After a century of meeting in Italy, Fiat shareholders convened on Thursday in Amsterdam, swapping the company’s Lingotto factory with its rooftop racetrack for a luxury hotel in the Dutch city’s red light district.
Fiat’s move away from its birthplace in Turin, a city as inextricably linked to car production as Amsterdam is to bicycles, is its latest step toward globalization since the creation of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV last year. Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne is also considering shifting Ferrari’s legal domicile to the Netherlands to make it easier to list the Fiat sports car unit in the U.S.
Moving the shareholders’ meeting outside Italy is “a big issue,” Marchionne said on Wednesday in Amsterdam. “I understand it, and I think a lot of the tradition that was associated with the Turin meeting is going to get lost.”
Going Dutch with the annual meeting is only part of Fiat Chrysler’s transformation of its identity. The company resembles a Dutch citizen working in London for New York bosses: Legally registered in the Netherlands last year, it is based in London to save on taxes and has its primary share listing on the New York Stock Exchange. Marchionne did the same with CNH Industrial NV, the truck and tractor maker created in a two-step spinoff and merger completed in 2013.
“Marchionne wants Fiat Chrysler to be seen as a global carmaker, not merely an Italian carmaker,” said Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
Fiat Chrysler’s new global structure is in line with an industry move away from national champions. After merging with Auburn Hills, Michigan-based Chrysler, the company formerly known as Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino is better positioned to compete with heavyweights like General Motors Co., Volkswagen AG and Toyota Motor Corp., Marchionne has said.
Because of its reduced dependence on Italy, Fiat Chrysler has also shifted away from Europe. The region represented 19 percent of the group’s 96 billion euros in revenue last year, down from nearly 90 percent when Marchionne became CEO in 2004.
Prior to this year, Fiat’s annual meeting was held at a conference center in the Lingotto building, once the biggest car factory in the world, next to the carmaker’s former headquarters in Turin. Built in the 1920s under Fiat founder Giovanni Agnelli’s leadership, the former factory was inspired by Ford Motor Co.’s assembly lines in Highland Park, Michigan.
Without the crowds of Italian investors owning smaller stakes who used to pack the meeting, drinking Fiat’s red Piedmont wine and filling up on chilled veal and caramel panna cotta, Thursday’s event was less lively than usual.
Last year, at the final meeting in Turin, an investor asked Marchionne if he could organize a charter flight to Amsterdam for Fiat aficionados. The CEO declined.
Not many others found their own way: a total of 10 investors attended Thursday’s meeting.