A few weeks ago, Umberto Agnelli, the younger brother of Fiat patriarch Giovanni Agnelli, appeared to have suffered one more in a long line of frustrations.
The 67-year-old Umberto wanted to make a change at the top of Fiat SpA, something he had been powerless to do in the past.
He is head of IFI and IFIL, the Agnelli family financial holdings that control 30 percent of group voting shares. But he has been a virtual outsider at Fiat. Giovanni, 81, had seen to it.
Now Umberto wanted to get rid of Fiat SpA CEO Paolo Cantarella. But though the group was in serious trouble, it seemed he couldn't make it happen. A few weeks ago his brother, the company's long time leader and now its honorary chairman, blocked him again.
But in the end the younger Agnelli got his wish.
On December 10 Umberto said that he was 'waiting with great trepidation for the results promised us [by Cantarella and Fiat Chairman Paolo Fresco]. We will see in six months.' Six months to the day Cantarella was out.
Actually, Umberto's patience had run out much sooner.
As Fiat group prepared to announce a disastrous first quarter - with a net group loss of 663 caused mainly by Fiat Auto's 429 million in operating losses - Umberto was pushing hard for the removal of Cantarella, a former personal assistant to his old rival Cesare Romiti.
By mid-April it appeared that Umberto would have his way. The three-year terms of Cantarella and Fresco were due to expire and would have to be renewed at Fiat's May 14 shareholders' meeting.
Sources say a deal was worked out in which Fresco would stay as chairman, but that Umberto's right-hand man, Gabriele Galateri di Genola, would become Fiat group CEO. Galateri, chief executive of Turin-based IFI (Istituto Finanziario Industriale) and its subsidiary IFIL would replace the 56-year-old Cantarella.
Galateri, 55, is already a member of Fiat's board of directors. He was to continue as CEO of IFI and IFIL.
Sources said Cantarella's exit package in April called for him to be elected to the Fiat group board of directors and be close to Comau, the industrial equipment subsidiary. Cantarella ran Comau until 1989.
Cantarella would have continued as head of Grand Prix World Championship Holding BV. The Netherlands-based company was formed in November by carmakers involved in Formula One racing to create a new world championship series beginning by 2008.
But by April 24 the deal was off. Giovanni Agnelli had put a stop to it. Fresco and Cantarella would stay in their jobs, he decreed.
Four days later Giovanni issued a public statement in support of Cantarella and Fresco.
'IFI and IFIL will propose that Mr. Fresco be confirmed as chairman and Mr. Cantarella as chief executive officer for another three-year term,' he said. '[They] both operate with my full confidence and that of the main shareholders.'
The statement came as Fiat shares had fallen to 13, their lowest level in nine years.
As had happened several times in the past 20 years, Umberto had lost a battle to put himself or one of his close allies in a top position at Fiat group. He ran all other family businesses, but not the biggest - Fiat.
Umberto's deep frustration went back to the days when he lost a power struggle with Romiti, the former Fiat SpA chairman. Umberto had been chairman of Fiat Auto for 10 years after the operating division was formed in 1979.
In 1987, Giovanni had publicly announced that his brother would eventually become chairman of the group. But in 1992, Giovanni, under pressure from bankers bailing Fiat out of a financial crisis, agreed to make Romiti his successor. An angry Umberto walked away from Fiat, leaving his position as vice chairman to focus on other family businesses.
In 1995, a year before reaching the company's official retirement age of 75, Agnelli stepped down and Romiti became chairman.
But this time Umberto had strong allies, the three Italian banks - SanPaolo IMI, IntesaBCI and Banca di Roma - coming to Fiat's rescue. They wanted a change at the top.
Cantarella had been confirmed for another three-year term at the May 14 shareholders' meeting. But his situation still seemed perilous. At the press conference following the meeting, a crowd of TV and radio reporters rushed toward Fresco. Cantarella was ignored. No one even spoke to him when he entered the room.
Cantarella was clearly upset as he waited alone on the podium for the press conference to begin.
On May 24, Fiat began secret talks with its main creditors on a 3 billion refinancing package.
Fresco, representing Fiat, and Galateri, representing the Agnellis' shareholding, conducted all the talks. Cantarella was not involved. He was only called at the end, on May 28, to sign the final papers as CEO.
Ten days later, on Thursday June 6, the final showdown took place. After Giovanni Agnelli returned to Turin on the morning of June 4 following prostate cancer treatment in New York, a private family meeting was called. Only two non-family members attended the meeting: Fresco and Galateri. Sources say that Giovanni was not physically able to attend the meeting. Instead, he participated by telephone.
Officially, nothing was decided. But in fact, it was determined at the June 6 meeting that Cantarella would go. Four days later Fiat announced that Cantarella had resigned.
In fact, Cantarella's ouster was no surprise. His job had been at risk since October 4, 2001, the day Fiat warned analysts that it would miss all its financial targets for the year and would close 2001 in the red. That had not happened since 1993, when the company was in deep crisis.
The biggest surprise in the June 10 announcement was that Fiat group had found no replacement for Cantarella. Fresco, 68, will also take over as CEO on an 'interim basis,' the duration of which is unknown.
Umberto's choice, Galateri, did not appear to want to leave IFIL: 'I feel well where I am,' he told shareholders in late May. But more importantly, Fiat's creditors may not have supported him.
After the banks announced their refinancing plan on May 28, several names surfaced as possible new CEOs. First to emerge were a pair of
Carlos Ghosn-style cost cutters, Franco Tatò and Enrico Bondi.
Until recently, Tatò was CEO of Enel, an Italian electrical energy group. In the past he has run Olivetti, publishing firm Mondadori, auto supplier Mannesmann-Kienzle and typewriter manufacturer Triumph-Adler.
Bondi, currently CEO of Telecom Italia, formerly led energy company Montedison and once ran Fiat's defense, aerospace and components units.
More recently two other highly respected financial executives have been mentioned as possible chief executives of Fiat group. They are: Mario Draghi, a vice president at Goldman Sachs International and a former long-time official in the Italian treasury department; and Lino Benassi, former CEO of IntesaBCI, one of the banks backing Fiat's restructuring plan.