By Crispian Balmer
ROME (Reuters) – Entrepreneur Roberto Colaninno, chairman and CEO of scooter maker Piaggio and one of Italy’s best-known dealmakers, has died, his investment firm IMMSI said on Saturday.
Last week he turned 80. No cause of death was given.
Colaninno was a central figure in the country’s industrial landscape who managed to turn around a number of failing companies, but also left behind a mixed business legacy.
He is most famous for his surprise $58 billion leveraged buyout of Telecom Italia in 1999, the world’s largest hostile takeover at the time.
Many investors applauded him for masterminding the deal, but allies grew disenchanted with his plans to reduce the mountain of debt he had created, forcing him to sell control of the group to tire maker Pirelli just two years later.
As Telecom Italia struggled to recover from debt that drained its finances for years, Colaninno emerged from the deal with a fortune of his own, which enabled him to buy IMMSI, a telecom real estate company that he turned into an investment company.
In 2003, after his attempts to take over car manufacturer Fiat were rejected, he turned his attention to Piaggio, the maker of the Vespa scooter, which had fallen on hard times.
He pulled it back from the brink and quickly expanded its business in Asia, especially India, China and Vietnam. In July, the group posted record results for the first half of the year.
With Piaggio returning to profits, Colaninno sought to revive another struggling Italian icon, national carrier Alitalia, which invested heavily in the airline in 2008, becoming chairman in the process.
However, like many before him, he failed to turn the business around and it eventually closed. He was tried last year along with 13 other defendants and charged with fraudulent bankruptcy of the airline. He denied wrongdoing.
The case has yet to go to court.
Colaninno started his career at car parts manufacturer Fiamm and then came into contact with one of the giants of Italian business, Carlo De Benedetti. They set up a finance company, Sogefi, which bought Fiamm from its British owner and turned it into one of the most successful car parts suppliers in Europe.
De Benedetti then asked Colaninno to take charge of his floundering Olivetti business. Colaninno closed the company’s loss-making computer division and focused on the telephone business – which he then used as a vehicle to launch Telecom Italia’s bid.
He is survived by two sons, Matteo and Michele, and his wife Oretta.
(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; editing by David Holmes)