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Sergio Marchionne in Conversation with Bill Emmott

by Bill Emmott on September 14, 2018

Marchionne's legacy. In this last, in depth, never seen before interview with Bill Emmott Marchionne talks about Italy, Fiat and the capital sins of Italians with the former editor of The Economist


It is rare to find a business leader who has sharp, reflective, worthwhile thoughts about the world beyond their own business and sector.

But Sergio Marchionne was that rare exception.

This interview, filmed when Annalisa Piras and I were making “Girlfriend in a Coma” in 2011/12, showed him at his absolute best: his observations about capitalism after the 2008 financial crisis, about inequality, about Italy’s struggles with modern business, about being an exile, even about his father, were gripping, informative and moving all at the same time.

 When Annalisa and I toured Italy in subsequent years to screen our documentary and hold debates, there was one very common criticism: that we had been too kind to FIAT and to Sergio Marchionne in particular.

I always argued back, for I thought then and believe now that these criticisms were badly misplaced.

Yes, I said, as Sergio in fact said during our interview, in the past FIAT often received too much help from the Italian state. But now it is trying to operate in a completely different world, of the European single market and of open global competition.

Sergio Marchionne should make you proud as Italians, I said: his FIAT has won support from the US government, not the Italian one, and he has succeeded at Chrysler where Germany’s Daimler failed.

You need more people like him, not fewer.

It remains true.

One thing I remember Sergio telling me when I spoke to him for my book, “Good Italy, Bad Italy”, has always stuck in my mind.

As in the film, he was speaking as the best sort of outsider, one who knew Italy, having grown up there until he was 13, but who could also view his native country objectively.

What he said to me was that the big difficulty in doing business in Italy was that whenever you tried to do something new, someone or some group would always try to stop you. That is doubtless why his death was followed by a renewed storm of criticism.

It is the Italian tragedy: the country that created the Renaissance now too often hates change and the innovators who try to bring it.

Bill Emmott

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