The Benetton family, arbitrator in spite of itself of the battle for the control of Generali

Posted Apr 24, 2022, 12:37 PMUpdated on Apr 24, 2022, 12:38 PM

Neutrality. This is the key word repeated for months by the Benettons in the context of the battle for control of Generali. And yet, the industrial family from Veneto, which draws its fortune from the famous colorful sweaters, could well be the arbiter of the conflict between Mediobanca, which supports the French boss of the Italian insurer, Philippe Donnet, and the billionaire Francesco Gaetano Caltagirone , who opposes its renewal.

The Edizione family holding company, which has diversified and notably controls the motorway and airport operator Atlantia and the Autogrill catering group, has greatly increased its stake in the capital of Generali. Since 2018, it has increased from around 1% to 4%. Enough to tip the vote to one side or the other while the two blocks are playing on equal terms.

The Benettons have other battles to fight

Control of Generali is not among the priorities of Alessandro Benetton, who is mobilizing his forces on other issues. The son of Luciano, one of the founders of the dynasty, took the reins of the family holding at the beginning of the year, still marked by the dramatic collapse in 2018 of the Genoa bridge, which brought to light the dramatic negligence of its 33% subsidiary Atlantia.

Its priority: the €19 billion takeover bid launched in mid-April for Atlantia with the American investment fund Blackstone. The operation is supposed to preserve the “Italian character” of the manager of motorway and airport concessions, coveted by the Spanish construction group ACS. Another project: its subsidiary Autogrill is conducting discussions with several “operators in the sector” to explore “strategic opportunities” for growth.

A shared obsession with Italianness

But it’s not just the “Italianness” of Atlantia that is dear to the hearts of the Benettons. There is also that of Generali. If Luciano Benetton refuses to take sides between Philippe Donnet, whose good work he recognizes, and his adversaries, he is nevertheless close to them. “With Caltagirone and del Vecchio, he declared in 2019, we form a solid Italian front. We have a significant stake in all three, which we want to increase so that Generali remains Italian”.

Which side will he tip the scales at Generali’s general meeting on Friday? “It’s a mystery, answers a relative of the Ponzano Veneto family. The Benettons have strong links with Mediobanca, of which they are very old shareholders, and are suspicious of the Roman Caltagirone, who is completely foreign to their industrial culture and their cult of discretion. But they are obviously very close to Leonardo del Vecchio who is a great entrepreneur from the same region as them. This could decide them to side with him. »

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