On paper, everything separates them, except perhaps the same taste for discretion. Fiat president John Elkann, 43, is the heir to one of Italy's largest families, the Agnelli. Carlos Tavarès, 61, is a child of the Portuguese middle class, son of a French teacher and a chartered accountant. He has been at the helm of PSA since 2014, having spent his entire career at Renault.
However, it is the first who is called to chair the board of the new PSA-Fiat Chrysler, and the second who will ensure operational leadership.
What you need to know about the PSA-Fiat Chrysler merger
Born in New York, John Elkann is the son of a Franco-Italian writer and journalist, Alain Elkann, and Margherita Agnelli, the daughter of Giovianni Agnelli, the legendary Fiat boss, who joined the group in 1943.
John Elkann spent his childhood in the United Kingdom and Brazil, then his adolescence in Paris, where he passed his baccalaureate. Nobody imagines then that he takes responsibilities in the family empire. But everything changed, in 1997 with the sudden death of his cousin Alberto Agnelli, won in some months at the age of 33 years by a stomach cancer and who had been designated to be the future boss of Fiat. Giovanni Agnelli then chose John Elkann as dolphin and made him join the board of directors of the company. He is only 21 years old.
The grandfather is responsible for the formation of the young man, as was the case for him – Giovanni Agnelli was just 14 years old when his grandfather, the founder of Fiat, appointed him as heir to the group, after the death of his father in a plane crash.
John Elkann went on a work placement at Magneti Marelli in England, then on the assembly lines of the Polish factory, before spending a few months as a salesman in a Fiat dealership in Lille. In 2000, he obtained an engineering degree at the Polytechnic University of Turin.
In 2003, after the death of Giovanni Agnelli, John Elkann will gradually take over Fiat, whose real boss is Sergio Marchionne. A renowned industrialist, disappeared from a banal shoulder operation in 2018, and whose master stroke was to buy in 2009 the American Chrysler then almost bankrupt.
Married to Lavinia Borromeo, heir to one of Italy's oldest aristocratic families, John Elkann is also head of Exor, the family holding company that owns Ferrari and the Juventus football club in Turin. Like his mentor, Sergio Marchionne, John Elkann is convinced that the future of the automobile goes through great alliances, which are also the way to sustain the family investment.
A car enthusiast
Carlos Tavares, he spent his childhood in Lisbon. His parents are Francophiles and enroll him in the French high school. At 17, he arrived in France and began a preparatory class in Toulouse. At 23, he graduated from the Ecole Centrale de Paris and already has a passion for the automobile. He dreams of becoming a racing driver.
Pure product of the French meritocracy, Carlos Tavarès enters Renault where he progressively climbs the ladder: a worker internship in Billancourt, then a post of test engineer where he tests the handling of new models. He then took charge of the Megane 2 program. Like most promising Renault managers, he spent a few years at Nissan. He deals with the product plan, before becoming the boss of the North America zone. In 2011, he was appointed Chief Operating Officer of Renault, making him the number 2 in the group.
Everyone imagines it as the dolphin of CEO Carlos Ghosn. But the adventure ends badly. In August 2013, Carlos Tavarès gave an interview to the Bloomberg agency in which he declared himself ready to take the presidency of General Motors. A clash of thunder. A few days later, Carlos Ghosn puts an end to the functions of his second, after 32 years of house.
The recovery of PSA
Carlos Tavares arrived in spring 2014 at PSA to succeed Philippe Varin. A first in the small automotive world or an unwritten rule that Renault and PSA do not "pique" talents. But the group of the Peugeot family is at bay, after a historic loss of 5 billion euros in 2012 and the entry into the capital of the French State and Chinese Dongfeng.
Carlos Tavares will quickly raise the bar. It streamlines production lines and closes some. With the unions, he signs competitiveness pacts that provide for more flexibility and wage moderation in exchange for maintaining jobs.
Internally, the doubling of the remuneration of the boss of PSA goes bad, while the entire group is on the diet. Even senior executives are advised to reduce their expense report and travel in second class.
But the results are there. The group will become profitable again in 2015, driven by both a drop in its fixed costs and a healthy European market. In 2017, PSA buys Opel, the European subsidiary of General Motors and thus becomes the second largest car manufacturer on the Old Continent.
"Fiat-Chrysler could be a good deal for PSA"
If the merger with Fiat-Chrysler succeeds, the new group would rise to 4e world rank.