“I’m heartbroken over both losses,” Jackson, right, says of the deaths of Marchionne, far left, and Huizenga.
AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson was a close friend and confidant of two industry leaders who died this year: AutoNation founder Wayne Huizenga and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne.
Huizenga persuaded Jackson in 1999 to leave the top job at Mercedes-Benz USA and run AutoNation. Jackson met Marchionne at the Chrysler technical center on Aug. 20, 2009, amid the automaker’s bankruptcy.
The two men sat down over double espressos and began discussing the company’s future. Over the years, Jackson and Marchionne talked frequently, often discussing their life plans.
We wondered if the passing of Huizenga and Marchionne affected Jackson’s decision last month to transition to executive chairman in 2019, paving the way for a new CEO at AutoNation.
“No,” said Jackson, 69. “But I would say this: This year I lost both Wayne and Sergio. I’m heartbroken over both losses and … I know how lucky I was to have shared part of their lives. They were incredible human beings.
“I had a running conversation with both of them about this idea that life is a series of interesting chapters and that you need to put yourself in different chapters. I observed Wayne do that skillfully many times, and I’ll never forget being with Sergio in London in May and me being so excited about his new chapter. He was going to run Ferrari from 9 to 10 in the morning and take the rest of the day off. That was a running conversation.
“Certainly, the Lord took away Sergio’s next chapter and that’s heartbreaking because he certainly worked hard enough to deserve it,” Jackon said. “But no, I have to be quite frank. My decision to do this now is because of everything I’ve already told you, and I would be doing it if I still had both of them in my life.”