DEFINITION of John Elkann
John Elkann is a global automotive industrialist who earns the title through both family connections and a lot of work for his family and his businesses. Elkann is the chair of Italian automaker Fiat Chrysler, a global automobile brand that also includes Alpha Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Maserati, and Ferrari. He is also the chair of Exor, a holding company that controls Fiat Chrysler and other brands. He is also the owner of the Juventus football club, a popular sporting team in Turin, Italy.
BREAKING DOWN John Elkann
Born in 1976 in New York City, Elkann traveled extensively as a child and lived in several countries, giving him fluency in at least four languages and many cultural nuances. As quoted in the Financial Times of March 6, 2011, he said, “I was born in New York, then I went to the UK, then I went to Brazil, then I went to France, then I studied in Italy. My life was always about being confronted with an environment where you had to adapt.”
As a member of the powerful Agnelli family that controlled the Italian automaker Fiat, Elkann was groomed to have a hand in the family by his grandfather Gianni Agnelli's direction. This attention prepared him to take on important roles in the company at a young age following the premature deaths of his grandfather and Angelli's brother's younger son Umberto Agnelli.
As he pursued his degree in industrial engineering, Elkann held a variety of internships that would enable him to see the inside out of the automotive industry. These experiences allowed him to see the factory, marketing, and sales aspects of the company and included a headlamp factory in Birmingham, England, a production line in Tychy, Poland, and a car dealership in Lille, France. By the time he landed a seat on the company’s board in 1997 at the age of 21, Elkann was already writing his undergraduate thesis on e-auctions as a part of General Electric’s corporate initiatives group.
Elkann earned his Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering and management from Turin Polytechnic in 2001. He became vice chair of Fiat Chrysler in 2004. Though raised with the knowledge that a family business was his to inherit and manage, Elkann is described as a shy and discrete person that works with others to get a job done. At the time Elkann attained the position of vice chair, Fiat was suffering from its vehicles' poor reputation for reliability. Elkann worked closely with management and helped to turn the company around.
Elkann became chair of the company in 2010 at the age of 36 when Luca Cordero di Montezemolo stepped down. Chair and CEO today and in his early 40s, Elkann oversees an automobile empire and is one of the richest men in Italy.