Raul Gardini Makes Italian Grain Company Worldwide Power
ROME (AP) _ The late Serafino Ferruzzi made his fortune helping feed starving postwar Italy. His son-in-law, Raul Gardini, has wider ambitions and they are having repercussions on one of the world’s busiest commodities markets.
Gardini’s company, Ferruzzi Finanziara SpA, was at the center of attention this week as the reported target of an emergency order by the Chicago Board of Trade to break up an alleged attempt to corner the soybean market.
The company denied it had done anything wrong and protested the order - which required liquidation of large positions in the market’s July soybean contract - saying it was only trying to satisfy its export commitments.
Since taking over the Ravenna-based company nine years ago, Gardini has turned the Ferruzzi food group into Western Europe’s biggest grain exporter and Italy’s second largest private-sector industrial concern after Fiat.
If Giovanni Agnelli, head of the Fiat auto empire, is Italy’s industrial king, then the handsome, silver-haired Gardini may be the crown prince.
But while Agnelli was born into wealth, Italy’s financial press frequently reminds Gardini of his middle-class farming origins and his rough-and-tumble boardroom style.
While Agnelli, who holds a law degree, is reverently referred to as the ″Avvocato″ (lawyer) Gardini has been nicknamed ″Il Contadino″ (the peasant).
Gardini has made a number of bold moves since he became head of the Ferruzzi Group.
The most important was his 1987 takeover of the Montedison chemical company, a move that consolidated Ferruzzi’s power as Italy’s second-largest private business group.
Italy’s financial press takes pride in describing Gardini as one of the new breed of enterpreneurs who look beyond Italy’s borders and are not afraid of a corporate fight.
The 56-year-old Gardini, an avid outdoorsman and hunter who owns a 500- year-old palace on Venice’s Grand Canal, is equally proud of his roots as a farmer.
He was born in Ravenna, attended an agricultural school and went to work for Ferruzzi. In 1957, he married Ferruzzi’s daughter, Ida.
Since becoming chairman in 1980, Gardini launched a major expansion and the group now owns some 2.5 million acres of land distributed over three continents.
Perhaps his boldest move was his raid on Montedison, one of the 10 largest chemical companies in the world but saddled with debt and aging plants that were accused of being some of Italy’s worst polluters.
The Italian newsweekly L’Espresso headlined the Montedison takeover ″the great blitz,″ and published a photograph of Gardini in his hunting attire, gripping a shotgun with a cigarette dangling from his mouth.
Gardini has been accused of riding roughshod over the interests of minority shareholders. A controversial restructuring of the Montedison group in 1988 caused a stir among investors, pushing the Milan Stock Exchange into a tailspin.
To foreign critics, he said, ″This is an Italian operation in the Italian market and if investors don’t like it they can leave.″
Among his moves was the ouster of Montedison chairman, Mario Schimberni, who had encouraged Gardini to buy into Montedison. Schimberni now heads the Italian state railroad.
Ferruzzi Finanziara ranked 28th in Fortune 500 magazine’s recently released list of the largest industrial corporations outside the United States, with 1988 group sales of $18.3 billion.
Fiat was eighth, with sales of $34 billion.
Since taking control of Montedison, Ferruzzi has been seeking to wed the agricultural and chemical industries. The Group recently announced plans to produce and market a biodegradable plastic made from corn starch.