Lapo Elkann managed to restore some pride in the Fiat name with an unlikely product: a sweatshirt.
Launched in March 2003 and priced at E235, Fiat planned to make just 999 of the red, zip-up sweatshirts that carry the Fiat name in big, blue letters. But demand has been so high that the production run was extended.
The sweatshirt is so hot that rivals have started to produce less-expensive copies. With a bold piece of clothing Elkann, Fiat Auto's head of brand promotion, made the Fiat name synonymous with something besides disastrous financial results.
The grandson of Fiat patriarch Gianni Agnelli hopes to match the sweatshirt's success with his first idea for a Fiat Auto product. He pushed for the Lancia Ypsilon to come in a version with a two-tone paint job.
Planned production was 2,000 units a year, but after just four months, customer orders have exceeded 1,600 units.
Name: Lapo Elkann.
Title: Fiat Auto head of brand promotion.
Nationality: Italian. (He was born in New York City but was stripped of his US citizenship for serving in the Italian army.)
Family: Comodino, a 3-month-old Saint Bernard.
Education: A degree in international relations from the European Business School London.
First car: Fiat Punto HGT.
What is in your garage now?
Alfa Romeo 147 GTA with an Italian flag painted on the roof; Alfa 156 Sportwagon with a two-tone paint job; and a Fiat Panda painted in the same color blue as the jerseys worn by Italy's national soccer team.
What is your dream car?
The original Fiat 500.
Which cars would you like to have designed?
The original versions of the Fiat 500, Ford GT and VW Beetle; and the Ferrari 250 GT California.
What CDs are in your car right now?
Saint Germain, Vasco Rossi, Hotel Costes, Jonny Halliday.
When do you get your best ideas?
While walking, traveling or talking with my teammates.
What do you dislike about your job?
The red tape and the time needed to transform a styling model into a production car.
What personal things do you have in your office?
I am most fond of my painting of Winston Churchill with his quote: "Let us go forward together." That is my personal motto.
Who is your real-life hero?
If you could meet any figures from history who would they be?
Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein. In different periods, they both changed the world.
What nonautomotive companies do you admire?
Apple for its creativity and the simplicity of its products; Virgin for its ability to successfully expand its brand in very different areas; and Diesel, an Italian casual fashion company that quickly has become a world-renowned brand.
If you were to choose an alternative career what would it be?
Any business in which you have to create new products.
What do you do to relax?
I travel; visit art, fashion and design exhibitions; meet with friends.
What do you do on planes?
I talk with my neighbors. I'm always interested in meeting new people.
What are you good at?
Motivating my teammates.
What do you dislike about yourself?
I want things executed much faster than is really possible.
When are you not at your best?
In the evening, as I begin my work day just after 7 a.m.
What is the challenge facing you in your business?
To increase excitement in and the credibility of our brands. Attracting more buyers age 18 to 35.
How would you describe yourself to others?
Open-minded, interested in discovering new people and things, a strong believer in teamwork.
What talent would you most like to have?
What is your most treasured possession?
The joy of living.
Do you work on weekends?
Only when it is absolutely necessary.