Italian billionaire Diego Della Valle, head of shoemaker Tod’s SpA, welcomed the wave of public disgust that swept established politicians from parliament last month and said it’s time to dislodge some top bankers as well.
“It’s clear that people said, ‘That’s enough, it’s time to change, show us a decent country,’” Della Valle said March 6 in a Bloomberg Television interview. “That also has to happen in the world that we represent, finance and business and the civil society that guides the country.”
Della Valle, 59, is picking fights with finance executives as banks curb lending and Italy slides deeper into recession. His own wealth has grown, with the market value of Tod’s more than tripling since the end of 2008, as Della Valle boosted sales in Italy and abroad. In the interview, he renewed his campaign to prod Intesa Sanpaolo SpA Chairman Giovanni Bazoli, 80, to retire, saying Italian firms need lenders with a global vision.
“These are people who put in their time without producing anything interesting for a serious country,” Della Valle said, speaking from Sant’Elpidio a Mare, where Tod’s is based. “We have to take the situation in hand and start saying with a nice, big chorus of voices capable of breaking through to these people: ‘Stop it, please, step aside because you have already caused enough trouble for the country.’”
Italy’s top financial-company managers are supported by a base of politically controlled non-profit investors known as banking foundations. At Banca Monte Dei Paschi di Siena SpA, the bailed-out lender, one foundation accounts for 38 percent of its shareholding. The top five investors at Milan-based Intesa Sanpaolo, Italy’s second biggest bank, are banking foundations.
Della Valle is taking inspiration from the Feb. 24-25 general election to push for a broader change across boardrooms to shake Italy from its economic stagnation. Unemployment, which has risen to a 13-year high, fueled the upstart campaign of ex-comic Beppe Grillo and denied re-election to career politicians like Chamber of Deputies Speaker Gianfranco Fini.
“If we don’t put the brakes on this and ask these people with the respect to step aside it will all start again as it was before,” said Della Valle, who gave up a directorship at Assicurazioni Generali SpA, Italy’s biggest insurer, last year.
Tod’s was the biggest gainer on 40-stock FTSE MIB Index from the end of 2008 through yesterday on sales of its signature loafer with rubber spikes on the sole and brands like Hogan and Fay. Intesa Sanpaolo fell 47 percent over the same period, while UniCredit SpA, Italy’s biggest bank fell 59 percent. Monte Paschi is down 84 percent in that time.
The Intesa chairmanship is up for election at the bank’s annual meeting on April 22. Bazoli’s mandate started in 1982 when he was handed control of Nuovo Banco Ambrosiano, a predecessor to the company he now oversees. Della Valle called for Bazoli to step aside in December. An Intesa spokesman didn’t have a comment.
Della Valle has retreated from financial company investments in the last two years. His resignation from Trieste, Italy-based Generali followed a clash with the insurer’s former chairman, Cesare Geronzi. In October 2011, Della Valle exited the shareholder syndicate controlling Mediobanca SpA, Italy’s biggest publicly traded investment bank.
Della Valle retains board seats at Ferrari SpA, newspaper publisher RCS Mediagroup SpA and an Italian banking unit of BNP Paribas SA. Di Vi Finanziaria, an investment vehicle controlled by Della Valle, owns a $2.4 billion stake in Tod’s.