By Eric J. Lyman
ROME, July 25 (Xinhua) -- Fiat-Chrysler, the modern incarnation of one of Italy's largest and oldest industrial concerns, is entering a period of uncertainty in the wake of the death of the manager who saved it from its darkest period.
Sergio Marchionne, who died Wednesday at the age of 66, had been on medical leave since the start of this month. He formally stepped down from his job as chief executive for Fiat-Chrysler and iconic sportscar maker Ferrari a few days earlier.
Marchionne will be remembered as the architect responsible for transforming struggling regional carmaker Fiat and nearly bankrupt U.S. counterpart Chrysler and transforming them into a multinational conglomerate growing faster than the worldwide auto industry as a whole.
On July 21, the company announced Mike Manley, the outgoing head of Fiat-Chrysler's Jeep division, would replace Marchionne at the top of the company. Manley, who will be the first non-Italian to head 119-year-old Fiat, is well regarded. But analysts said they expected rough waters for the company in the near term.
"Manley steps into the company facing enormous challenges," Giuseppe Berta, a business historian at Milan's Bocconi University, told Xinhua. "Of course the company is better off than it was in 2009, when the cooperation between Fiat and Chrysler began. But the situation it is in is still fragile."
Berta said that just two of the car divisions at Fiat-Chrysler are in good health: Jeep -- where Manley had been running things -- and Alfa Romeo, a luxury car division of Fiat. The others, Berta said, are still in a period of transition.
Additionally, according to Berta, the company is hindered from a lack of access to markets in China, the world's second largest economy.
Under Marchionne, the company had begun a move into tangential sectors, such as automation. The Italian media reported those plans may now be put on hold.
Additionally, Manley will have to take the helm of the company without the help of Alfredo Altavilla, who had been Fiat-Chrysler's chief executive for Europe. Altavilla resigned after the company's board passed over him to hire Manley to replace Marchionne.
Early indications are that Chief Financial Officer Richard Palmer, the third candidate to step into Marchionne's shoes, will stay on the job in the same role.
Markets responded strongly to news that Marchionne would stepping down, with shares in Fiat-Chrysler plummeting nearly 6 percent on Monday morning, the first trading session after the news was revealed. But they recovered on Tuesday, and then sinking dramatically on Wednesday, after Marchionne's death was announced.
Enzo Peruffo, a senior lecturer on corporate strategy at Rome's LUISS University, said in an interview that markets should give Manley the benefit of the doubt.
"Sergio Marchionne was the face of Fiat's recovery but the work was done by his team," Peruffo said. "It makes sense to believe that the team Marchionne put together will keep working in the same direction with the intent to finish the job Marchionne started."