Montezemolo Leaving Ferrari – and a Legacy –Behind

Falls victim to faltering race program.

by on Sep.10, 2014

Luca di Montezemolo at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

There aren’t many executives who would tell potential customers to go away. But that’s precisely what Luca di Montezemelo did – on several occasions – when he declared that the company he ran had no intention of increasing production despite the long line of monied fans waiting to buy a Ferrari.

Just weeks after turning 67, the aristocratic executive has handed in his resignation. But as he leaves Ferrari, Montezemolo also leaves behind an impressive legacy that could prove a daunting challenge to his successor.

A Legend!

He leaves the company after 23 years at the helm, and just as Ferrari gets ready to celebrate its 60th anniversary in the U.S. market, it’s largest. The company continues to turn in impressive financial results, but it isn’t without its problems, having posted some unexpectedly disappointing results in this year’s Formula One series – something Montezemolo himself recently described as “unacceptable.”

That poor showing was almost certainly a contributor to the turmoil that has wracked Ferrari’s boardroom in recent months. After years of leading the F1 circuit, with Michael Schumacher most often behind the wheel, Ferrari hasn’t captured a driver’s title since 2007.

Michael Schumacher and Luca di Montezemolo celebrate victory during Ferrari's better years on track.

“Our mutual desire to see Ferrari achieve its true potential on the track has led to misunderstandings which became clearly visible over the last weekend,” Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Ferrari’s parent company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, said in a statement Wednesday.

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Montezemolo’s departure is doubly poignant for many “Ferraristas.” He was one of the last members of the Ferrari team with a direct tie to founder Enzo Ferrari – who brought the then-young executive in four decades ago as his personal assistant. Montezemolo left briefly, returning in 1991 when appointed the sports car maker’s president by former Fiat Chairman Gianni Agnelli.

Born in 1947 to an aristocratic family, Luca Cordero di Montezemelo understood firsthand the challenges and benefits of racing, spending time piloting a special Fiat 500 and, later, driving for a privately financed Lancia team.

Montezemolo inherited a company in turmoil, and he had to fix both its street car business and its racing program, which had been going through a decade-long dry spell. Partnering with executive director Jean Todt, Ferrari snatched the constructor’s trophy in 1999, and the driver’s championship a year later. With Schumacher driving, Ferrari ran up one of the most impressive strings of F1 victories ever.

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne sitting on the hood of a LaFerrari during the Geneva Motor Show, Montezemolo behind him.

But things began to slide, at least from a motor sports perspective, after “Schumi’s” first, brief retirement. Despite another title claimed by Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari has largely been out of contention in recent years, its team winning not a single race this year.

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Another failure at last weekend’s Monza race apparently brought things to a head. But signs of trouble were already apparent. Despite having once served as Fiat chairman and still holding a seat on its board, Montezemolo was not going to retain that post after the Fiat Chrysler merger is completed.

The decision to nudge him aside was announced by John Elkann, the Agnelli family heir who succeeded Montezemolo as Fiat chairman in 2010.

“As Chairman of Ferrari, he drove the company to a new level of technological and organizational excellence which also brought with it outstanding financial results,” Marchionne said in his statement. “I want to thank Luca for all he has done for Fiat, for Ferrari and for me personally.”

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For his part, Montezemolo described his departure as “the end of an era. But he remained graceful about the shake-up, suggesting, “This will open up a new and different phase which I feel should be spearheaded by the CEO of the group.”

Ferrari, he concluded, “will have an important role to play” after the merger. It will continue to be a major part of the new FCA family, which holds 90% of the exotic automaker’s stock. Earlier this year, during a conference called to outline the merged automaker’s plans, Marchionne made it very clear Ferrari would not be spun off, something many analysts had been calling for – and which some say Montezemolo supported.

Few expect Montezemolo to fade away into retirement. He has been active in business and political circles in Italy, in 2009 founding the think tank Future Italy. But whether he stays involved in the auto industry remains to be seen.

While the last few years have tarnished his reputation in motor sports, the Ferrari he leaves behind is an enviable force among exotic car manufacturers, sales limited by choice, rather than demand, and generating significant profits for the parent company that Montezemolo once chaired.

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2 Responses to “Montezemolo Leaving Ferrari – and a Legacy –Behind”

  1. Brian says:

    Why does Marchionne want to take control? Clearly Mattiacci was positioned at the F1 team by Luca in order to give him the final necessary credential to be Chairman of Ferrari. Now Marchionne has stepped in, so Mattiacci is either on hold or sidelined. He surely won’t bring the team back to success unless he replaces himself with Ross Brawn and Ferrari influence Jean Todt to relax the series’ development rules. The obvious reason for all this is that Marchionne wants to get a direct look at the workings and probably the books.

  2. Jorge says:

    I doubt that Marchionne will be good for Ferrari’s future.

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