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At the team's first match after evidence emerged that Juventus' former general manager Luciano Moggi had allegedly pressured referees, Elkann gathered reporters at the stadium to gracefully, but clearly, voice his no-confidence in the then management. He has since named a completely revamped Juventus board and a new team code of ethics. Most importantly for the long-term strategy, Elkann spearheaded the family's decision last September to push their stake in Fiat back above 30% for the first time since the bank bailout.
Elkann has been working hand in hand with IFIL chairman, Gianluigi Gabetti, 81, among Agnelli's closest confidantes. The pair picked Marchionne, the man largely responsible for the car company turnaround. Besides launching two successful new models, the Panda and Grande Punto, and streamlining management, Marchionne personally negotiated the deal that forced General Motors to pay out $2 billion to Fiat to free itself from a put option in the companies' 2000 joint-operating accord that could have forced the U.S. automaker to buy the Turin company outright. In the coming years, however, Elkann is expected to become the singular face of Fiat. "Because of his background, John's international mentality is not a question of schooling, it's a natural part of who he is. This is a great advantage," Montezemolo says of Elkann.
More than ever now, the dynasty's future will be anchored by the eldest Elkann, known to friends and family as "Jaki." But it won't always be smooth sailing. His second cousin, Andrea Agnelli, also 30, son of Umberto and a Fiat board member, publicly contested Elkann's decision to up the family stake in the automaker. Differences of opinion are part of every family, Elkann notes, but insists that he aims to bring all into the fold, citing his grandfather's views. "He believed that leadership is consensus," Elkann said. "He won the support of the family and business partners and the community. He believed you lead by getting the best from the people around you."
Bocconi historian Berta thinks the family's continued financial presence is important for Fiat's stability, but that the professional managers should run the shop. Another Gianni Agnelli, he says, would be impossible today. "Elkann must fulfill the role of chief stockholder. That means being less of a presence in the operation of the company than his grandfather." Berta said. "Back then Fiat acted like an institution in Italy. Fiat has to behave like a normal company."
That's harder than it sounds. Gone are the days when nationalism and protectionism meant that as many of 85% of cars sold in Italy were Fiats. Now the company needs a genuinely global approach, which probably includes pursuing one-off, local alliances to build specific products, much like a November deal inked with Ford to jointly turn out new compact cars in Poland. The company, which is particularly strong in Brazil, has been looking for expansion possibilities in India and China. Elkann may be especially suited for these global challenges, having lived all around the world as a youth. "Moving around, you adapt quickly to environments," he says. "If you are competent in many things, you don't have the depth of knowledge in any one field. I'm more long than deep. But fortunately for me, the family's interests were already diversified by both business and geography."
Along with sports and the family business, another passion Elkann shares with his grandfather is art. The creative dna has multiplied through his author father and painter mother. "Artists have a sensibility that others don't have," he says. "They have a way of reading into the future." And so, in their own way, do business leaders they just tend to have less time.