MILAN (Bloomberg) -- John Elkann has never displayed the swashbuckling style that his grandfather, Gianni Agnelli, did as he built Italy's biggest industrial combine. But Elkann has the same talent for dealmaking.
That came to the fore again on Wednesday when the Agnelli family investment company he leads, Exor SpA, became the largest investor in The Economist magazine. Only days before, Exor had won a takeover battle to buy reinsurer PartnerRe for about $6.9 billion.
"These deals show how John Elkann has matured, making him one of the most interesting dealmakers around," said Enrico Valdani, a professor of economics and business management at Milan's Bocconi University.
The moves also reflect 39-year-old Elkann's determination to streamline the family's holdings. In May, Exor sold real estate company Cushman & Wakefield for about $2 billion. And last year Elkann joined with Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne to list the merged automakers in New York.
Aim is to simplify
"We have worked very hard in the last few years to simplify what Exor is," Elkann said in May. His goal is to own "fewer companies but of bigger size."
Exor's current business interests range from Fiat Chrysler to Italian football club Juventus. It includes media such as Turin daily newspaper La Stampa and a large stake in the company that publishes Italy's biggest newspaper, Corriere della Sera, both held though Fiat.
Gianni Agnelli, who died in 2003, took over Fiat from his grandfather, Giovanni Agnelli.
After World War II. Gianni helped rebuild Italy's largest manufacturer, over the years adding production of railroad cars, airplane components, tractors and trucks. During a 30-year stint as Fiat chairman, which began in 1966, he also purchased auto rivals such as Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa Romeo. Today, almost 80 percent of Exor's revenue and 50 percent of its profits come from auto manufacturing.
John Elkann, who is Agnelli's eldest grandchild, was born in New York, son of Margherita Agnelli and a French-Italian writer, Alain Elkann. John is an avid sailor and soccer player, he is tall and gangly with tousled dark hair and a boyish smile. In public he appears shy, his delivery slow and deliberate.
He has managed the family fortune since 2004, when Agnelli's brother, Umberto, died. Exor was formed in 2009 by the merger of two holding companies and its shares have risen more than sevenfold since. The family's 51 percent stake in Exor is valued at 5.6 billion euros ($6.2 billion).