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Succession top in mind for Italian “royal family” head

John Elkann

John Elkann, fifth-generation chairman of the founding Fiat family, has revealed how he attempts to balance his work burdens with raising a family and carefully exposing his young children to the family business.

In an interview with the Financial Times, 34-year-old Elkann explained when running a family business, it is not always possible to separate the business from family life. “Private life is to some extent part of work life. Ultimately if you want to balance that we cannot have silos, one part separate from the other,” he said.

He tries to give his two young sons, Leone and Ocean, international exposure along with stability, privacy and knowledge about their inheritance. “I’m interested in avoiding two types of behaviour: one is a sense of guilt and the other is a sense of entitlement,” he told the FT. “If these two are avoided, then the rest is up to them.”

This awareness of the importance of training the next generation about inheritance is one of the aspects that allows business-owning families to be successful across generations, say experts. It was also one of the reasons Elkann is a role model for many family businesses. Indeed, so much so that he was recently judged by Campden FB to be the top family business leader in the world. (Read more here)

His success at reinvigorating the family-controlled company, which is now one of the largest automobile makers in the world is another reason Elkann is becoming a family business icon. He took over Fiat during a period when investors had written off the company and he was instrumental in rebuilding the family empire through some adept management. He brought in management guru Sergio Marchionne in 2004 who helped Fiat return to profits within two years.

Elkann, who is also chairman and chief executive of the Agnelli family’s investment company Exor, said that he wants to imitate the success of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway with Exor. He reckons that the capital goods investment company can outperform the MSCI index over the next 20 to 30 years. Exor currently has an investment portfolio worth more than €9 billion.

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