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Q&A: With the Chairman of Ferrari and Fiat

Luca di Montezemolo on F1, hybrids and the future.

by on Oct.06, 2009

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"I want to win with my gearbox, my engine... they want to equalize F1, I don’t want to!"

The name Ferrari, its prancing horse logo and of course those special red vehicles are world famous icons of speed and style. But, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the long time chairman of Ferrari, SpA and of Fiat, SpA, has a relatively low business news profile outside the automobile industry.

His name is more familiar on the world’s sports pages with the Formula 1 racing news than on American business pages, which is a slight to this communicative, charismatic and competitive executive.

A 62-year-old Italian with an aristocratic heritage and wide-ranging interests, he is an experienced race driver, earned a law degree from the Sapienza-Universitá in 1971, studied for an MBA at the Columbia and worked in a Wall Street prior to establishing himself one of the leading international business executives.

Montezemolo’s business achievements began after he returned to Italy from the United States as special assistant to Enzio Ferrari where he became the race team manager. He then joined Fiat in a variety of positions including being responsible for international public affairs, then moved to CEO of Cinzano (the aperitif maker, and a Fiat company) and was chairman of the organization of the Italian World Cup Soccer of FIFA.

In 1990, he returned to Ferrari as chairman and CEO charged with making the company financially successful and the F1 team a winner. In short order Montezemolo accomplished both and subsequently added CEO of Maserati to his resume.

The 62-year-old CEO has rock star status among Ferrari fans who were lined up at least four deep whenever I passed the Ferrari stand during the recently concluded Frankfurt Motor Show and it was not just for the beautiful models the brand uses to add significant interest to its vehicles. His first car, he told me was a Fiat Cinquecento (500), the second a Lancia. His vehicles now include a Fiat Panda, Fiat 500 and not surprisingly a Ferrari California.

I had the rare opportunity of interviewing and chatting with the stylish executive in a small conference room at the Ferrari stand. Here are the highlights of our conversation.

Q: Given the state of the automobile business worldwide, how was Ferrari’s business in the first six months of the year?

LdiM:  We are slightly down – 8% — from last year, but that was the best six months in the history of Ferrari, and last year was a record year for Ferrari. In the first half of 2009, we sold 3,221 Ferrari’s around the world with a value of €891 million and profits of €124 million. Our merchandising and licensing revenues were up 27% in the first half and our market share went from 22% to 53%.

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