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Gianni Agnelli May Have Ended Guessing Game

July 28, 1995

ROME (AP) _ Guessing the next head of the Fiat empire is almost like trying to figure who counts in China’s power lineup.

Being pictured beside Gianni Agnelli, the glamorous chairman and grandson of the founder of the auto giant, is often a pretty good clue. Being sent on a mission abroad to show Fiat’s colors is another.

Even better are words of praise from the great man himself, in this case heaped on a 31-year-old nephew, Giovanni A. Agnelli, who was already emerging as front-runner.

The young man, the chairman said in an interview published this week, ``has the full support of the family to enable him to prepare for top responsibilities in the group.″

``Without such support, he wouldn’t have been pushed this far,″ he told the French weekly Le Nouvel Economiste.

That was not quite a formal investiture, but enough for the Italian press, including Fiat-owned newspapers, to declare him the heir-apparent.

The Brown University graduate made a rare public appearance in London three weeks ago to unveil two new Piaggo motor scooters _ he’s chairman and chief executive of Piaggo Veicoli Europei SpA _ and only grinned when asked about a possible post at the top.

``We’re not here to talk about that,″ he replied.

But succession is the talk of political and industrial circles because of the weight of Fiat as the largest private employer in the Italian economy.

The 74-year-old Gianni Agnelli, the patriarch of one of Europe’s richest industrial dynasties, has shown signs of slowing down. Doctors in New York Hospital removed an aneurysm from his aorta in April, several months after he underwent major heart surgery.

He insisted in 1993 that he would stay on for at least three years, and while he left his future vague in the interview he also made clear it was getting time for a generational change.

The industrial giant has rebounded after some leans years and chairman Agnelli recently announced that operating profit exceeded $981 million in the first five months of 1995.

Forbes recently listed his personal worth at $3.3 billion.

The heir apparent, known in Italy as Giovanni Jr., is the son of the chairman’s brother, Umberto Agnelli. He is often likened to John Kennedy Jr., son of the late U.S. president, as one of the world’s most eligible bachelors.

Gianni has two children _ a daughter and a son _ but neither is involved in the company.

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