Agnelli, Giovanni

Agnelli, Giovanni
▪ 2004
      Italian business tycoon (b. March 12, 1921, Turin, Italy—d. Jan. 24, 2003, Turin), as chairman (1966–96) of the Fiat SpA industrial conglomerate, was the most important Italian business leader of the 20th century and a symbol of Italy's post-World War II renaissance. Under Agnelli's leadership, diversification increased and the market for Fiat cars expanded from Italy to the rest of continental Europe. Though Agnelli had a degree in law, he embarked on a career as a jet-setting international playboy. A bad car accident in 1952 caused him to change direction, however, and in 1959 he became chairman of Istituto Finanziario Industriale, the Agnelli family's holding company. In 1963 he became managing director of Fiat. He was also well known for his stewardship of the Juventus association football (soccer) club, one of the family's holdings.

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▪ Italian industrialist [1866-1945]
born Aug. 13, 1866, Villar Perosa, Piedmont, Italy
died Dec. 16, 1945, Turin

      founder of the Fiat (Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino (Fiat SpA)) automobile company and the leading Italian industrialist of the first half of the 20th century.

      Agnelli attended the military school at Modena, but he quit the army in 1892. In 1899 he was one of the prime movers in creating Fiat, which soon became an internationally renowned automobile manufacturer. During World War I, Fiat ran its huge Turin plants at full speed, supplying the Italian military forces with armaments. The company employed a workforce of more than 30,000 in the production of streetcars, airplanes, railroad cars, tractors, and diesel engines.

      In 1921 workers seized the Fiat plants and hoisted the red flag of communism over them. Agnelli responded by quitting the company, retiring to private life, and letting the workers try to run Fiat. In short order, 3,000 of them paraded to his office and asked him to return to the helm—a request to which he acquiesced. A supporter of Benito Mussolini, he was named to the Senate by the Fascist dictator in 1923. Agnelli also established the ball- and roller-bearing industry in Italy (1907), and he was a chief mobilizer of the Italian war industry before and during World War II. In April 1945, however, the Italian Committee of National Liberation removed him—along with other top executives—from control of Fiat. Control did not return to the Agnelli family until 1966.

▪ Italian industrialist [1921-2003]
born March 12, 1921, Turin, Italy
died January 24, 2003, Turin

      chairman of the automobile manufacturing company Fiat SpA, Italy's largest private business enterprise, from 1966 to 2003.

      Grandson of Fiat's founder (also named Giovanni Agnelli (Agnelli, Giovanni)), the younger Giovanni was brought up in affluence and groomed by his grandfather to run the family business. His father had died when the boy was 14 years old, making Giovanni—the oldest son—next in line to take over control of Fiat from his grandfather.

      Agnelli resisted his grandfather's plea to take a safe job with Fiat during World War II, insisting instead on seeing combat with the Italian army—first against the Russians and later against the Germans. After the war, Agnelli accepted his grandfather's advice to enjoy life to the fullest before settling down, and for several years Giovanni Agnelli was one of the world's leading playboys. A serious car crash in 1952, however, put an end to his days of racing automobiles.

      By that time Agnelli was already head of the family's ball-bearing enterprise and vice-chairman of Fiat's board of directors. In 1963 he took over as Fiat's managing director and in 1966 succeeded to operational control of the company as chairman and chief executive officer. As such, he became one of the most powerful men in western Europe, and he was credited with helping industrialize postwar Italy. In addition to making automobiles, Agnelli's industrial colossus had interests in insurance, shipping, oil refining, publishing, banking, retailing, athletic teams, hotels, food and drink purveyors, and factories that produce cement, chemicals, and plastics. By the late 1990s, however, Fiat was experiencing financial difficulties, and the company was in the midst of restructuring at the time of Agnelli's death.

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Universalium. 2010.

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