Economy

The Fiat Split: Sergio Marchionne’s Global Vision

The markets react well to the Fiat CEO's decision to separate the core auto business from farm and truck sectors, a vote of confidence for Marchionne's vision that could have reverberations for all of Italian industry

Sergio Marchionne (flickr)

By Giuseppe Berta

IL SOLE 24 ORE/Worldcrunch

The split of Fiat's core auto business from its farm machinery and truck units marks a fundamental transformation destined to have an impact across the entire landscape of Italian industry.

By splitting the two operations, Fiat has abandoned for good its 20th century structure, a model that was marked by aggregating non-homogenous businesses. This model had characterized Fiat's development and expansion, turning it into the formidable force that merged economic capability, political power and social influence that generations of Italians have come to know well.

That model was also linked to a family-based ownership, that of the Agnellis. For all of the past century, to say Fiat meant to evoke not just a car company, but a more complex entity with a strong presence across Italian society, one that was capable of exercising a persuasive and adaptable public role.

This extraordinary story, which marked the history of 20th century Italy, has come to an end with the separate listings on the Milan stock exchange that began with Monday's trading, as noted by the architect of the split, Sergio Marchionne, Fiat's CEO.

(Fiat auto and Fiat Industrial, which includes Iveco trucks and CNH Global farm equipment, each performed well as they began trading separately Monday in Milan, an initial approval of the strategy of Marchionne, the Italian-Canadian CEO who has been revamping Fiat. The Turin-based company already owns 20 percent of Chrysler and the split is seen as clearing the way for Fiat to increase its stake in the U.S. automaker. Marchionne attended Monday's session at the Milan Stock Exchange, underscoring the event's significance. He said it was "possible" that Fiat increase its stake in Chrysler to more than 50 percent if the American automaker is listed this year.)

The new chapter has yet to be written

By no coincidence, the man behind the split is also the one who, since taking over the company at a time of deep crisis in 2004, has taken advantage of a governance no longer overshadowed by the charismatic presence of Giovanni Agnelli. The late patriarch's strong personality had blurred the lines between ownership and management. But Marchionne acted in a period when these lines were more clear, and the separation between ownership and the management entrusted by it was again established.

Since then, Marchionne has followed a clear path and acted with autonomy. It's the same level of freedom also enjoyed by Alan Mulally, the manager who has revamped Ford's fortunes, making it the only Detroit-based car company to regain significant market share without state aid.

The spin-off was part of Marchionne's strategy. If the goal is to maximize performance of each specific unit amid global competition, then it makes sense to provide each unit with the freedom of movement necessary to develop individually. Fiat Auto has paved the way with its alliance with Chrysler. Now the other sectors must follow suit and show they can move with the same degree of autonomy in order to grow on a global scale.

This strategy inevitably projects Fiat onto the whole world. It is worth noting that the last thing Marchionne did in 2010 was to open a new car-production plant in Brazil.

From now on, the scene where both Fiat units need to act is a global one. It is a grave error to keep separating what happens within Italian borders from what happens outside of them, as many still do in this country. It is now necessary to see things from another perspective, for example assessing the European and American car markets together, because they are bound to interact with and affect one another.

Marchionne is also doing away with an anomaly that had always made Fiat exceptional: the fact that it was not just an economic subject but very much a political one, too. His bet will be won or lost in the global marketplace, no longer dependant on negotiations with domestic political powers and labor confederations.

Those who today are lamenting the difficulties that this country will be forced to face as a result of this strategy forget that, in the long term, Italy can only benefit from a clear distinction between politics and business.

Read the original article in Italian


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Coronavirus

Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."


Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

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