July 25 (UPI) -- Former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne, credited with saving the company from the brink of collapse nearly a decade ago, has died at age 66.
Marchionne, 66, had been in a coma in a Swiss hospital since Friday after complications from shoulder surgery last month.
Exor, the holding company of the family that founded Italian automaker Fiat, confirmed Marchionne's death Wednesday in a statement on the FCA website.
"Unfortunately, what we feared has come to pass. Sergio Marchionne, man and friend, is gone," FCA chairman John Elkann said. "I believe that the best way to honor his memory is to build on the legacy he left us, continuing to develop the human values of responsibility and openness of which he was the most ardent champion.
FCA's board of directors named Jeep head Mike Manley as CEO when it became clear Marchionne would not be able to return.
Elkann wrote a letter to employees after Manley's appointment but before Marchionne's death, crediting the former FCA head with turning the company around in its "darkest moments," La Repubblica reported.
"Sergio was the best CEO you could wish for and, for me, a real mentor, a colleague and a close friend. We met in one of the darkest moments in the history of Fiat and it was thanks to his intellect, his perseverance and his leadership if we managed to save the company," Elkann wrote.
Marchionne had been CEO of Fiat since 2004 and became Chrysler chief executive in 2009 when he rescued the company from the brink of liquidation with help from the U.S. government. He also started a turnaround plan that returned the automaker to sustainability.
"They picked I think the right guy to lead it. Without somebody with the energy and vision of Sergio, we would have seen probably the collapse" of Chrysler, Dave Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research, said. "He'll be missed."