Giovanni Agnelli dies

Gianni Agnelli, the outstanding individual figure in Italy's automobile industry, has died at the age of 81. In November, he underwent treatment for prostate cancer in the USA. As the honorary chairman of the financially troubled Fiat Group, he had recently involved himself in its crucial restructuring plans and had been perceived as the keenest opponent to a selloff of more of the Fiat Auto business

Giovanni Agnelli dies

After the death of his father in a seaplane accident, Agnelli was raised into the already fabulously wealthy family in Turin by his grandfather (also Giovanni), who had founded Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino in 1899, and took it into Grand Prix racing while Gianni was a boy. He was aged 18, and studying law, when WW2 began. After spending the war in the Italian army, serving in both Russia and Africa, he joined the Fiat board but was told to enjoy the good life before joining the family business. Instead the family installed a loyal manager, Vittorio Valletta.

Gianni became a renowned playboy in the 1950s, spending an annual allowance (said to be as much as $1m) on Ferraris, yachts and glamorous women. Ultimately he married half-American Princess Marella Caracciolo di Castagneto and started preparing for a new life as the head of Fiat. He became its chairman when Valletta finally retired in 1966, aged 83. Two years later, Agnelli acquired control of Ferrari.

In the 1970s, Agnelli embarked on a modernization of the Fiat enterprises, initiating diversification of the business and later new production centres in South America and eastern Europe, and confronting globalisation issues. As the head of the family that owned the nation's biggest automobile manufacturer, at one point he personally controlled over 4% of Italy's gross domestic product and 3% of the industrial workforce. A lifelong member of the Italian senate, he was a natural media target and was hit by corruption scandals in the 1990s, leading to an investigation of the family holdings. Since his retirement from Fiat in 1996, its 220,000 employees have ceased to be directly responsible to the Agnelli dynasty, and part of Fiat Auto is now owned by General Motors in a share swap deal.

In his retirement, Agnelli remained in charge of the family's interests in Fiat, but was able to devote more time to his pet projects, the group's Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 team and the Juventus football club in his native Turin. Two bouts of surgery to replace a heart valve and to remove an abdominal aneurysm forced him to slow down before his fatal illness took hold.

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