The illness and death of Fiat Chrysler's fast-charging, unconventional CEO may have seemed sudden and surprising to many, but Sergio Marchionne was apparently sick for longer than anyone—even his employer—knew. That news comes to the Wall Street Journal from University Hospital Zurich, which notes Marchionne had a "serious illness" for which he sought treatment at the hospital for more than a year. In a statement issued to get ahead of "further speculation," UHZ says it gave the ailing Marchionne "all the options offered by cutting-edge medicine," though it didn't detail what exactly he was being treated for. And because of patient privacy rules, Fiat Chrysler says it was in the dark about Marchionne's issues.
"The company had no knowledge of the facts relating to Mr. Marchionne's health," a company spokesman says, per Reuters, adding it wasn't until July 20 that it "was made aware with no detail by Mr. Marchionne's family of the serious deterioration in Mr. Marchionne's condition." The reason that's important is because "material" information about a company is required to be divulged to shareholders under securities laws. Whether a high-level exec's health counts as "material" can get murky, but a company can get itself into trouble if it puts out "half-truths or inconsistent statements," a Northwestern University professor tells the Journal. In February, Fiat Chrysler's annual report noted that Marchionne's hands-on involvement in the company was "critical to the execution of our strategic direction and implementation of our business plan," reports CNNMoney. (Read more Sergio Marchionne stories.)