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Elkann: Family businesses attract great managers

The ability to attract top managers is one of the biggest advantages of family firms, according to John Elkann, chairman of Italian automaker Fiat.

The ability to attract top managers is one of the biggest advantages of family firms, according to John Elkann, chairman of Italian automaker Fiat.

“Family businesses have the capacity to attract great managers, persons of talent and great value,” said Elkann during a conference about family businesses in Courmayeur, adding “those [managers] who are very capable find enormous support in the dialogue which is established with the family”.

“Family and company are two separate systems. Solidarity prevails in the family while competition prevails in the company. The secret is to understand how the two systems can interact,” said the fifth-generation member of Fiat's founding Agnelli family.

Walmart and Ford are examples of companies where non-family members have been successfully appointed as chief executives, he said. Elkann also appointed a non-family member in 2004, when he chose Sergio Marchionne as Fiat’s chief executive.

The 35-year-old’s view contrasts with the findings of a recent survey about family businesses by executive search firm Egon Zehnder International. According to the study, a lack of transparency and meritocracy prevent family businesses from attracting the best managerial talent.

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