As a boy, John Elkann watched his grandfather Gianni Agnelli build Italy’s biggest industrial fortune, but as an adult he has never adopted Agnelli’s swashbuckling style.
Lately, though, Elkann has embraced at least one of his grandfather’s trademarks: dealmaking.
Exor SpA, the Agnelli family investment company led by the 39-year-old Elkann, on Wednesday emerged as the largest investor in The Economist magazine. And on Aug. 3, Exor won a takeover battle to buy reinsurer PartnerRe Ltd. 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.
Elkann is aiming to streamline the family’s holdings. In May, Exor sold real-estate company Cushman & Wakefield Inc. for about $2 billion. And last year Elkann joined with Fiat SpA Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne to engineer a takeover of Chrysler and list the combined company in New York. “We have worked very hard in the last few years to simplify what Exor is,” Elkann said in May. The goal, he said, is “owning fewer companies but of bigger size.”
As Elkann was working on the PartnerRe deal he was negotiating an increase in Exor’s stake in the Economist, half- owned by Pearson Plc. Other shareholders included European dynasties such as the Cadburys, Rothschilds and Schroders.
On July 25 Elkann attended the wedding of his wife’s step- sister, Beatrice Borromeo, to Pierre Casiraghi, one of the heirs to the throne of Monaco. As the guests gathered, Elkann oversaw preparation of a statement emphasizing he didn’t intend to upset the status quo at the magazine by aiming for full control.
In the end, Exor boosted its stake in The Economist Group to 43.4 percent from 4.7 percent, while the Rothschilds increased their share to 26 percent from 21 percent.
Exor controls businesses ranging from Fiat Chrysler to Italian soccer champion Juventus. The Economist will add to a portfolio of media holdings that include Turin daily La Stampa, which Exor controls through Fiat. The carmaker is also the lead investor in a media company that publishes Italy’s biggest newspaper, Corriere della Sera.