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The Riveting Story of Italy's Multi-Billionaires- The Agnelli Family

  • 1st Apr 2021
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The Riveting Story of Italy's Multi-Billionaires- The Agnelli Family

The journey of an entrepreneur is usually marked by a tumultuous road and most often a rough beginning. Well, such was not the case for the Agnelli Family. The flagbearer of this Italian multi-faceted dynasty was Giovanni Agnelli, born into an affluent family who went on to become the founder of the infamous automobile giant, Fiat, in 1899.

Coming from a wealthy background of landowners in Villar Perosa, Giovanni had a military career set ahead of him at a very early age. After undergoing training, he attained the position of calvary lieutenant. But what followed was the big innovation that the nineteenth century brought along, resulting in Giovanni’s passion towards cars.

Image courtesy: Scuderia Ferrari Club

Along with his partners, in the coming years Giovanni founded some of the most revolutionary cars in the automobile industry from Fiat (1899), Ferrari (1969), Lancia (1969), Alfa Romeo (1986) to Chrysler.

The Agnelli automobile business boomed even further during the World War 1 between 1914 and 1918. He provided machine guns, trucks, aircraft engines and guns. By 1915, the Agnelli business was providing military equipment on a large scale and went from a small team of 500 to 10,000 employees.

Branching out into new ventures

Image courtesy: The Rake

The 1920’s marked some of the most important moves by the Agnelli’s, where the family expanded on to different aspects of business. Agnelli invested in Italy’s largest newspaper publication called La Stampa, becoming a sole shareholder six years later.

In 1923, he got ownership of the Juventus football club and also founded his own bank. Through this bank, people were given credit to purchase automobiles. All through this, importing military equipment continued to remain one of their biggest lucrative ventures.

Giovanni joined Mussolini’s fascist part in 1932 and continued to serve military equipment to the Germans. Just as it came to be known that Mussolini was going down, Giovanni’s possessions were taken from him in 1945. Before his death on December 16th, 1945, he left his belongings in the name of his grandson, Gianni Agnelli.

Image courtesy: The Washington Post

At all of 24, Gianni was hounded by the press for his abrupt lifestyle at the time. In 1966, when he took over as Fiat’s chairman, he was earning an estimated one million dollars, allowing him to party hard enough and continue to be a part of front page news.

The company went on to be part of multiple international conferences, including the Bilderberg meetings. Six years later, Gianni became a member of the steering committee.

Making Italy Proud

Image courtesy: Informare Resistere

The Agnelli’s had only begun to revolutionize the idea of a successful business by putting Italy on the global map. In 1969, Fiat bought a 50% share in Ferrari, completely acquiring it in 1989.

A partnership with electric equipment provider Ercole Marelli that was fully sold to Fiat in 1967 resulted in the Fiat Group contributing to 3% of Italy’s GDP in the 1980’s.

Enrico Cuccia went on to become the family’s advisor. In 1986, the Fiat Group and Ford were looking to acquire Alfa Romeo. Cuccia did everything in his power to ensure that the deal with Ford fell through, resulting in Fiat buying out its competitor at a much lower cost than Ford.

The Agnelli family net worth increased by ten-fold and became one of the most powerful families in the history of Italy.

After the death of Gianni Agnelli, Margherita Agnelli received her fathers inheritance and went on to become the first female member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Italy.

Image courtesy: Reuters

In 2014, the Fiat Group split separating its car making subsidiaries and industry divisions. Both the segments are handled by the holding company, Exor, where the Agnelli family is a majority stake holder, with 27% in CNH Industrial and 29% in Fiat.

The family began to invest in more profitable sectors, steering clear of the traditional ways. Fiat was sold to Alstom in 2001 and Marelli to the Japanese company Kensei in 2018. Ferrari was back on to the stock market with Exor still owning 23% of its share value.

As of now, the Agnelli family is a 200 members empire who have expanded their holds onto modern art, sports, automobiles, politics and much more. The family has fully transformed the global automobile industry and produces nearly 8.7 million cars per year, if we include Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors.

Speaking of a truly wealthy and profitable dynasty, with its ever-expanding dynamics Italy’s Agnelli family continues to reign over the list of most powerful families in the world.


Neha Menon is a Post Graduate in Media and Communication from Manipal University Dubai with an immense passion for stories, writing, travel, music and art.Apart from being a Fashion and Brand enthusiast, she's a big believer in the idea of 'follow your heart and live life passionately'. A complete d... read more


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