By Scott Smith
---- — Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne will be at Indiana University Kokomo’s May 13 commencement to accept an honorary degree from Indiana University President Michael McRobbie, IUK officials announced.
In a statement, McRobbie credited Marchionne with engineering “one of the most dramatic rescue-and-recovery efforts in the history of the American auto industry."
"Thanks to his strong leadership, experience and entrepreneurial spirit, Chrysler Group has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance over the last several years, and the company has re-emerged as a leading player in the global marketplace.”
Marchionne was directly involved in decisions to retool operations at Kokomo’s four Chrysler plants to accommodate the carmaker’s next generation of powertrains, resulting in about $1.5 billion worth of investment.
From the bottom of the former Chrysler’s bankruptcy in 2009, the new Marchionne-led Chrysler Group LLC has returned the area plants to near peak pre-recession employment levels, and has taken the further step of purchasing vacant manufacturing space in Tipton to bring a fifth plant to the area.
Since the 2009 low point, a resurgent Chrysler has added about 2,600 jobs in the north central area.
In February, Brian Harlow, chief of global powertrain manufacturing for Chrysler Group LLC, who also happens to be a Tipton County native and resident, was delivering an update on Chrysler’s newest plant to a Tipton County Chamber of Commerce gathering.
“We have an extraordinary leader in Sergio Marchionne,” Harlow said. “I’ve never dealt with anyone in the business world like him … he is the main player. He is the reason we exist.”
Local officials have also praised Marchionne's leadership.
"I think Marchionne and Chrysler have put together a plan, they've implemented the plan, and it has been successful," Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said. "The people I talk to who work there, including [union] members, have bought into the business model they've created, and so far, so good."
The plan for May 13 is for McRobbie to present an honorary Doctor of Laws degree to Marchionne, the highest academic recognition IU can bestow. School officials said the degree is awarded to individuals who have demonstrated “high standards of excellence” in a particular field or endeavor.
IUK spokeswoman Marie Radel said McRobbie will deliver the main commencement address to the graduates, and Marchionne is also expected to speak at the event. IUK Chancellor Sue Sciame-Giesecke also will speak.
Chrysler officials weren’t immediately available for comment on IUK’s announcement.
"This transformation also has had a major impact on the community served by Indiana University Kokomo, spurring job growth and energizing a partnership between the campus and the company that continues to benefit our students and members of the local community,” McRobbie said. “Indiana University is extremely pleased to present this honorary degree to Sergio Marchionne in recognition of his exceptional career and contributions to preserving Kokomo's rich automotive heritage and history of innovation."
Marchionne is also chairman of CNH Industrial N.V. and leads Fiat S.p.A. Group Executive Council and has served as chief operating officer of the Group Executive Council's NAFTA Regional Operations Group. He became CEO of Fiat S.p.A. in June 2004 and has been a member of the board since May 2003.
Marchionne was born in Chieti, Italy, and has dual Canadian and Italian citizenship.