Obituary: Raul Gardini

Raul Gardini, businessman and yachtsman: born Ravenna 7 June 1933; married Idina Ferruzzi (one son, two daughters); died Milan 23 July 1993.

FOR almost a decade, Raul Gardini was one of Italy's most powerful and most admired businessmen. The Italians were proud of the glamorous, silver-haired, sun-tanned millionaire, regularly photgraphed at the helm of one of his racing yachts, who epitomised the good life and propagated an image of an Italy that could beat the world.

Until the death of Serafino Ferruzzi in a plane crash in 1979 hardly anyone had heard of Raul Gardini. For that matter, even in Italy hardly anyone had heard of the Ferruzzi group either, even though the family fortune included an agricultural empire covering some 2.5 million acres in Italy, the United States and Southern America. Soon all that was to change.

For more than 20 years, Raul Gardini, the son of a wealthy landowning family, who had married Serafino Ferruzzi's daughter Idina, had been the patriarch's closest collaborator. He had learnt, worked and argued with the old man. But Gardini was a man with a vision, who dreamed of turning the company into an industrial giant. Legend has it that, after the patriarch's death, Gardini approached the family with an offer: 'You must decide now if you're willing to let me do things my way and give me total control,' he said, 'or if, instead, you just want to remain a wealthy provincial family'. The Ferruzzis unanimously agreed to let him take control.

At first, in 1980, Gardini took control of Beghin-Say SA, the French sugar and paper company, turning Ferruzzi into Europe's leading sugar producer. Then, in 1985, Gardini focused his interest on chemicals and began buying stock in the Montedison chemicals group. By 1987, Ferruzzi had acquired 42 per cent of the group, turning Ferruzzi-Montedison into Italy's second largest industrial group. Gardini became one of the stars on the Italian corporate scene and was nicknamed Il Contadino ('the peasant') by the Italian press.

In the process of acquiring Montedison, Gardini had accumulated enormous debts. So, in an attempt to restructure the group by merging the two companies, Gardini offered some Montedison shareholders shares in the Ferruzzi family holding company, Ferruzzi Finanziaria. The market didn't seem impressed by Gardini's operation and both Ferruzzi and Montedison stock plunged downwards. Gardini was rescued by Enrico Cuccia, the powerful chairman of the merchant bank Mediobanca, who stepped in to guarantee the deal.

When international investors remained unimpressed, Gardini's response was that 'This is an Italian operation in the Italian market and I don't care if it is criticised on the basis of international criteria.'

After such a display of ruthlessness and arrogance some financial observers quickly gave 'the Peasant' a new and less affectionate nickname, 'Il Corsaro' ('the Pirate').

In June 1989, the ink sanctioning the birth of Enimont, a joint venture between the state-owned Enichem Chemicals Company and Montedison, was hardly dry, when Gardini stirred up a new row. Not content with having obtained a tax break of more than L825bn and shifting L3,800bn of debt to the combined entity, Gardini announced he was going to seek full control of the company.

The affair ended on 22 November 1990, with Montedison receiving a payment of L2,805bn for its 40 per cent of Enimont, a net gain of more than L1,100bn. In the meantime, Gardini had fought bitterly with the entire political class, with ENI (Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi), the huge state-controlled energy and chemicals group that was Enichem's parent company, and had broken off relations with Banca Commerciale Italiana (Comit), the family bank, after accusing the bank's management of being in the hands of the politicians.

In December 1990, relinquishing all his managerial powers, Gardini left Italy in a huff for San Diego to play with his costly new America's Cup yacht, an adventure that is believed to have cost Montedison dollars 100m. Gardini further dismayed the Ferruzzis by appointing his 22-year-old son Ivan to the presidency of Ferruzzi Finanziaria (Ferfin), the holding company in control of the family empire.

Upon his return to Italy in May 1991, Gardini presented to the Ferruzzis a reconversion plan that would have given him total control of the family empire. But on the evening of 11 June 1991, just when Gardini's return to power seemed imminent, a brief communique announced that the 51-year-old Arturo Ferruzzi had taken control of Serafino Ferruzzi srl, the family holding company.

A few months later all links had been definitively severed between Gardini and the Ferruzzi-Montedison group. Serafino Ferruzzi's heirs had decided it was no longer possible to let Raul do things 'his way'. He had made too many enemies.

With the money his wife received from the Ferruzzis for her stake in the business, Gardini set up his own group, with interests in the food and mineral water industry, mainly in Italy and France.

Last June it was revealed that Gardini's reckless expansion drive had left Ferruzzi choked by almost dollars 20bn in debt. The family was forced to relinquish its controlling stake in the group and turned to a consortium of banks to bail it out.

The Italian press revealed that the Milan magistrates handling the 'Clean Hands' corruption investigation were examining allegations that, at the time of the break up in November 1990, Enimont was overvalued when it was sold back to ENI. Furthermore, the investigators suspected Enimont had paid some dollars 40m in bribes to the Christian Democrats and Socialist parties.

Two days ago, according to transcripts of his interrogation released to the press, Giuseppe Carofano, a former Montedison chairman, had told magistrates that Gardini had ordered him to create a slush fund to pay off politicians. Carofano also blamed Gardini for some dollars 202m of extra losses in Montedison's balance sheet.

Raul Gardini was the quintessential business buccaneer of the 1980s and a typical member of the Italian system in which a few powerful families dominated the country's private sector. These family-run businesses prospered largely thanks to a web of intricate relations with Italian politicians based on generous contributions to party coffers, and the politicians own pockets.

Until recently, the politicians and the businessmen felt virtually invulnerable. No one in Italy imagined the system was about to be ripped apart at the seams.

(Photograph omitted)

Latest stories from i100
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 People

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on