The eldest daughter of the disgraced prime minister controls the family businesses with an iron fist. The question is whether she'll decide to bring the same passion to politics.
TURIN — She would do anything for her father. In fact, she already has. But Marina Berlusconi really wants to avoid going into politics. She has said it would be a huge sacrifice, above all because of her love for her three children: Gabriele, Silvio and the business. The business is Fininvest, a financial holding company controlled by the Berlusconi family where Marina serves as president.
She is also the one who puts her children to bed at night. Cinderella, Peter Pan and the birth of the family empire are their bedtime stories. Marina Berlusconi's zodiac sign is Leo, represented by fire, and the 46-year-old has a temperament to match. She has always supported her father, no questions asked. And right now, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Berlusconi’s tax fraud conviction, the future of the man — and his party — may be in her hands.
Her physical appearance may suggest fragility, but from her 12-centimeter heels she leads the company troops like a general and, according to those who know her, she would revolutionize the party and its recruitment process if she entered politics. The hawks of her father's Forza Italia party are calling for her to get involved, but that could prove a bitter surprise.
Just ask Rupert Murdoch. Marina was the one who blocked the sale of one of her family's companies to the media magnate. Or Barbara Berlusconi, Marina’s half-sister from Berlusconi’s second marriage, who wanted to work for Mondadori, Italy's largest book and magazine company where Marina is chairman. “Today no one’s position is secure, not even the daughter of the boss.”
Finding her place
She asks a lot of herself, and of others. Her education was rather unusual, as was her childhood, much of which was spent under protection because of her father's political career. She later started, but failed to complete, studies in law and political science. But ultimately she discovered her vocation: business.
When in March 1998 Silvio Berlusconi refused Rupert Murdoch’s offer to buy their TV and entertainment company Mediaset, it became clear that she wasn’t just the daughter of the boss, but in fact a true company leader. “The heart prevailed,” Berlusconi said at the time. Or rather, Marina did. From then on, there was no doubt about her influence.
As soon as she became president of Fininvest, she set about choosing her top managers, opting for people she considered “salaried thinkers.” And they have a very symbiotic relationship with her. “Dad told me: ‘The managing director must have the same relationship with you as I have with Gianni Letta,’” the uncle of current Italian prime minister Enrico Letta and a close advisor to Berlusconi. The rumor mill claims that she is taking lessons in politics — and only one man could be her teacher: her father.
All in the family
Silvio and Marina Berlusconi aren't just a father and daughter, but also a team. They are bound by ties of affection, obviously, but also of mutual respect. Every cutting remark made about her father also affects Marina. She criticizes him too, sometimes savagely, but only in private.
Family comes first for Marina. Her mother Carla Dall’Oglio taught her the art of discretion. She adores and protects her brother, Pier Silvio, with whom she shares the family businesses and the fight to keep control, which is being contested by the children of Silvio’s second wife Veronica Lario — Luigi, Eleonora and Barbara.
Beyond the gossip and questions of succession, Marina actually has an affectionate relationship with her half-siblings. But she has no contact with their mother Veronica. She has few friends. Those she does have are often invited to her villa on the Cote d’Azur, a few kilometers from Saint Tropez, where her yacht is moored. Here she feels normal, like she does at her house in Bermuda, avoiding — quite rightly — the paparazzi and the high society circles in Sardinia.
Marina always seems to be fighting for a kind of impossible normality. And for respect, both in business and elsewhere. She is asked questions that, instead of focusing on her work, dwell on her habits and obsessions: her backcombed hair (“If I left if flat, I would look exactly like my father”), the very high heels, the figure without an ounce of fat. Pasta is banned in her house, and the gym sessions are long.
Forbes calls Marina Berlusconi one of the most powerful businesswomen in the world. By day she wears a trouser suit and a white shirt as she strides through the Fininvest offices. In the evening, she can be found at home cooking dinner for her children and husband Maurizio Vanadia, a former ballet dancer at the famous Scala opera house in Milan who has a sculptured physique and a total veneration for his wife.
It was love at first sight for both of them. Marina told the story of their first meeting to her friend Alfonso Signorini, also director of Chi, a weekly gossip magazine: “I still remember it. He was playing the role of the evil Rothbart in Swan Lake. He was incredibly beautiful. I was leaning so far out of the box to follow him with the binoculars that my mom kept elbowing me: ‘Be careful or you’ll fall out!’”
No one would have bet on Marina being such a success in business, but she proved them wrong. The question is, will she do the same in politics?