The tough cop takes the wheel; profile; Cesare Romiti

Fiat's new boss has taken 20 years to emerge from the giant shadow of Gianni Agnelli. Wolfgang Achtner traces the rise of a company man

CESARE ROMITI is not a man to mince his words. He once described suggestions that Fiat's vast market power be curbed with monopolies legislation as "anti-capitalist vomit" from the "Marxist left and Catholic right".

Bettino Craxi, the former Socialist leader, labelled him a "thug" after a particularly acrimonious labour dispute in 1979.

Romiti, 72, a Fiat man for 20 years, was last week named as successor to Gianni Agnelli, the 74-year-old chairman of Fiat. Thick-shouldered and square-jawed, Romiti is much less well known than his boss, but reckons he is every inch as tough.

"The difference between Agnelli and myself," he once told an interviewer , "is that I'm meaner, really much meaner, than he is."

Agnelli's resignation signalled the end of a 30-year reign by Italy's "uncrowned king" at its largest private sector corporation.

Romiti, who has stood in his shadow, was born in Rome in 1923. He studied economics, and in 1947 went to work for the Bombrini Parodi Delfino munitions group. When BPD merged with Snia Viscosa in 1968, Romiti became the latter's chief financial director. For a while, he worked in Italy's vast public sector. In 1970, he became general manager and chief executive at Alitalia, the state- owned airline, and three years later, chief executive officer at Italstat, the group that built the country's highways.

Romiti joined Fiat in 1974 , arriving at the company's Turin headquarters as the general manager of its financial, planning and control division. It has been widely reported in Italy that he was imposed upon the Agnelli family by Enrico Cuccia, the head of the secretive and powerful Milan merchant bank, Mediobanca. Romiti himself says Gianni Agnelli had been trying to convince him to join the company for a long time.

In April 1976, he was appointed general manager along with Agnelli's younger brother Umberto and Carlo de Benedetti. After only 150 days, De Benedetti was forced to leave the company. According to De Benedetti, his departure was the result of a disagreement with Agnelli, who opposed the idea of a huge investment in new car models and wanted to diversify away from the auto sector. As some observers have noted, it was ironic that three years later De Benedetti's ideas were put into practice by Romiti.

The 1970s were a torrid time for Fiat. It was piling up huge losses, its factories were hit by rampant absenteeism, and several executives had been injured in Red Brigades attacks. In 1979, on advice from Romiti, the company announced a plan to lay off 23,000 workers, and 61 others were fired outright.

The move triggered a struggle with the unions that left Fiat paralysed by a 35-day strike, leading many experts to worry that the company might not survive. Disgruntled mid-level company executives organised a pro- test march of 40,000 workers calling for a return to work, and the unions were forced to give way, in what was later seen as a watershed in Italian industrial relations and a turning-point in Fiat's fortunes.

In an interview earlier this year, Romiti explained why he had decided to sack those 61 workers. Some of them, he said, were involved in terrorist activities, others had organised a prostitution ring inside the factory, where bosses had lost their authority and the situation was out of control. "People did anything in here, except work," Romiti said. "When we fired the 61, I said whatever happens, those people won't be allowed back in here." The unions took Fiat to court, where it was confirmed that two- thirds of the men who had been sacked had been involved in terrorist activities.

Romiti confessed that at the time he had feared that he could lose the struggle, and he knew that his defeat could have led to Fiat's demise. "It was a difficult choice. But it also was a necessary decision ... Without that step, I don't know what Fiat would be today. Indeed, I don't know if Fiat would even exist today."

In the summer of 1980, Enrico Cuccia convinced Agnelli that he and Umberto should leave the day-to-day running of Fiat to professionals like Romiti. Romiti thus became Fiat's sole chief executive and de facto boss. The move had another effect: Gianni Agnelli, now chairman, by seemingly playing second fiddle, could, in difficult times, play the nice cop, leaving the role of tough copto Romiti.

Romiti has been described by the Italian press as a dedicated company man for whom the average workday lasts 16 hours. Little is known of his private life, other than that he enjoys the occasional evening out with his wife Gina, and that one of his two sons is an executive at Mediobanca. In his free time, he enjoys sailing, and has been spotted on numerous occasions at the Turin stadium when Juventus FC , the football team owned by Fiat, plays at home.

Under the leadership of Cesare Romiti and Vittorio Ghidella, head of the car division, Fiat was able to get back on the right track. In the early 1980s, it became Europe's biggest car maker and the star performer of Italy's "second economic miracle". Thanks to a heavy investment in factory automation, Ghidella managed to lower the car division's break- even point. He was the creator of the extremely successful Uno model, which accounted for nearly 40 per cent of sales in 1987. At that time, the Fiat group - which also included Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Autobianchi and Ferrari - dominated the Italian market, accounting for 60 per cent of domestic sales.

Meanwhile, under Romiti's guidance, Fiat diversified its interests, which included the arms business, textiles, insurance, banking, media and publishing, construction, engi- ineering and food.

The Romiti philosophy is simple. "My model of a company is one that tries to reach its primary objective: to produce wealth and thus increase profits. I'm disappointed by politicians who have hesitations about this indisputable concept."

Romiti also makes it clear that he does not believe in power-sharing. As he told one interviewer: "Here at Fiat, we have one boss at a time."

As a result, the news of Ghidella's resignation in November 1988 hardly came as a surprise to many observers. Officially, his departure was motivated by a difference of opinion with Gianni Agnelli. However, rumours of a vicious power struggle between Ghidella and Romiti had been circulating for months. It was no secret that relations between them had become increasingly strained ever since they had clashed back in 1985, when Ghidella had been in favour of a merger between Fiat Auto and Ford of Europe. Romiti insisted he had not opposed the merger: the deal only collapsed, he maintained, when it became clear that the Americans wanted to take control.

In October 1993, Fiat, caught up in Europe's worst post-war recession, was back in a slump. The company's market share had been shrinking steadily since 1988 in Italy and in Europe, and car and truck sales had dropped nearly 20 per cent on the previous year. When some key shareholders agreed to provide Fiat with a badly needed injection of new capital only if Gianni Agnelli agreed to stay on as chairman, Agnelli, who was 72 at the time, was forced to postpone his retirement.

Various experts were quick to point out that Agnelli's announcement was a show of support for Romiti, who only a week earlier had been indicted by Turin magistrates on charges of allegedly being party to illegal financing of political parties and tax fraud. Romiti has already been involved in various investigations on similar charges brought by magistrates in Rome and Milan. He has claimed he became aware of payments made by several companies belonging to the group only after corruption scandals erupted in 1992. Some critics have argued that this statement is hard to believe, since Romiti was known to be a man who believed in hands-on management and the motto "know- ledge is power".

Announcing his retirement last Monday, Agnelli told a group of Fiat managers that Romiti would "take over responsibility for the company for the next few years" in order to prepare for a "generational passage".

Some analysts pointed out that Agnelli had indicated that Romiti's role would be similar to that of Vittorio Valletta, the elderly manager who ran Fiat during the early stages of Agnelli's career. Last summer, Agnelli had designated his 31-year-old nephew, Giovanni Alberto Agnelli, currently chair- man of the Piaggio motorcycle company, as his eventual heir.

Of Romiti, Agnelli said: "He's younger than me, but not by much", underlining the point in Piedmontese dialect: "L'e pi' nen 'na musna' " - "he's not a child."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
News
Justin Bieber performing in Paris earlier this year
people
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
tv
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
video
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Compliance Officer - Trading Firm - London

£55000 - £65000 per annum + excellent package & bonus expectations: Real Staff...

Senior Compliance Executive - Top Bank - London

£80000 - £90000 per annum + competitive: Real Staffing: A highly successful Co...

AVP Regulatory Affairs, Global Bank, London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + highly competitive package: Real Staffing: An oppo...

VP Operational Compliance - Global Bank

Highly competitive: Real Staffing: VP - Operational Compliance - Global BankA ...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil