Meet the Next Generation of Italy’s Business Dynasties
(Bloomberg) -- The deaths of Wanda Ferragamo and Gilberto Benetton this month highlighted a challenge for some of Italy’s most well-known family businesses: With the post-war entrepreneurs who built the companies leaving the stage, they need to ensure that members of the next generation, or trusted outsiders, are ready to step up to fill the void.
Some families, such as the Agnellis and the Ferreros, have already solved the succession issue with new leaders. But others are just facing that dilemma, with no clear solutions in sight. Ensuring an orderly shift is important in Italy, where family capitalism plays an outsized role in the economy and several well-known companies—most recently Gianni Versace SpA—have been sold to foreign investors.
Here what’s at stake for some of the country’s billionaire clans:
There is no obvious successor to Gilberto Benetton, who co-founded the namesake clothing brand more than 50 years ago with his siblings Luciano, Giuliana and Carlo. Gilberto, who died at the age of 77, was the mastermind behind the family’s diversification beyond sweaters into infrastructure, restaurants and finance. The four (Carlo passed away in July) had equal stakes in the family’s main holding company, Edizione Srl, which had a net asset value of 12 billion euros ($13.6 billion) at the end of June. That’s taken a 2-billion-euro hit because a bridge operated by its Atlantia SpA unit collapsed in Genoa, killing more than 40 people.
Gilberto’s daughter Sabrina, 45, will take his post on the board of the holding company. Luciano’s son Alessandro has been prominent among the second generation and is well-known to investors. Still, the 54-year-old executive left the clothing company in 2014 and is now fully dedicated to his own private equity fund, 21 Partners. Carlo’s son Christian and Giuliana’s daughter Franca Bertagnin Benetton are the other two members of the family on the board of Edizione.
Wanda Ferragamo took over the Florentine shoemaker bearing her family’s name when her husband Salvatore, its founder, died in 1960. She turned the maker of Vara pumps into an international fashion brand with a total offer of leather goods, scarves and ready-to-wear fashion.
While Wanda handed over operations of the company as early as the 1980s, her death in mid-October at the age of 96 marked the departure of a formidable entrepreneur who shaped Italy’s luxury industry. It also means her remaining stake in the Ferragamo holding company—through which they control the publicly-traded business—will transfer to her descendants: the families of her six children, four of whom are living. Wanda’s death has led to renewed speculation that among her dozens of heirs, some might agitate for a sale of all or part of the company, although the family has said they’re committed to keeping control.
Son Ferruccio took over as CEO in 1984, before transitioning to chairman when the family hired an outside manager in 2006. He serves as the family spokesman for company matters, seconded by his son James, who heads the brand’s key leather-goods and footwear division.
While Ferruccio’s siblings keep a lower profile, they’re hardly unplugged: Leonardo Ferragamo is on the board, and also manages some of the family’s other holdings, including a chain of high-end hotels. Giovanna—who used to design the brand’s ready-to-wear collections—sits on Ferragamo’s board with a focus on overseeing design. Massimo, who’s spent much of his adult life in the U.S., is chairman of Ferragamo USA.
Miuccia Prada’s ugly-chic runway shows—using garish prints and futuristic materials to shake up bourgeois wardrobe staples—drove the fashion agenda for more than 20 years, while her husband and co-CEO Patrizio Bertelli’s slick commercial strategies turned the Milanese handbag-maker founded by her grandfather into an international company with 3 billion euros in annual sales. A potential successor arrived on the scene last year when son Lorenzo joined the company.
A handsome 30-year-old with floppy brown hair, Lorenzo Bertelli wound down his career as a rally driver to join the company, and now is working on getting Prada’s e-commerce and online communications up to speed.
“I’m super happy,” Prada, 70, said about getting the chance to train her son in the ways of the business, speaking to Bloomberg after her spring runway show in September. Patrizio Bertelli has said that, of their two sons, Lorenzo is the more interested in the business and could take over one day “if he wishes.” Not that the co-CEOs plan to leave any time soon. “Are we still assessing people looking at their birth dates?” Patrizio Bertelli, 72, said.
Marina Elvira Berlusconi, 52, is former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s eldest daughter and by many considered as her father’s most powerful heir. Dubbed in Italian media as the Iron Lady of Silvio’s empire, she has been chairman of family holding company Fininvest SpA since 2005, supervising investments that include Italy’s largest commercial television company, Mediaset SpA, and the country’s leading publisher, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore SpA.
The Hollywood Reporter recently ranked her among the 25 most influential women in television. She can be a tough cookie: About French billionaire Vincent Bollore, who failed in an unsolicited takeover of Mediaset, she said, “He used the delicacy and composure of Attila.” After seven years of partnership and two children, in 2008 Marina married her husband, a former dancer with Teatro Alla Scala opera. Marina’s brother Pier Silvio, 49, has been CEO of Mediaset since 2015. He started his career in the early ’90s as marketing manager of Mediaset’s advertising unit Publitalia 80. Marina and Pier Silvio have two younger sisters and one brother—Eleonora, Barbara and Luigi—from Silvio Berlusconi’s second marriage.
John Elkann, 42, has been running the Agnelli family empire since he was in his twenties after the deaths of his grandfather Gianni Agnelli in 2003 and Gianni’s brother Umberto in 2004. He’s chairman and CEO of the family’s listed holding company, Exor NV, and for 14 years he formed a duo with Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne. Under their watch, Fiat’s value soared more than 10-fold from 2004. Andrea Agnelli, a son of Umberto, is chairman of Juventus soccer team, controlled by the family.
Elkann picked the new CEOs of Ferrari and Fiat over a dramatic July weekend this year when Marchionne’s health worsened – the executive died later—and is now overseeing Fiat chief Mike Manley’s strategy. Elkann, who has two siblings—Lapo and Ginevra—is the undisputed leader of the family.
Giovanni Ferrero is the chief executive officer of Ferrero Group, the world’s fourth-largest confectioner and producer of Nutella. Grandson of co-founder Pietro, the 54-year-old ranks 31st on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Giovanni Ferrero became sole CEO in 2011 after his brother, Pietro, with whom he had shared the role, died in a bicycle accident in South Africa. He grew up in Brussels, where attended the European School, and then moved to the U.S. where he specialized in marketing. Giovanni also writes novels.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.