Fiat Chairman Umberto Agnelli dies of cancer

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The Independent Online

Fiat Chairman Umberto Agnelli, who helped lead his family's vast Turin-based automaker out of hard times and into better financial shape, has died of cancer little more than a year after taking the company's top position, a company spokesman said today. He was 69.

Fiat Chairman Umberto Agnelli, who helped lead his family's vast Turin-based automaker out of hard times and into better financial shape, has died of cancer little more than a year after taking the company's top position, a company spokesman said today. He was 69.

He died late yesterday. The company acknowledged last month that Agnelli was undergoing serious treatment for cancer.

Agnelli, who was long sidelined in his family's auto empire, got his chance to take over after his elder brother Giovanni "Gianni" Agnelli died in January 2003. That death came after a dramatic decline in the company, whose stock price and market share was in a major slump.

In February, Umberto Agnelli spoke with delight about the company's improved financial results of late. "What gives us a certain satisfaction is that, despite significant losses, we can still see notable improvements in the fourth quarter due to the work that's been done," he said then.

In Turin, the northern city where Fiat has long been the main industry, the news arrived Friday on a grim foggy morning, and set the place abuzz. Many worried about the fate of the city's major employer.

"This is the end," cafe owner Lucio Manfrinato said morosely. "You've got to be obsessed with automobiles to carry forward a car company, and these people had the obsession of making cars. Their heirs are young men in their 30s, and I wonder if they will have the fire in their belly."

At a newsstand, locals clamored for accounts of what happened. "In relation to his brother, he lived in his shadow," said newsagent Giuseppe Proveri. "All I can think of are these two rich widows, who were left by the two Agnelli brothers."

His wife, Allegra, as well as his sons Andrea and Anna were with Umberto when he died, in their home just outside Turin, the Apcom news agency said. Allegra Agnelli is also the cousin of Giovanni Agnelli's widow, Marella.

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