End of an era at Fiat

Jennifer Clark is an Automotive News Europe correspondent in Italy.

Fiat's last annual shareholder's meeting in its hometown of Turin, where it was founded 115 years ago, was surprisingly low key. Fiat's next shareholders meeting will be in the Netherlands, which is like Ford Motor holding its annual assembly in Canada.

The furor from Italian unions and politicians about Fiat's decision in 2011 to slow the pace of its investments in Italy has died down, given that the much-feared plant closures haven't happened.

Shareholders at Monday's meeting in Fiat's landmark 1920s headquarters were overwhelmingly in favor of the upcoming corporate and tax domicile move, which will be approved here in a vote this summer. Most agree with management that Fiat's purchase of Chrysler, which was completed in January, has given the Italian carmaker a much more secure future and created value.

Some struck a sentimental note.

"After more than 40 years of coming to these shareholder meetings, it's sort of like seeing your children leave the nest," said shareholder Raul Ravi.

Fiat Chairman and controlling shareholder John Elkann said that the birth of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles "will end the precarious life of Fiat" and didn't seem too choked up about the company outgrowing its hometown.

It fell to CEO Sergio Marchionne to acknowledge the "emotional impact of these decisions, not only here, but also on the other side of the ocean."

Having a foreign corporate parent is not new to Chrysler, which was owned by Daimler AG from 1998 to 2007.

Some employees at Fiat's Turin corporate headquarters have expressed fears privately that the company will cut white collar management staff.

Interestingly, Marchionne showed the Maserati Super Bowl ad at the meeting, in which a little girl pairs with a roaring Maserati to "strike" against the "big beasts." He said it was "is a metaphor for the path that Fiat has taken."

In truth, Fiat's annual shareholders meeting is no longer what it was back in the days of the chairmanship of Gianni Agnelli, Elkann's grandfather.

For Turin's industrial and financial elite, five minutes of face time with the silver-haired patriarch was the equivalent of Andy Warhol's "15 minutes of fame."

Until the mid-1990s, retired engineers and technicians stepped up to the speakers' podium with rolled-up drawings to show "the Avvocato," which is Italian for lawyer, ideas that had been ignored by their bosses. The meetings would continue until well after dinner.

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