Ambassador of Italy to the world, icon of elegance and style, last captain of industry, symbol and undisputed protagonist of a long chapter in the history of the country, Giovanni Agnelli in the collective imagination was above all the lawyer. Born on March 12, 1921 in the Piedmontese capital, son of Edoardo and Virginia Bourbon del Monte dei Principi di San Faustino, second of the couple’s seven children, when he was still a 14-year-old boy he was chosen by his grandfather, Senator Giovanni Agnelli and founder of the Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, as the future driving man of Fiat in the aftermath of the untimely death of his father, Edoardo, in the Ligurian sea.
Golden bachelor, refined playboy, lover of fast cars and beautiful women (always with great reserve) but also passionate about painting and fan of Juventus and Ferrari, Agnelli was the myth for many generations of Italians, so much so that in the days of disappeared on January 24, 2003 in the family residence on the Turin hill, when the news went around the world in a few minutes, many greeted her death as that of ‘the last king of Italy’.
At 22 he joined Fiat as vice president to take over the reins of the family business in 1966, at 45: Vittorio Valletta, who had led Fiat in the previous twenty years, passed the baton to him.
The biographies tell of a youth spent most of his time on the French Riviera in a large villa in Beaulieu, with a personal plane and yacht at his disposal and in the company of the biggest names in the international jet set. Innately elegant, extremely task and attractive, with the famous r of the Agnelli house, Giovanni spent the years of his youth also establishing friendships and relationships that made him the Italian, and not only, more famous in the world.
In 1953 he married Princess Marella Caracciolo di Castagneto, belonging to an ancient noble family of Neapolitan origins, from which shortly after he had two children, Margherita and Edoardo. A cultured, refined and intelligent woman was always next to him, so much so that on one occasion, it was the lawyer, who never spoke of affections, feelings and private life, to say publicly about his wife ” Marella is a piece of me ”.
But it is on the dashboard of Fiat that Agnelli is destined and designated to climb and remain firmly at the head of the company (even if since 1996 as honorary president) for over thirty years. When the lawyer took the helm of Fiat, it was the years of the economic boom. Years in which Italians went crazy for the ‘600. But also the years in which the season of the student movement and of the great workers’ struggles was about to open, which in 1968 resulted in a hot autumn. At that time Fiat was expanding beyond national borders for the first time and the strikes, absenteeism and boycotts of those years had heavy effects on the company. In ’74 he was elected president of Confindustria and came to terms with the unions by signing the agreement for the single point of contingency with the CGIL of Luciano Lama.
Difficult and hard years followed. Fiat, in economic difficulties, in 1976 opened the entrance of its shareholders to Lafico, the Libyan government’s holding company. Then there were the leaden years in which Fiat paid its dramatic toll of dead and wounded and 1980 with the occupation of Mirafiori for thirty-five days following the announcement of thousands of layoffs to which the company’s white-collar workers, supported from all the Turin citizens, they responded with the march of 40 thousand. Then, flanked by Cesare Romiti, Agnelli relaunched Fiat internationally, transforming it in a few years into a diversified holding company in various sectors.
Reference point of a family-dynasty, over the years the Avvocato lived a life full of the most beautiful, famous and powerful, he also lived and overcame not only corporate but also family dramas. First the death of his father, in 1935, then that of his mother, ten years later. And again, his brother Giorgio, seven years younger, then his nephew, Giovanni Alberto, eldest son of his brother Umberto, who was designated as successor in 1995 and died only two years later due to a serious illness, and in November 2000 his son Edoardo.
Agnelli’s death came in one of the most complex moments in the history of the group, four years after having celebrated its centenary, with losing accounts, very high debt, the boulder of the loan converting from 3 billion and the risk that the banks would take control. But once again it was the lawyer who designated the young man to whom the family will entrust control of Fiat and the family holdings, is John Elkann, first son of Margherita, who in 1997 at the age of 22, like his grandfather, enters the room of the buttons of the Lingotto.
Curious and restless, ironic, with an always ready joke, citizen of the world and at home in the United States, Giovanni Agnelli, although sensitive to the appeal of politics, never sided with a party, unlike his sister Susanna who ran for the Republican Party and of his brother Umberto elected to the ranks of the Christian Democrats. In 1991 he was appointed senator for life by the then President of the Republic Francesco Cossiga.