|Born||13 August 1866|
Villar Perosa, Italy
|Died||16 December 1945 (aged 79)|
|Known for||Founder of Fiat|
Aniceta Caterina (1889-1928)
|Relatives||Gianni Agnelli (grandson)|
Susanna Agnelli (granddaughter)
Giorgio Agnelli (grandson)
Umberto Agnelli (grandson)
Andrea Agnelli (great-grandson)
John Elkann (great-great-grandson)
Giovanni Agnelli (13 August 1866 – 16 December 1945) was an Italian businessman, who founded Fiat car manufacturing in 1899.
The son of Edoardo Agnelli and Aniceta Frisetti, he was born in 1866 in Villar Perosa, a small town near Pinerolo, Piedmont, still the main home and burial place of the Agnelli family. His father, mayor of Villar Perosa, died at age 40, when Giovanni was just five. He studied at the Collegio San Giuseppe in Turin; then embarked on a military career until 1893 when he returned to Villar Perosa, where he followed in his father's footsteps and became mayor in 1895 which he held until his death. Agnelli heard about the invention of the (then) new horseless carriage and immediately saw an opportunity for using his engineering and entrepreneurial skills. In 1898, he met Count Emanuele Cacherano of Bricherasio, who was looking for investors for his horseless carriage project; Agnelli sensed the opportunity.
On 11 July 1899, Agnelli was part of the group of founding members of the Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino, which became Fiat; he paid $400 for his share in 1899, worth around $11,500 in today's prices. One year later, he was the managing director of the new company and became the chairman in 1920. The first Fiat plant opened in 1900 with 35 staff making 24 cars. The company was known from the beginning for the talent and creativity of its engineering staff. By 1903, Fiat made a small profit and produced 135 cars growing to 1,149 cars by 1906. The company then went public selling shares via the Milan stock exchange. Agnelli began purchasing all the shares he could to add to his holdings. During this time, he overcame scandals and labour problems.
During World War I, Agnelli became involved with the financier Riccardo Gualino in transport of US aid to Europe in 1917. They invested in two enterprises in the United States; the Marine & Commerce Corporation of America exported coal and the International Shipbuilding Company made motorized vessels. These companies failed when the war ended, since they were structured to meet wartime demand, but had returned large profits to their owners.
Agnelli and Gualino made an attempt early in 1918 to take over Cro Italiano. They did not succeed, but joined the board of directors of the bank. Agnelli was vice-president of Gualino's SNIA from 1917 to 1926. In the early 1920s, SNIA began to manufacture artificial textile fibers.
In 1920, Gualino and Agnelli participated in recapitalization of the private bank Jean de Fernex and bought a third of the shares of Alfredo Frassati, publisher of La Stampa. Gualino and Agnelli were also involved in a proposal to link Milan, Genoa and Turin with a high-speed railway and in various projects in cement and automobiles. Their partnership broke up around 1926 due to Gualino's investments in the French automobile industry.
After World War I, Fiat jumped from 30th to third place among Italian industrial companies. The first Ford factory was opened four years after Fiat was founded. In 1906, the first Fiat car dealer in the U.S. was established at a location in Manhattan on Broadway. Agnelli was appointed a Senator in 1923, and filled several other prestigious positions between the two wars. He remained focused and propelled Fiat to the international arena. He was still active with Fiat at the start of the Second World War, and died soon after it ended in 1945 at age 79.