While the brash 61-year-old cigarette-smoking CEO Sergio Marchionne is usually the center of attention when it comes to the life of recently formed Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, there he also has a boss – the 38-year-old John Elkann.
He’s tall, try curly haired, soft-spoken and deferential, likes fine, but not flashy, dark suits furnished with red sweater vests and… yeah, he’s the great-great-grandson of Fiat founder Giovanni Agnelli.
Don’t disregard him for being only 38, he’s the owner of a list of executive roles and responsibilities that would make executives twice his age run home and retire. He entered the boardroom drama of executive leadership in 1997 when he got a seat on Fiat SpA’s board of directors and took the helm as vice chairman in 2003 after the heir – 33-year-old Giovanni Alberto Agnelli succumbed to a rare form of stomach cancer.
“John is an extraordinarily thoughtful leader who is wise beyond his years,” says executive chairman Bill Ford. “ He has successfully navigated some very difficult waters during his time as chairman, particularly as Fiat was going through a number of CEOs in a short period of time, which inevitably fell on his shoulders,” adds the Ford Motor executive.
While many in Italy have been negative towards Elkann;s support of Marchionne’s plan to buy out Chrysler in 2009 and again in 2014 to take full control, saying that both are selling out Fiat to the US, the chairman sees the move as a great possibility for all employees to grow, with his opinion that family ownership and oversight, together with an active outside CEO makes for great and effective corporate management.