The business on...John Elkann, Chairman, Fiat

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The Independent Online

He looks a little young?

Yes, he is rather fresh-faced – he turned 35 a couple of months ago.

A meteoric rise to the top?

The family connection helps. His mother's maiden name was Agnelli – Mr Elkann is the grandson of Giannia Agnelli, and the chosen heir of the Italian industrialist who built Fiat and the associated business empire.

So how is the prodigy doing?

Pretty well, actually. He's just masterminded the deal that has seen Fiat take majority control of Chrysler, the US auto manufacturer it helped rescue at the height of the global recession two years ago.

I thought that bloke with the jumpers ran Fiat?

You mean chief executive Sergio Marchionne, rarely seen in anything but a pullover? He's important, but he owes the chairman his job – it was Mr Elkann who pushed for his appointment seven years ago. He's been around much longer, having served on the board since the age of 22.

How did he end up as head of the Agnelli family?

His grandfather asked him to join the family business in 1997 following the death of his cousin Giovanni Alberton, the son of Gianni's younger brother Umberto. When the senior Agnelli brothers died, in 2003 and 2004, Mr Elkann became the vice chairman of Fiat – he stepped up to the chairmanship last year.

Any other strings to his bow?

Just a few. He runs Exor, the Agnelli family's investment company. It controls a string of assets across Europe, including Juventus football club. He's interested in politics too – he's a member of the Brookings Institute – and he's not afraid to get his hands dirty – while at college, he did a string of internships at car makers, never revealing his identity. He even worked at a headlight factory in Birmingham for a while.

Too busy for a personal life then?

He found time, in 2004, to marry the Italian countess Lavinia Borromeo. At the wedding, the couple tucked into a five metre-long chocolate cake that was a replica of the Fiat car factory in Turin, and also featured a unicorn, the family crest of the countess.