Giovanni Agnelli, (died in 2003) "chairman of Fiat, 1966-96, was born in Turin on March 12, 1921.
"In that time the company, from being synonymous with Italy's most familiar car, as well as being the umbrella to a host of other famous Italian marques - Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo - sought increasingly to divest itself of the incubus of what became a loss-making automobile division. By the end of his life Agnelli - who though by then only honorary chairman still had a large personal stake in the company - was seen as the only obstacle to the selling-off of Fiat Auto...
"Still, his grandfather had decided on an interregnum to preside over Fiat's fortunes and it was not until 1966 that Vittorio Valletta could be induced - at the age of 81 - to hand over the reins of power to Agnelli, who then became managing director and chairman of Fiat.
"Agnelli soon demonstrated that he was interested as much in high finance as in industry and was chairman of the family's financial company, the Istituto Finanziario Industriale. He was also on the board of Credito Italiano and of the Mediobanca and was a member of the international committee of the Chase Manhattan Bank.
"In May 1974 he was elected chairman of the Confederation of Industry (Confindustria) a position he held until July 1976, when he handed over to his chosen successor, Guido Carli, a former Governor of the Bank of Italy...
"The intention aroused particular interest because there were widespread fears at the time that the Communists would succeed in overtaking the Christian Democrats, who were under a heavy cloud of charges of corruption and inept government. Agnelli's brother, Umberto, however, was in favour of running for the Christian Democrats, a process with which Giovanni violently disagreed. In the end the younger brother got his way and Giovanni Agnelli disappointed many by not standing. He went back to Turin to keep a tighter grip on Fiat's affairs - "to count trucks" as he put it - while Umberto gave up the managing directorship to begin a political career; it was their sister, Susannah, who entered the chamber as a Republican.
"After his term as President of the Confederation of Private Industry expired in 1976, Agnelli devoted his energy again to Fiat. Under his leadership a reorganisation was carried out with the creation of 11 sector companies under a parent holding company. Accounting practices were modernised under a programme leading to presentation of the first group consolidated balance sheet in 1982. In spite of initial trade union hostility, large reductions were made in the workforce. The immediate consequence was that Fiat was in better shape to stand up to the competition of the Japanese car industry at that time. But the underlying weakness of the company's position from its reliance on cars could only be tackled by a much more determined move towards diversification.
"For Agnelli the succession became increasingly a worry, as it had been for his grandfather. His only son, Edoardo, was far too indisciplined and wayward and his dependence on drugs gradually destroyed his mind. In 2000 he drove his Fiat Croma on to a viaduct, got out and threw himself over the parapet onto rocks 240ft below.
"Agnelli had in the meantime been grooming as a successor Umberto's son, Giovannino, but since he was still young, Agnelli had, like his grandfather before him, to turn to another "regent" - the dour but effective Cesare Romiti. But in 1997 Giovannino died of a rare cancer and Agnelli's thoughts turned to his grandson John, his daughter Margherita's son. But by that time he himself had stepped down from the chair to become honorary chairman.
"The continuing poor performance of Fiat Auto sometimes seemed to make such considerations academic. In 2000 General Motors acquired a 20 per cent stake in the company, with an option for Fiat to sell the remaining 80 per cent of the automotive subsidiary to GM within another three years. But the 30 per cent shareholding held in the company by the Agnelli family remained an obstacle to a hard-headed reconstruction during Agnelli's lifetime.
"The rise in the Fiat share price on his death reflected speculation that the disposal of Fiat Auto might now take place.
"In 1955 Giovanni Agnelli married Marella, daughter of Prince Caracciolo di Castagneto and Margaret Clark. She survives him with their daughter." 
Resources and articles
- Giovanni Agnelli: The Times Obituary, Times, accessed July 26, 2010.