Who is Umberto Agnelli?

Umberto Agnelli was a well-known chairman of Italian automaker Fiat -- the famous maker of the Fiat and the Ferrari.

Umberto Agnelli Background

Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1934, Agnelli was one of seven children. His father, Eduardo, founded the Fiat auto company in 1899. Agnelli's older brother Gianni became the CEO when Eduardo died in 1935.

Umberto Agnelli became the chairman of Fiat France in 1965 after earning a law degree in 1959. He became the CEO of Fiat S.p.A. in 1970 and then became the chairman in 1980. Unlike his brother, Umberto was a conservative businessman who watched every detail. However, under his watch the Fiat company lost market share as customers increasingly sought quality over styling in the 1970s and 1980s.

In response to changes in customer tastes, Agnelli bought Alfa Romeo in 1987 and Maserati in 1993. This proved a wrong turn, and Fiat sold a 20% stake to General Motors in 2000. By 2002, the company lost 4.3 billion Euros, and its stock had fallen by 80%. Agnelli divested businesses and focused on its core automotive operations in 2003, laying off thousands of people.

Agnelli was also president of the Italian Football Federation from 1959 to 1961.

He died of cancer in Turin, Italy, in May 2004. His brother, Gianni, died of cancer in January 2003.

Why Does Umberto Agnelli Matter?

Umberto Agnelli oversaw one of the worst financial crisis in Fiat's century-old history. Like many family-run businesses, Fiat may continue to face questions about the involvement and competency of Agnelli's heirs.