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“ Outta’ My Mind on a Monday Moanin’ ”

I’ll never forget the first time I met and shook Sergio Marchionne’s hand. Because I didn’t actually shake his hand.

Let me explain.

When Sergio first came on the scene, he was kind of a mythical presence in Detroit,  rarely giving one-on-one interviews, which of course I desperately wanted. So there I am in a men’s room at Cobo Center auto show week with WJR’s Link Bessert.

Link finished washing his hands and headed out into the hallway.  I was washing my hands when Link bursts in the door and says, “Marchionne is coming down the hall!”

I ran out the door like a surgeon who had just scrubbed for surgery. With wet hands I said, “Mr. Marchionne, my name is Paul W. Smith from WJR Radio, I’ve been trying to reach you!" When he reached out to shake hands, I said, “Sorry, I came out of the men’s room before I could dry my hands, I was afraid I was going to miss you!”

A first glimpse of his famous wit, “Had I known you were in there, I would have come in to meet you!”  He offered his elbow, I raised mine to his, and that was our first “handshake.”  

Early on, I asked Sergio if it was (phonetically) Mar-key-own-ee or Mar-key-own ?

His unexpected answer ?  Mar-SHE-own! It was from his time living in Canada, and right then, we were geographically closer to Canada then Italy.

Still not sure if I should call him by a name no one else used, a friend close to him, Gualberto Ranieri actually said to me, “If Mar-kee-own-ee tells you to call him Mar-SHE-own, then you should.”

From that day on, I was honored to call him Mar-SHE-own, and my friend.

Paul W. Smith is host of The Paul W. Smith Show on WJR-AM (760) from 5:30-9 a.m. Monday-Friday.

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