Agnelli to step down at Fiat

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The Independent Online
ANDREW GUMBEL

Rome

Gianni Agnelli, one of the towering personalities of the postwar Italian business world, heralded the end of an era yesterday by officially announcing that he would step down as chairman of Fiat in the next few months as part of a slow transition of power.

Mr Agnelli, who is 74 and in indifferent health, said during a traditional end-of-year meeting with managers that he would hand over the reins to his long-standing number two, Fiat's general manager Cesare Romiti. However he made clear that this would only be a transitional solution and that he intended younger blood to rise to the top of the organisation within a few years.

It has been known for some time that Mr Agnelli, who is viewed in Italy as a near-monarchical figure, intended to step aside sometime in 1996, but the mechanics of the succession have been surrounded by mystery and intense speculation.

In typically cautious fashion, Mr Agnelli will not be making an abrupt departure, but will remain chairman of the family holding company IFI and chief negotiator with the unions. Part of his continuing interest is expected to be grooming his nephew, Giovanni Alberto, for the top job and thus keeping Fiat in the hands of the family that founded the company almost exactly a century ago.

The choice of Mr Romiti, who is 72, as even a transitional figurehead is bound to be controversial, since he is mistrusted within the family and under judicial scrutiny for his alleged role in making illegal payments to Italian political parties. A public prosecutor formally applied for him to stand trial just four days ago.

But his helmsmanship will give the 31-year-old Giovanni Alberto time to mature, both within the Fiat organisation where he is already on the board, and outside it.

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