Ferrari has lined up a new CEO, Benedetto Vigna, to join the iconic Italian automaker Sept. 1 after spending his career in the semiconductor industry.
Ferrari’s decision to step out of the automotive world — or, for that matter, the luxury goods business — in its search has taken some by surprise. But other experts believe it’s a clearheaded move reflecting the increasing importance of digital technology, even for a company best known for exotic V-8- and V-12-powered supercars.
Vigna’s “deep understanding of the technologies driving much of the change in our industry, and his proven innovation, business-building and leadership skills, will further strengthen Ferrari and its unique story of passion and performance,” said the automaker’s Chairman John Elkann in a statement.
Elkann spent the first half of the year wearing two hats. He became acting CEO upon the unexpected retirement last December of Ferrari CEO Louis Camilleri. That executive cited “personal reasons” for his departure but was believed to be dealing with a COVID-19 infection.
Turmoil in the executive suite
While not quite a revolving door, Ferrari has suffered an unusually high turnover in its CEO post in recent years.
Longtime chief executive Luca Di Montezemolo stepped down after a run-in with Sergio Marchionne, then the head of Ferrari parent Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Marchionne took his place in time to steer Ferrari through a successful spinoff and the October 2015 initial public offering. But the executive passed away in July 2018 following cancer surgery. Marchionne was then replaced by Camilleri who departed at a particularly challenging time.
The auto industry is in the midst of some of the most massive changes it has experienced in decades. And while Ferrari may operate in extremely rarified air — its least expensive model, the Portofino, starting at $215,000 — it is, nonetheless, feeling massive pressure for change.
It’s currently readying its first sport-utility vehicle, the Purosangue — or “thoroughbred.” And it is in the midst of launching its first-ever plug-in hybrid model, the SF90 Stradale. In April, Elkann announced that would be just the beginning of Ferrari’s electrification efforts.
A “disciplined” approach
“We are very excited about our first all-electric Ferrari that we plan to unveil in 2025,” he said. “We are continuing to execute our electrification strategy in a highly disciplined way.”
Even now, however, Ferrari vehicles make extensive use of digital electronics for their instrument panels, powertrain controllers and infotainment systems. That is expected to increase annually as new models roll out.
A graduate of the University of Pisa, Vigna has worked for the French-Italian electronics and semiconductor manufacturer STMicroelectronics since 1995. Among his credits, Vigna helped developed the three-axis gyro system that allows smartphones to change their displays when turned sideways.
After Camilleri’s departure, there was widespread speculation Ferrari might turn to someone with extensive experience in luxury or consumer goods. While the automaker is both known for its high-performance sports cars and involvement in Formula One racing, it also licenses its brand name extensively for use on goods as diverse as sunglasses and laptop computers.
“The appointment is highly unexpected and, in our view, reflects the need to ‘reinvent’ Ferrari and the difficulty of securing candidates willing to take on the task,” Jefferies analyst Philippe Houchois said in a note to investors Wednesday.
But others see the decision to bring in Vigna as fitting in today’s digital era.
“We believe that he will be able to further accelerate Ferrari’s ability to remain ahead of the curve in next-gen technologies compared to the automotive sector,” Pietro Solidoro, an analyst at Bestinver, wrote to investors.
As of late morning, Ferrari NV shares had fallen 2.81% to $212.68.