A version of this story first appeared in the August 2018 print edition of Automotive News Canada.
WINDSOR, Ont. — The bond between late Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne and this auto town that is home to the automaker’s Canadian headquarters and its minivan assembly plant runs so deep that word of his death triggered a community-wide outpouring of grief and tributes befitting a head of state.
Soon after the news of Marchionne's death broke, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens announced that flags would fly at half-staff for five days in honour of the industrial titan, who died July 25 at the age of 66 from complications during shoulder surgery at a hospital in Zurich, Switzerland. The proximate cause of his death was cardiac arrest following the surgery, Bloomberg reported.
Dilkens now wants elected officials to seriously consider a way to have Marchionne permanently commemorated in Windsor.
“I’m interested in having that discussion with city council, so that there is a pubic reminder of the contribution that man made to our community.”
Marchionne spearheaded key investments in FCA’s network of factories, including the Windsor Assembly Plant, which underwent a $1 billion retooling for production of the Pacifica minivan.
By the time the upgrades were under way, Windsor was recovering from a brutal recession that had plunged the city into double-digit unemployment.
But it was that $1 billion investment as well as the hiring of an additional 1,200 people to bring total employment at the plant — already the city’s largest private sector employer — to more than 6,000 that ignited the local economy.
“That was huge for the city,” said Dilkens. “When I started as mayor in December 2014, we had an unemployment rate of 9.7 per cent; today we’re at 5.8 per cent.”
For two weeks after Marchionne’s death, Windsor residents filed through two municipal buildings to sign books of condolences that would be sent to Marchionne’s family.
“It was important for me to make sure we recognize someone who left an indelible mark on our community at a time when the auto industry was collapsing,” Dilkens told Automotive News Canada.
“There was a Great Recession, folks had lost confidence in Chrysler as a company. But he said, ‘You know what, I see a possibility.’ So, he took a leap that not many others were willing to take, and he took over Chrysler.”
But, the connection between Marchionne and Windsor was forged long before the 2008-2009 financial crisis that led to the U.S.-Canadian government bailouts of bankrupt Chrysler Corp., General Motors, and ultimately, Marchionne’s decision as CEO of Italy’s Fiat SpA to take control of the Auburn Hills, Mich., automaker.
EDUCATED IN WINDSOR, TOO