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Alfredo Altavilla: interview with the number 2 of FIAT

30 November 2012 19:04 No comments

We don’t know much about Alfredo Altavilla, except that he accomplished several missions for the Fiat-concern (FPT and Iveco) and as president at the ACEA (European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association). But who exactly is the man who has been appointed with the difficult task to get Fiat back on track in Europe (some even say he will be the heir to the throne of Sergio Marchionne in 2015)? What you’ll read below is a recent interview with the sub-director of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

Had Altavilla chosen to stay in Taranto, where he was born on the 2nd of August 1963, he would now most probably be the CEO of the ILVA, the big steel-concern in the bay of the South-Italian port town. Whatever company he’s leading, it is mostly doing well, even though his current task in Europe (plus Africa and Middle-East, EMEA) isn’t exactly easy. Luckily, however, Altavilla is a man who perfectly knows how the economy functions and who is patient and persevering. He is confident that the current crisis in Europe will come to an end one day, also for the Italian car manufacturer;

“This time, it is a tougher, longer and more painful crisis, but I’m sure we’ll get out of it. We will have to wait and see what the cost is for the countries, the consumers and the companies. What we are now going through as Fiat inside the EU is just a part of the game. Good and bad days are a part of the reality of the business for which I chose a long time ago. Had I wanted more personal success in a shorter period of time, I would certainly not have chosen for the automotive sector, I would have been selling mobile phones or clothes. Deep down inside I even feel attracted to these difficult challenges.”

This is typical for the character of the nearly 50 years old Chief Operating Officer at Fiat SpA. He has had this charisma and energy of an American football-playing college-student ever since we got to know him. There is certainly no lack of challenges at the moment and his friendship with the like-minded Sergio Marchionne is therefore hearty. They are cast in the same mold, or like they say in Italy, ‘made out of the same pasta’. Not only because they are both provincial boys, but also because they both don’t like half-measures and would never put technical make-up on a situation (glorify certain situations). You can simply handle the job, or you can’t, is both their point of view. Altavilla, too, feels like a world citizen in the current strongly globalized economy and dares to give certain things up or reject them, if it benefits the greater good. The devotion for his work is huge and, just like the current Fiat itself, he has kept abreast with the times.

Alfredo Altavilla at word during a gathering of the ACEA

Since 2011, Altavilla is also a councilor of the Group Executive Council. He is the successor to the rounder Gianni Coda, who he called ‘The last of the Mohicans’. Altavilla is a part of the new generation which, over the past 10 years, has been able to climb aboard the express train called Sergio Marchionne. According to the South-Italian businessman, it’s all a matter of character and keeping focused on the goals for today and tomorrow. His most impressive performance probably is the completion of the takeover of Chrysler, which he took care of together with Sergio Marchionne.

“Everyone who followed this case knows it was not easy. Negotiating and buying is only one piece of the puzzle, but then there’s also the important flawless continued implementation. Furthermore, we knew that it was the last option for Fiat. The Fiat which once dominated entire Italy from Turin has ceased to exist a long time ago. We get one shot at making this company ready for the international market. We, as managers, need to fit in and the only thing which counts is our vigor. If you are superfluous, you can go home.”

According to Altavilla, Marchionne has always taken well-considered decisions in choosing his team, just like every CEO, who wants to do his job right, would. He also admits that they weren’t used to this in Turin, and, with or without good results, they were always certain of their position in the management. This is no longer feasible in modern times, says Altavilla. The price to pay is way too high; barely having any spare time or social life left.

“But don’t get me wrong, I love my job, the glass is always half full to me. All the different cultural habits which I come across during my working hours all around the world are enriching to me. You won’t hear me complaining, I enjoy it.”

The relaxed attitude and point of views characterize this sun of a Lancia-Autobianchi-dealer from Taranto. It is a man who doesn’t mince matters. Also when talking about his southern roots, he is honest, and admits that he loves visiting his family, but he’s never able to stay for long, unfortunately, because of the lack of progress in this area, while it needs it so badly. Like his hands start itching again and he seeks consolation in his difficult task called Fiat. A few years ago, his name was already mentioned as the successor of Marchionne, but no one really talks about it anymore, neither does Alfredo Altavilla himself. He has other priorities.


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