MILAN -- Umberto Agnelli, twice sidelined from the top job at Fiat, on Friday is set to finally become its chairman amid its worst crisis ever, taking the reins at the industrial group his grandfather founded nearly 104 years ago.
Paolo Fresco, Fiat's current chairman, announced on Tuesday that he would nominate Agnelli to succeed him, handing the silver haired executive the biggest challenge of his career.
Agnelli, 68, had already begun to emerge from the shadows of his older brother Gianni as the charismatic family patriarch battled a worsening illness. Gianni's death in January thrust Umberto firmly into the spotlight.
Some investors said the appointment of the man who served as the group's chief executive for a period in the 1970s could bring a welcome dose of stability to the group that has been rocked by crisis in recent months.
"His appointment means they'll go forward with the strategies already explained to investors," Banknord fund manager Mario Spreafico said. "In this situation of uncertainty there's also a need for a bit of clarity and continuity."
But others said they feared Agnelli was too closely tied to the family's history of relying on government help rather than addressing Fiat's own competitive weaknesses.
Agnelli's own career has had its ups and downs.
He was replaced as the group's CEO after a crisis in the late 1970s and again forced aside in the early 1990s by powerful investment bank Mediobanca, which ousted him as a condition of a bailout during another corporate disaster.
Yet that adversity brought him opportunity: he got a chance to shine as head of family holding company Ifil, which together with Ifi holds around 34 percent of Fiat.
Together with his right-hand man Gabriele Galateri, Umberto set out to widen Ifil's business beyond autos.
Under his stewardship, Ifil bought into the food, beverage and travel sectors, and became a model for Fiat's diversification into power, insurance and other industries.
Umberto also became highly visible to soccer fans as chairman of family soccer team Juventus.
But his personal life was marred by tragedy. His son Giovannino, who headed iconic scooter maker Piaggio and was tipped to one day take the helm at Fiat, died in 1997 of stomach cancer aged 33.
Compared with his brother, who had a deep affection for the auto business, a symbol of Italy's post-war economic boom, Umberto Agnelli has been seen as a numbers man.
Others see him as too close to the founding family to take the tough steps needed to stanch the group's losses.
Agnelli "is a conservative choice, he will be supporting the interests of the family, not the banks or the shareholders," said Paolo Banfi, a fund manager at Euroconsult.
Though the former senator has at times walked in his older brother's politically-savvy footsteps, meeting Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to seek his support for Fiat's turnaround, at other times he has stumbled.
Late last year he mended fences with Mediobanca to plot a shakeup that aimed to replace both Fresco and Galateri, whose appointment as CEO he had backed months before. But Fiat's banks backed Fresco, thwarting the coup attempt.
One analyst said Agnelli's appointment had little true relevance to the group's prospects.
"What I do care about is what's going to be announced on Friday," said Gaetan Toulemonde, an analyst at Deutsche Bank. "What's going to be key is how these guys are going to make this company recover."