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Fiat takeover of Chrysler sealed at Vero Beach Hotel

STORY BY EILEEN KELLEY (Week of January 9, 2014)
Photo: Fiat CEO Marchionne clinches deal in Vero Beach.

One of the largest mergers in automotive history didn’t go down against the blustery backdrop of a typically brutal Detroit winter day.  Instead, Fiat’s deal to acquire 100 percent of Chrysler, America’s No. 3 automotive company, was concluded within hearing distance of Vero’s crashing waves.

Part-time John’s Island resident Alain Lebec, an advisor to the United Auto Worker healthcare trust, and Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of both Fiat and Chrysler, negotiated for several hours in a meeting room at the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa on Dec. 27 before reaching a deal.  Snacks were served, but no dinner.

Marchionne and the union’s trust attorney, Lebec, had been deadlocked for months, meeting several times in Detroit leading up to Lebec’s Christmas holiday in Vero.

They held news of the deal, under which Fiat will acquire the trust’s 41.5 percent share of the company, close to their vests for several days before the official Jan. 1 announcement. The closing of the $4.35 billion deal is expected to be completed by Jan. 20.

While in Vero, Marchionne was lent an eye-turning $54,000 glass black Chrysler 300C by the Vero Beach Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram dealership. The car is normally driven by dealership’s owner, island resident Jay Campana, who was vacationing in Mexico.

Once the closing is finalized, Chrysler will be 100 percent Italian-owned, now that the auto worker healthcare trust has sold its stake in the automotive manufacturer outright.

Prior to the purchase, Lebec, managing partner at Brock Capital in New York, had been working with the autoworkers to have their stake in the company put on the open market through a public offering.

But Marchionne was determined to seal the deal and take over Chrysler before Jan. 1. The payments to the trust will go toward health benefits of current and future Chrysler retirees.

Lebec, who rarely gives interviews, told Vero Beach 32963 his Christmas and New Year’s holiday on the island was packed with business because after meeting with Marchionne he had to deal with lawyers, and then tend to family matters as his son was rushed to the Indian River Medical Center.

“It was a very busy New Year’s for us,” he said. His son is okay now, he added.

It’s not immediately clear what the official merger of Fiat and Chrysler, a personal goal of Marchionne’s for nearly five years, will mean for the Vero Chrysler dealership.

Typically Fiats are only sold within Chrysler dealerships if there is a separate showroom for the brand, which is not the case – at least not yet – in Vero Beach. The closest Fiat dealer is in Melbourne.

Lebec, the low-key, French-born investment banker who also lives in Greenwich, CT, spent more than four decades on Wall Street. He orchestrated some of the most important telecommunications deals in the 1990s while at Merrill Lynch, Reuters reported. He also served as an advisor to General Motors.

“A lot of people think of investment bankers as wanting their names in the press and driving fancy cars and being the Gordon Gekkos of the world,” Sidney Goodfriend, a former Merrill banker and Connecticut neighbor of Lebec, told Reuters. “Alain is exactly the opposite.”