Family feud at La Repubblica owner bursts into the open

Carlo De Benedetti seeks to buy a stake in the newspaper publisher he founded

Rachel Sanderson in Milan

Carlo De Benedetti, honorary chairman and director of Compagnie Industriali Riunite SpA (CIR), poses for a photograph in Milan, Italy, on Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. CIR holds interests in car parts manufacturer Sogefi Spa, and Gruppo Editoriale L'Espresso SpA, the publisher of Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica. Photographer Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg
Carlo De Benedetti gave up day-to-day management of GEDI media group in 2009 © Bloomberg

A feud at one of Italy’s most powerful dynasties has burst into the open after tycoon Carlo De Benedetti sought to regain a stake in the newspaper business he founded and has accused his sons of mismanaging.

Shares in GEDI media group, which is home to titles including La Repubblica and La Stampa, surged more than 15 per cent on Monday after the octogenarian made a €38m offer over the weekend to buy a 30 per cent stake in the group.

The 84-year-old, who has been a towering figure in Italian media for almost half a century, also launched a withering attack on his sons Rodolfo De Benedetti, 58, and Marco De Benedetti, 57, to whom he handed control of GEDI in 2012.

He accused them of having “neither the competence nor passion” to manage the media group, according to a letter quoted by Italian news agency Ansa. He added that he wanted to relaunch “the group with which I have been associated for most of my life”.

His sons shot back, with Rodolfo De Benedetti declaring he was “shocked” by his father’s behaviour, the news agency reported. A statement from CIR, the family holding company that owns about 44 per cent of GEDI, on Sunday described the offer as “inadmissible”.

Carlo De Benedetti, who founded the left-leaning La Repubblica and gave up day-to-day management of GEDI in 2009, offered 25 euro cents a share for the 30 per cent stake, Ansa reported. Despite surging on Monday, shares in GEDI have plunged 85 per cent from a recent high in 2014, leaving the group with a market capitalisation of under €150m.

In an effort to combat the broader downturn in the Italian media market, three years ago La Repubblica, its sister titles and Genoan local paper Il Secolo XIX were merged with the Agnelli family’s La Stampa. Agnelli scion John Elkann, who is also chairman of Fiat Chrysler, kept a 5 per cent stake in the merged group.

CIR turned down a takeover offer for GEDI from former media and telecoms executive Flavio Cattaneo last year, according to Italian media.

The attempt to return to the fray by the senior Mr De Benedetti is the latest in a flurry of activity by high-profile Italian octogenarian tycoons who made their fortunes during Italy’s economic boom of the 1980s.

Leonardo Del Vecchio, 84, the eyewear tycoon who built Ray-Ban maker EssilorLuxottica, and Luciano Benetton, 84, the retail magnate behind the Benetton jumpers to toll roads dynasty, have both returned to the frontline in a bid to revive businesses facing the challenges of globalisation and technological disruption.

Even Silvio Berlusconi, 83, the former Italian prime minister and longstanding media foe of Mr De Benedetti, has backed changes at Mediaset, the broadcaster he founded, as his daughter Marina and son Pier Silvio seek to expand it into a pan-European media group.

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