Sergio Marchionne, friend of Detroit, United Way, remembered as humanitarian

Today, the world mourns the loss of automotive magnate and philanthropist Sergio Marchionne, who died at age 66. His passion and commitment to our Greater Detroit community were unmatched and he will be greatly missed by his friends and associates at United Way. 

In 2009, Marchionne took the helm at Chrysler, which he transformed into FCA, securing the brand’s existence and the livelihoods of the men and women who worked there. Widely known for his business acumen, we will be forever grateful for his leadership and humanitarian efforts. He reminded us that we all have an obligation to give back, and that in doing so, we are privileged to be a part of something greater than ourselves.  

“We have a moral responsibility to get involved with issues that go beyond the walls of our offices; beyond the walls of our homes,” he said during a United Way event. “When we recognize and embrace our common humanity, we cannot simply turn our backs on those in need. Closing our eyes or thinking that finding a solution is somebody else’s problem would make us part of the problem.” 

Marchionne served as United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s Campaign Chair for two terms, from 2012-2013 and 2016-2018. In that time, his leadership secured more than $130 million to support community programs. 

Despite his demanding schedule, he often spoke on behalf of United Way to inspire his peers and his competitors to unite for the common good. 

“There’s more to leading a life than just benefiting economically from progress that has been made,” he said. “We’ve been put on this earth to do something else. And this notion of community, of fellowship, of belonging, is something which is absolutely fundamental to what we are. The minute we start disregarding that objective, the minute we start ignoring the obligation that we’re born with – to help others – is the minute we fail as human beings.” 

His efforts touched thousands of lives for the better.  

Mark Petroff, CEO of OneMagnify and board chairman at United Way, worked alongside Marchionne on the Campaign Cabinet.  

“Sergio’s role was more than raising money; he connected United Way’s work to the community,” Petroff said. “I know there’s so many people at FCA who viewed him as a mentor and as a servant leader. My heart goes out to them as they mourn their loss and move forward.” 

Marchionne’s leadership was felt across our organization and throughout the community. 

Tanya Heidelberg-Yopp, Chief Operating Officer, served as interim CEO during the latter portion of Marchionne’s second campaign. “Sergio was inspiring, clear in his values and had a deep honor for people at any place in life,” she said. “He was powerful in his effort to make people stand up and do something.” 

Herman B. Gray, MD, MBA, was CEO for much of Marchionne’s most recent tenure as Campaign Chair.

“Sergio was one of the most remarkable men I’ve ever met,” Gray said. “His combination of intellect, charisma, operational sensibility and compassion for his fellow man was both uncommon and uplifting.”

Michael Brennan, former United Way for Southeastern Michigan CEO, worked alongside Marchionne during his first round as Campaign Chair. Working side by side, Brennan said he saw Marchionne’s deep compassion and commitment for a more just world. 

“Sergio had a relentless desire to see progress not only in industry, but in the way we cared for one another,” Brennan said. “Every time I was with Sergio, I left with a greater confidence that the world was going to be a better place. Sergio matched his words with actions to make this world better. I will carry a never-ending gratitude for all that he gave to the community and for how he helped change the arc of my life. My heart and thoughts go to Sergio’s family and to the entire FCA team.”

Marchionne once referenced a quote from Pericles, Fifth Century Greek orator and statesman, who said, “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven in the lives of others.” 

Marchionne embodied these words and left an indelible mark on this community that will not be forgotten.