Giovanni Agnelli (1921–2003)

Giovanni Agnelli inherited control of Italy’s largest motor manufacturing company at the age of 45 in 1966, and over the next 30 years built it up into a powerful international concern. He was the grandson of Giovanni Agnelli (1866-1945), who was born at Villar Perosa near Turin in Piedmont, who in 1899 was one of the founders of Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino, usually abbreviated to FIAT. He became managing director of the company when its first plant opened the following year, during which 35 men produced 24 cars. Within six years Fiat was making more than a thousand cars a year. The younger Giovanni was the son of Edoardo Agnelli (1892-1935) who died in a seaplane accident.

Giovanni Agnelli did military service in Russia and North Africa during the Second World War after which Fiat was managed by Vittorio Valletta (1883-1957). He inherited control of Fiat and the family assets in 1966. Known as ‘Gianni’ or L’Avvocato’ he combined business intelligence with a liking for the playboy lifestyle and maintained close contacts with international bankers and leading Italian politicians. He continued the company’s association with the Juventus football club in Turin, and had a large private collection of motor cars, including 11 variations on the small Panda model, as well as Ferraris with custom-built bodywork. Agnelli oversaw the building of Fiat factories in the Soviet Union (in 1970) and later in Brazil and Argentina, and under his leadership Fiat took over most of the leading Italian brands of high performance cars, including Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Lancia and Maserati. While he headed the company Fiat produced seven European Cars of the Year, and at the time of his death had more than 200,000 employees worldwide. The company’s assets represented 4 per cent of Italian gross national product, and it employed 3.1 per cent of the nation’s industrial workforce.