At Fiat, young scion steers tough course as Marchionne's boss
November 10, 2012
TURIN, Italy (Reuters) -- Whenever Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat and Chrysler, appears in public, television crews jostle to beam his words around the globe. Amid the push and shove it's easy to miss the tall, curly-headed young man who often looks on from the sidelines.
He's John Elkann. And he's Marchionne's boss.
The 36-year-old scion of Italy's powerful Agnelli clan became vice chairman of Fiat -- founded and still controlled by his family -- just under a decade ago, and chairman in 2010. For years, his was the saga of a shy, awkward young heir thrust prematurely into corporate leadership by family tragedy. No more.
Now Elkann is taking the key role in answering the question that faces his family's firm: Is what's good for Italy really good for Fiat anymore?
The question evokes the famous statement -- "I thought that what was good for America was good for General Motors and vice versa" - by Charles "Engine Charlie" Wilson, then the president of GM, 60 years ago.
Nobody is calling Elkann "Engine Johnnie." But many thought Fiat had outgrown Italy in 2009 when it snapped up a controlling stake in Chrysler and left Elkann to wrestle with the politically potent question of how closely the family firm, long the symbol of corporate Italy, should remain tied to the troubled economy of its home country.
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