Control of tyre company Pirelli is being disputed by one of Italy’s most influential businessmen in a protracted fight that has also brought to the fore the often murky structure of the holding companies that prevail at many family businesses throughout the country.
Marco Tronchetti Provera, the former chairman and chief executive of Telecom Italia – with the backing of two of Italy’s biggest banks and a private equity fund – has launched a bid to strengthen his hold on the tyre maker. With their backing, Tronchetti Provera will create a new holding company – Lauro 61 – with the aim of taking control of Pirelli, which would see him own around 61% of the current main holding company Camfin enabling him to control the maker of Formula One tyres.
Tronchetti Provera is currently chairman of Pirelli – the world’s fifth largest tyre maker – but he also has a connection to the founding family. He is the ex-husband of founder Giovanni Battista Pirelli’s great-granddaughter Cecilia Pirelli. Also, Tronchetti Provera’s father set up Camfin after leaving Falck, a family-controlled renewable energy company.
Tronchetti Provera’s bid to control Pirelli also has the support of other family shareholders of Camfin, including the Moratti, Acuti and Rovati families, which between them own more than 12% of the holding company.
But Tronchetti Provera’s move has brought him up against Malacalza Investmenti, owned by the Malacalza family that made its money in steel. Tronchetti Provera’s buyout of the Malacalza share in the holding companies controlling Pirelli has enabled the family to use the money raised to buy a 7% stake in Pirelli. Pirelli and Camfin are both listed on the Milan stock exchange, but the future shareholders of Lauro 61 said they will bid for the shares of Camfin they don’t currently control at €0.8 each and plan on delisting the company following the bid.
This raises the specter, according to Italian media reports, of a continuing dispute for the control of Pirelli between the Malacalza family and Tronchetti Provera.
But it also raises concern over the holding company structures that control many of Italy’s best-known companies including Fiat and Benetton. Some analysts have criticised these structures as being a way families often control businesses through only small stakes in the holding company. They have also been criticised for their lack of transparency when it comes to ownership structures and financial data.