Early this morning, Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles announced that it was spinning off Ferrari, bringing a formal end to a relationship that dates back to 1969, when Fiat first bought a 50% stake in Enzo's little company. But who will control it now? And what does it mean for the company? And the F1 team? Let's try to find out.
We should probably establish, before we go any further, that with any pending financial transaction, you shouldn't trust any definitive predictions. Regulators can step in and halt everything, Enzo's son can decide that after devoting his entire life to the automobile, he hates everything with wheels and will now ski everywhere, and on and on.
But judging from past experience, we can look into our crystal ball and try to divine what might happen for the storied Italian brand.
And, as with any Italian company, it quickly devolves into family politics.
So let's start at the top. This morning, FCA announced it was spinning off Ferrari on the public market. For those who don't normally follow the stock market, a "spin off" traditionally means that a larger company goes out and sells a smaller division that it owns to the public at large.
Meaning you, too, can buy a slice of Ferrari, starting in 2015. Even if you can't afford to buy one of their cars.
Spin-offs have a number of advantages over an outright sale to someone else, but the main advantage is that you get to write off a bunch of taxes associated with the sale. But in Fiat's case, it's not selling every single one of its shares on the public market. In fact, it's much more convoluted than that. And we have to go all the way back to 1899.
Back in 1899, a young man from a small farming town named Giovanni Agnelli founded a car company, named Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, or F.I.A.T.
F.I.A.T., or Fiat, as it's known today, grew into a major Italian industrial powerhouse, especially under the tutelage of Giovanni's grandson, Gianni Agnelli.
Gianni Agnelli was a man of fine wealth and taste, becoming the richest person in modern Italian history before his death in 2003. During his time at the helm of Fiat, he engineered the company's initial acquisition of Ferrari from founder Enzo Ferrari, in 1969; he was appointed a Lifetime Senator in Italy; and he became a master of sprezzatura, or the art of wearing your watch in new and silly ways.
When Gianni Agnelli died, the chairmanship eventually passed to his own grandson, a man by the name of John Elkann. John and his brother Lapo Elkann might not have the Agnelli family name attached, due to their virtue of being born to Italian journalist Alain Elkann and his wife, Margherita Agnelli, but they are very much heirs to the Agnelli legacy.
Here's Lapo, for instance, skiing behind a Ferrari FF while wearing a bright red custom-made suit, probably created just for the occasion:
Pictures of John usually just show him in a regular suit. John is the Chairman, Lapo is "manager of brand promotion."
Maybe you can figure out why.
Anyways. Through all of these grandchildren and heirs and grandchildren, Fiat has managed to stay in the control of the Agnelli family, and through it, Ferrari. Specifically, Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, as the company is now known, is controlled by an Italian investment firm known as Exor SpA.
Exor is basically the firm that manages the Agnelli family's wealth, and they hold a controlling stake in it.
Exor owns 30% of Fiat's shares. That 30% stake is more than enough to control FCA, as the next-biggest non-institutional shareholder is company CEO Sergio Marchionne, with only .57% of the company.
So, we can basically say that the Agnelli-Elkann family owns 30% of Fiat. Capiche?
Now, when Fiat said they were spinning off Ferrari, they didn't actually say they were selling the entire company on the public market. They said they were selling 10% of Ferrari on the public market, and the other 90% of Ferrari that Fiat owns it was going to be distributing to its own shareholders.
Meaning 30% of that stake, or roughly 27% of Ferrari, is being handed right back to the Agnelli family.
And if you're wondering by now who owns the remaining 10% of Ferrari that Fiat doesn't own, it's also Ferrari.
Well, Piero Ferrari, son of company founder Enzo Ferrari.
Through all of Ferrari's (the company) history, they've still had a Ferrari (the person) helping to run things. In addition to owning 10% of Ferrari (the company), Ferrari (the person) is Vice Chairman of Ferrari (the company).
Meaning that Ferrari (the person) will possibly have even more influence, as most of the remaining 63% that isn't in his or Agnelli family hands will go to Fiat shareholders, largely made up of financial institutions, which have zero interest in running the day-to-day of the small Italian sports car company.
So all in all, what does this mean for Ferrari, the company?
It means that we'll likely get a lot more of the same, as the "new owners" are actually the same people who have owned the company for the past 45 years. Which means that it's likely that all of Ferrari's storied racing programs, including its Formula One team, will likely continue, just as they have for the past 45 years.
Could someone go ahead and try to buy the remaining 63% of Ferrari shares from all the financial institutions that have no interest in running the day-to-day business of the company, out from under the noses of the Agnelli and Ferrari families?
Theoretically, yes. But before it got to that point they'd probably have a heck of a time doing so, and then we're getting into Poison Pills and legal battles and all sorts of fun. And if it gets to that point, we'll cross that bridge when we get there.
Photo credits: Getty Images