Giovanni Agnelli, patriarch of Italy's most influential family, has died today at the age of 81. His death came hours before 80 members of the family were to gather to discuss a refinancing plan for Fiat, the ailing industrial empire and carmaker that Giovanni's grandfather founded in 1899.
The family gathering, which lasted 30 minutes, was to have seen Mr Agnelli, who had been battling prostate cancer, transfer his vote within the family trust to other members.
Mr Agnelli's death ignited stock market speculation that the family would opt to sell Fiat Auto, the lossmaking automobile division that is the core of the industrial group, rather than seek to refinance the unit. Mr Agnelli was considered to be one of the few family members who did not want to sell Fiat Auto.
Mr Agnelli was chairman of Fiat from 1966 to 1996 and continued as honorary chairman to preside over Fiat and oversee numerous other holdings, from Corriere della Sera, the country's most important newspaper, to Juventus, Italy's most popular football team, to Ferrari's Formula One racing team.
Luca de Montezemolo said in a statement : “The death of Giovanni Agnelli leaves an unfillable void in my life. For over 35 years, his friendship and affection provided me with an incomparable reference point. I can never forget how often he was close to me during the most difficult moments and I attribute Ferrari’s success to him, knowing full well what a fundamental role he played in achieving it.”
Jean Todt also paid a moving tribute: "I am very shocked by the death of Avvocato Agnelli, who was a legendary figure of inimitable style. Ferrari was always a special company for him and its achievements were of particular significance to him. He was always very interested in what went on at Maranello and supportive of our efforts over the years it took to become successful once again and he was involved in all our decisions. When, finally, we managed to win again, he shared our feelings of relief and joy. We knew we could always count on his presence and support. His passing marks the end of an era.”
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