“What is good for Fiat is good for Italy” is among the most celebrated quote of Gianni Agnelli, the grandson of Giovanni who in 1899, together with a dozen of aristocrats, professionals, landlords and entrepreneurs, created in Turin Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino – Fiat, the would be most important industrial and financial Italian corporation. Since then and for more than a century Fiat wrote the history of Italy, and not just from an industrial standpoint: from the stark founder Giovanni to the mundane grandson Gianni, nicknamed l’Avvocato (the lawyer), up to the glamour and the scandal of his nephew Lapo Elkann to the secretive and powerful John, Lapo’s brother, and to the unbiased Sergio Marchionne, the Italian-Canadian current CEO who is said to start meetings by telling that “who does not agree to me is kindly requested to leave this room”.
After the death of Gianni Agnelli in 2003 and the departure of his brother Umberto one year later John Elkann, the son of a sister of Gianni, took first the vice-chairman and shortly after the chairman post, while the CEO post went to Marchionne in 2004. The first move of the new top team was the ending, in 2005, of the agreement previously signed with General Motors, from which the Italian automaker bought back the 10% stake it gave to the Americans as part of a joint venture agreement in the motors and gears production business. In the midst of the Lehman triggered crisis Fiat signed in 2009 the famous agreement with Chrysler Group, as it bought a 20% stake in the disgraced carmaker and upped it gradually in the following years to the current level of more than 50%. In the meantime Marchionne reshaped the entire business by grouping all the no-car activities (trucks, earthmoving machines, building machines, etc.) into a new company called Fiat Industrial, put under the direct control of the Agnelli family holding company Exor, which is listed in the Milan stock exchange. All the car operations, including components, were put into a single company under the old brand – to include Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia, Chrysler, Ferrari and Maserati. The next step, a full merge with Chrysler in a $20 billion deal involving big banks from Europe and the US, was a major financial story both in Italy and in America in mid 2013, with the Italians fearing that Marchionne could be remembered as the man who brought Fiat outside Italy after almost 125 years and Americans regarding him as the man who managed to avoid that a historic Detroit brand went bankrupt.