He was a monarch, an entrepreneur, a model, in any case a myth for a country that still cultivates the need for myths, and therefore also a mirror of our contradictions. For this reason, one hundred years after his birth, the brothers Alberto and Giancarlo Mazzuca wanted to dedicate a portrait to him with «Gianni Agnelli in black and white», published by Baldini + Castoldi. In black and white already, the colors of “his” Juventus. But even those of an exceptional life, however, not always marked by luck. Rather. And of the tones of the book, which does not spare, alongside various considerations and praise, even not a few critical annotations.
«A life that is almost a novel: it all began that 12 March 1921», write the Mazzuca brothers, who first try to explain why the myth of Gianni Agnelli is timeless. Borrowing also more or less famous, more or less caressing quotations. Like Federico Fellini’s: “Put a helmet on his head, put him on a horse, he’s a king.” Or Henry Kissinger: «Italian patriot, great European, friend of America». By Charlie Chaplin: «It is successful and success makes people nice». By Truman Capote: «Have you ever met someone who crowds so much information with joy, with surprises, in so little time and space?». By Giorgio Bocca: “Prince without a kingdom”. By Enzo Biagi who, referring to the Savoy dynasty of the car, called it «The royal family». By Indro Montanelli, who acknowledged that he was a lover of art and also “of the art of making use of men”. And finally from the “enemy” Fortinbras: “When one is a billionaire, he is always very close to being a genius.”
Premier? “I can not”
King, billionaire, genius: undoubtedly Gianni Agnelli (they called him that to distinguish him from his grandfather, Giovanni, the founding patriarch of the empire) has held many roles, some of his own, others attributed, others still recognized. The two authors begin with what he was not: a lawyer. He himself defined it “a stage name”. Instead, he was an entrepreneur, a senator for life, president of Confindustria, “de facto” foreign minister, the best representative of “made in Italy” (although, it is noted, Fiat cars have not always been recognized as cars of excellent quality), lover and connoisseur of art. He could have also become prime minister in the early nineties: the President of the Republic Oscar Luigi Scalfaro phoned him to give him the task of forming a new executive: “Lawyer, it’s your turn.” But he refused: “I can’t, if I fail, after that it would only take a carabiniere or a cardinal.” Finally, it is impossible to overlook, it was a great tombeur des femmes. To those who asked him (and many did) about his relationships with women, he replied: “There are those who talk about women, and those who talk to women.” But, it is underlined, by Princess Marella Caracciolo, who became his wife on 9 June 1954, he never separated.
Valletta and Romiti
Enjoyable as a novel, the book neglects nothing. He goes into the history of the family, and he tells almost everything about Gianni. From his relationships with the top managers who have made Fiat with the Agnellis: in particular Vittorio Valletta and Cesare Romiti, but also Carlo De Benedetti and Vittorio Ghidella. Of those with union and politics, marked by friendship and esteem more frequently on the left (as with Luciano Lama and Enrico Berlinguer). Frequencies with bankers such as Enrico Cuccia, André Meyer, David Rockefeller. Relationships with the family. And in particular with his younger brother Umberto, who “sacrifices” twice (following Cuccia’s instructions) for what he considered the good of Fiat. And with his son Edoardo, who committed suicide. Of his concern for the passing of generations: he, the Heir (of his grandfather Giovanni), after the death of Giovannino, son of Umberto, “keeps John close”, his grandson who has become a dolphin, “talks to him about the secrets of Fiat” and he also takes him to the Vatican, to meet John Paul II.
The sunset of the private Iri
In the book, however, we also go beyond the story of life. And Agnelli has a profile as an entrepreneur who on the one hand lives his time a lot and on the other goes much further and “earns” the right to current affairs, to still be a protagonist of the global economy today. The lawyer did not understand in time that “the formula of private IRI was no longer working, as they wanted to do everything in the most diverse sectors, from cars to newspapers, from banks to insurance companies”. But, as a “global” entrepreneur ahead of time, he immediately understood that the future of Fiat lay in the union with other groups, because in the end there would be “no place in the world for more than 5 or 6 large companies”. In 1964 he lined up for an agreement with General Motors; between 1967 and 1968 he first contacted the Flick family, owner of Daimler-Benz Mercedes, then turned to the Michelins, which control Citroen, a deal blocked by the Elysée; in 1976 he gave green light to the entry into the capital (with 10%) and to the board of the Lybian Arab bank («Our duty is to take money where it is»); in 1990 he says no to Lee Iacocca for the purchase of Chrysler (for debts) but launches himself on the holding company Exor; in 2000 he signed an agreement with GM which took over 20% of Fiat Auto in exchange for 5% with a right to purchase the other 80% on the basis of a put in the hands of the Agnellis ».
From Fiat to Stellantis
And this will be the inheritance that will be made his own by Elkann. With Sergio Marchionne Fiat takes over Chrysler and in 2014 FCA is born, so a merger with General Motors is considered. In 2019, a year after Marchionne’s death, John proposed a merger with Renault, which was then retired. Four months later, the negotiation with Psa leaked out, made official in December 2019. Stellantis was born in 2021. The authors do not hide that they consider the merger not exactly on par and underline that the Fiat name is now limited only to the brand. But they add: “The lawyer’s dream of having a bigger Fiat capable of being on the market has somehow come true”.