Madrid with his counterparts for a European car-association meeting. I waited outside a luxury hotel on a warm June day for several hours. When he got there, he surrendered.
“‘OK, you can ask me everything,’ he said as he started another Muratti cigarette. He then gave me a scoop: Fiat was going to discontinue its best-selling hatchback, the Punto, on the view that the investment would never pay off.”
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